Maths teachers 'demoralised' as their subject slides in popularity

Students drifting towards 'easier' subjects, government and qualifications body are warned

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Maths teachers have issued a stark warning to the Scottish government that changes to qualifications are making it harder for pupils to pass courses and have left staff feeling “demoralised”.

The concerns are set out in a letter to education secretary John Swinney from the Mathematics Advisory Group Scotland (MAGS), seen by TESS.

Teachers feel that there is “too big a gap” between National 4 and National 5 maths, compared with their equivalent levels in the now-defunct Standard Grade qualification, the letter says. This “excludes hard-working candidates” who want to improve their maths skills but struggle with N5; only about two-thirds of the number completing N5 English gain an N5 in maths.

In many cases, pupils “cannot achieve [N5] mathematics while they can achieve [N5] in many other subjects”, says the letter, which has also been sent to unions and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

The removal of unit assessments across all subjects at N5 from 2017-18 – a move announced by Mr Swinney last year in response to teaching unions’ concerns about workload – will only make matters worse, warns the letter.

The group predicts that changes being brought in to compensate for the loss of unit assessments could result in an even harder N5. It says: “The more able learner will benefit without unit assessments with more time…spent on learning and teaching.” But borderline N5 pupils face extra work “to ensure some level of certification” – resulting in “less teaching time for those who need it most”.

Schools looking at 'easier' subjects

Higher maths, meanwhile, has suffered from “a bad press”, especially after SQA chief executive Janet Brown admitted at a parliamentary committee in 2015 that the exam had been too hard. A perception is growing in schools that pupils can achieve better grades by taking “easier” subjects.

MAGS wants the SQA and the Scottish government to take urgent action to address an “inequality of opportunity”.

An SQA spokesman said: “We welcome and regularly seek the views of teachers, lecturers and subject groups.” The SQA had asked the Scottish Mathematical Council, along with MAGS, to join its national qualification support team.

He said N5 and Higher Maths were “within the parameters of difficulty which we would expect for subjects at these levels”. The perception of maths as being more difficult than other subjects was also affected by learning and teaching methodology, the level of attainment from pupils’ “broad general education” and the allocation of teaching time to maths courses, he added.

This is an edited version of an article in the 17 March edition of TESS. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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