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Solution to further losses

A distance-learning course which helps bright sixth-formers study maths to a level impossible in their schools is expanding after helping several students reach one of the country's top universities.

The on-line course aims to reverse years of falling numbers studying further maths A-level. It was once almost a pre-requisite for university study, but is now believed to be offered by less than half of sixth forms as tight budgets make it difficult for schools to run lessons often taken by very few students.

The distance course, in which tutors work with groups of students in several schools at a time, was set up three years ago by Mathematics in Engineering and Industry, a curriculum development body.

Now, after an impressive set of results, five universities are backing the project in an attempt to improve the quality of maths undergraduates.

Students study mainly by computer, answering multiple-choice questions which are then analysed by their tutors. This on-line work is supplemented by sessions with tutors provided by "lead centres": the schools, colleges and universities helping run the scheme.

Nine out of 22 students gained grade As in either the full A-level or AS-level in further maths this year. Eleven are to read maths at university, including four at Warwick, arguably the country's top maths department and one of the "lead centres" for the project.

It is hoped up to 200 students will take the course this year.

The only difficulty for schools could be funding: tutoring a full A-level costs pound;1,200, though schools can claim much of this back from the Learning and Skills Council.

Charlie Stripp, the course organiser, said: "In an ideal world, further maths would be better funded. But the idea of helping students develop their independent study skills, linking with a university, and communicating with other students like themselves also has a lot going for it."

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