Time running out for maths inquiry team

14th February 2003 at 00:00
Mathematicians say a year is not long enough to conduct a full investigation into the future of their subject, reports Warwick Mansell.

THE Government's inquiry into the future of maths education is in danger of descending into a "shambles", one of the country's leading mathematicians warned this week.

Professor Tony Gardiner, a former president of the Mathematical Association, said the one-year investigation stood to do more harm than good because of a rushed schedule, a lack of input from schools, and poorly-drafted consultation.

This week Professor Adrian Smith, chair of the inquiry, admitted he felt "uncomfortable" with the timetable he faced.

Appointed in November to work a tw-day week, he has only been given eight months to come up with answers on deep-seated problems such as the shortage of maths teachers and a slump in students taking the subject.

He said he might ask ministers to put back the June deadline by a few months.

Professor Smith, principal of London University's Queen Mary College, told The TES: "The June deadline is a somewhat uncomfortable one and we may need to reconsider it."

The inquiry was set up last July by the Treasury. Its remit is for post-14 maths only. Other issues to be considered are why som many pupils fail maths exams and the subject's general level of difficulty.

Professor Gardiner, reader in maths at Birmingham University, said: "It's like trying to replace Wembley Stadium in a month. I don't think it's possible."

He said the timetable made no sense, as it will have to be completed before Mike Tomlinson makes recommendations on the future of all qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds.

Further controversy has come with the announcement of the eight people who are to assist Professor Smith, none of whom has recent experience of teaching in state schools.

Doug French, chair of the teaching committee at the Mathematical Association, was more cautious. But he contrasted the timescale with that of the last major inquiry into the subject, which took four years to come up with the Cockcroft report in 1982.

Professor Smith revealed this week that he will get help with the inquiry.

He will commission reports from five or six experts in relevant fields, including the curriculum and teacher supply, within the next month.

The inquiry team will also sift through responses from hundreds of consultees. Schools will also have considerable input through the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, whose chair, Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith, is on the eight-member inquiry steering group.

Professor Smith said he was not in favour of extending the deadline to the end of the year or beyond. "Some of the issues are so pressing that we have got to get on with finding some particular recommendations and solutions," he said.

It was possible, he added, that the inquiry would publish some immediate recommendations and say that other issues required further work.

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