SQA results 2019: Huge rise in practical maths uptake

But one head says schools are putting pupils through the qualification just to boost their statistics

Emma Seith

GCSE maths resits: why I go to weekly lessons with my students

Uptake of a new practical maths qualification has increased by almost 80 per cent on last year, data released today shows.

Overall entries for National 5 maths dropped slightly this year. However, a new qualification introduced by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) for pupils who want to continue to study maths “in real-life contexts”, but without having to learn skills such as algebra or trigonometry, has had a huge increase in uptake.

Entries for N5 applications of mathematics went up from 2,482 last year to 4,458 this year – a rise of 79.6 per cent. Now, there are plans to introduce a Higher in the subject in 2020, with the first students due to sit the exam in 2021.

SQA results day 2019: Live blog

Background: Higher attainment falls

How much do exams matter? A headteacher's perspective

Attainment in the subject also improved this year. In 2016, just 36 per cent of those who sat the qualification passed but this year that figure has risen to 58.5 per cent, up from 57.8 per cent last year.

The SQA launched the qualification as “lifeskills mathematics” but renamed it “applications of mathematics” last year in the belief that candidates were mistakenly choosing it because they thought it would be an easier option than normal maths.

Gill Stewart, director of qualifications for the SQA, said some of the increase was down to pupils taking both N5 maths and applications of mathematics.

Dr Stewart added: “We’ve also seen an increase in the uptake of applied maths anyway so we don’t know what the proportion is, but this year we see a trend of people doing both courses. You can see why that might be helpful because one would reinforce the other, because maths is underpinned by your numerical skills so some reinforcement across the two might be appropriate for some young people.”

However, one headteacher told Tes Scotland that the motivation for entering pupils for both qualifications had less to do with the needs of the pupil and more to do with schools attempting to boost their overall performance.

The headteacher said: “Some schools are getting the same pupils in the same class to sit two maths exams as it will count as an extra N5 on the pupils’ certificates and on the number of N5 stats for the school.”

A principal teacher of maths made a similar comment, saying entering pupils for both qualifications was an easy way to ensure top pupils could get “two qualifications in maths without having to do two courses”.

However, he also added that “people now have a lot more knowledge about the course, having now had the time to put proper N5 apps courses together”.

Tes Scotland is live-blogging throughout exam results day

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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