'Who owns maths A-level?' asks rewrite team

18th October 1996 at 01:00
More traditional mathematics will be included in the new "core" A-level drawn up by the Government's curriculum agency in an attempt to meet growing concern about the attainments of university maths students.

But schools face chaos as a result, say members of the team which helped write the new A-level rules. The new "core", they say, will be unworkably large.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority is caught up in a protracted row, it is claimed, for allowing a radical re-write of maths A-level to be rushed through in just two days.

The critics include members of the SCAA maths and science consultative committee and the Royal Society, which has asked SCAA for a one-year extension to the programme of reform. "We are convinced that this timetable will not allow for the proper consideration of such an important task," said the society's letter.

A leading producer of maths syllabuses, Mathematics in Education and Industry, has accused universities of hijacking the syllabus for their own, traditionalist ends to the detriment of business and industry. And the result, it says, will be unworkable because the maths "core" is set to expand by 30 per cent or 65 hours.

Maths has been the subject of fierce controversy in this country. The "tail" of underachieving pupils appears to have grown while A-level maths has been declining in popularity. Universities complain that students lack knowledge of algebra and notions of proof.

The new maths "core" drawn up by SCAA will include a greater emphasis on proof and some additional algebra. It also calls into question the place of extended probability or "uncertainty" - a fairly recent innovation.

Roger Porkess, project leader for MEI, said: "Underlying this is a debate about who owns school mathematics: the university maths departments - which account for some 4,000 out of 60,000 students - or whether it is the users of maths A-level as a whole."

A spokesman from SCAA said the rewrite is necessary if the new AS-level in maths is to be ready by 1998 - the target for all subjects.

"Without doing the work, we would have totally closed off that option. We will consult in November on the draft maths curriculum. SCAA will then decide whether or not to recommend a delay."

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