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Plan to split A-level maths for gifted is 'dangerous'

A proposal to split A-level maths into separate exams to cater for pupils of different abilities has been criticised by experts. Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI), an organisation that develops exams and syllabuses for the OCR exam board, said it would be a dangerous and unnecessary move.

Last week a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority report proposed a new exam - "beyond A-level" - to stretch the most able. It also raised the prospect of the exam being realigned so that it was no harder than other subjects. Maths A-levels are repeatedly said to be more difficult.

But MEI said that it was wrong to try to divide the subject into one catering for the gifted and another for the rest when in reality young people's abilities stretched along a continuum. Focusing attention on higher achievers would be a mistake, it said. What was needed was to develop mathematical skills in large numbers of school-leavers.

Its paper also attacked any move to make the A-level easier. Four years ago, changes were made that meant most people believe it is easier than it was. Entries have increased as a consequence.

Roger Porkess, MEI's chief executive, said there were already extra exams for talented pupils, for example the further maths A-level. "What we have got is working reasonably well," he said. "There is no need to change it."

Maths exams have been beset by change. Many teachers are concerned that more might be in the offing. But there is as yet no suggestion that the QCA's recommendation will become reality: the main reform planned for maths A-level is the introduction of an A-star grade and reducing the modules from four to six in 2013.

A QCA spokesman said the detail of the report would be considered as the new maths A-level is piloted over coming years.

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