THE Government's A-level reforms could have a catastrophic effect on Britain's international standing in maths, science and technology, a group of leading mathematicians warns, writes Sarah Cassidy.
The Mathematical Association is concerned that the number of high-flying students choosing the most demanding maths courses has plummeted because of ministers' attempts to broaden the sixth-form curriculum.
An informal survey of its members found that the number of students signed up to start further maths A-level in September had reached a record low, said Stephen Abbott, association president. The association fears that the course will be scrapped by many state schools and could eventually become the preserve of independent schools.
It is concerned that potential sixth-formers have misinterpreted ministers' call for greater breadth in their studies and believe they could be penalised by universities for studying both maths and further maths.
New-style modular A-levels will be introduced in September and ministers expect sixth-formers to take up to five subjects in their first year in order to broaden their studies. P> Mr Abbott said: "The new structure for A-levels ought to make it easier for mathematically-talented students to study further mathematics. Unfortunately this does not appear to be the case. We have evidence of a dramatic decline."
An advanced extension award, or world-class test for high-flyers, will be offered in maths. But this qualification demands only knowledge of the content of maths A-level rather than teaching the new challenging material that is introduced in further maths.
The association has written to Mr Blunkett urging him to promote further maths A-level.
Fewer than one in 10 maths A-level entrants now takes further maths, which has around 5,000 candidates a year.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "Of course we support the study of further maths and there is no reason why A-level reforms should lead to a lower take-up of further maths. There is no conflict whatsoever between breadth and depth. We shall of course monitor the impact of the reforms very carefully. It is too early to draw any conclusions before the new syllabuses have even been introduced."