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Post-16 qualifications

Mathematics is empowering. A maths qualification is a stepping stone to success in many areas of work. Studying maths does not have to stop after compulsory education. There are maths qualifications available to 16 to 19-year-olds that are interesting, challenging and meet a variety of needs.

GCSE maths, often needed for employment and further or higher education, is still an option for 16 to 19-year-olds. Students who need GCSE maths may have to retake it in the sixth form and change their tier of entry: the foundation tier awards grades G-D, intermediate tier E-B and higher tier C-A*.

Those that have done well at GCSE may feel equipped to take a more advanced level and, this month, new GCE AS and A-level courses begin. Each AS course consists of three modules and each A-level of six modules. GCE maths includes a core of compulsory pure maths content. Students can decide whether to pursue the AS to a full A-level after a year's study when they have the results of their AS exam.

The most able students can take even more maths, especially valuable if they intend to study maths at university or a subject with significant mathematical content. To support this the QCA has accredited arrangements in which students may take further maths at AS (three extra modules beyond A-level maths) or A-level (six extra modules). These qualifications can begin in Year 12, as one of the Government's proposed additional AS qualifications, or added later if the student mkes sufficient progress with the first six A-level modules.

The QCA has developed a special AS in the use of maths, available from September 2001. It will be designed to broaden the range of students who choose to study maths post-16 by offering the incentive of an alternative AS qualification for those who gain sufficient credits.

Another option for 16 to 19-year-olds who are not seeking a maths qualification at either GCSE or GCE level, is to take Free Standing Mathematics Units. These will be examined for the first time in 2001. Each unit is a separate qualification, the size of a single AAS module. These free-standing qualifications are designed to cover an aspect of maths in some depth and focus on the learning of maths through its application to other areas of a study programme.

There is also the chance to obtain a key skills maths qualification. The key skill of application of number is available at levels 1-3 of the framework. It recognises competence in tackling numerical problems - as part of study, work, or everyday life - that require interpreting data, calculation and presenting findings.

Maths is a key discipline and it is crucial that 16 to 19-year-olds reach a recognised level of achievement that enhances their own knowledge and improves their work and education opportunities.

Lynne Churchman is principle manager of mathematics for the QCA, 29 Bolton Street, London W1Y 7PD. Tel: 020 7509 5555.Web:

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