Low maths pass rate is no surprise

31st August 2001 at 01:00
I was surprised that the low pass rate in AS mathematics made the headlines in The TES (August 24). As a principal examiner and classroom maths teacher I, and many of my colleagues, had seen for many years that such an outcome was likely but attempts to explain this to the authorities seemed to fall on deaf ears. The reasons are threefold:

* When David Blunkett anounced that students would be expected to tackle five subjects in their first year of the sixth form, it was clear that the volume and difficulty of work required must be less than half of an old A-level. Teaching time per subject would probably be reduced and the students would be under more pressure. But the new AS in mathematics was longer and harder by government decree.

* For the new AS and A-levels the content of the core has been increased and the starting point raised. The previous core assumed entry at level 8 on the national curriculum and thus eased the gulf between GCSE and the rigours of AAS-level. The new core not only assumes a good knowledge of the harder topics but includes more material than the previous core. All this was put in place long before the nature of the new AS-levels was announced.

* The three-unit AS examination: I know that some boards previously operated a three-module scheme but Edexcel had a successful and popular two-module-per-AS system. The move to three units, plus the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's insistence that A-level mathematics examinations must be between eight and nine hours, ensured there would be more pressure.

The problem was quite clear. This summer, students had to cover more material than their predecessors and some of it was more difficult. Add to this the fact that in most other subjects the courses were shorter and easier and the outcome was inevitable.

I have heard few complaints that the papers set this summer were not fair but I and many other teachers found, what we all expected, that the volume of work to be covered was too great. Perhaps in future, the politicians and designers of these qualifications should listen to the examiners and teachers who must implement their schemes and produce a positive educational experience for students.

GB Attwood The Cross, Repton, Derbyshire

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