The world has changed

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
Have been a teacher of A-level maths for the past 26 years and I am baffled that Nick Tate, as chief executive of the QCA, would want to make the subject more difficult. Yes, it probably has got easier in the past 20 years, but quite frankly it needed to.

I prefer to believe that it has become more accessible to young people. The huge swing to modular exams brought about shorter exams with more straightforward questions. What is wrong with shorter questions testing what students know as opposed to long, elaborate questions that students cannot start?

Since the Cockroft report in the early Eighties, maths teachers have worked hard to make the subject more interesting, varied, girl-friendly and set in context. Children no longer resort to the knee-jerk "I can't do maths" that adults are all too quick to endorse. It was, therefore, natural that A-level should follow this trend.

The accusation is that we have dumbed down. I refute that allegation. Up to key stage 3, national statistics show that performance in maths is in line with, or indeed better than, the other core subjects. At KS4, however, numbers achieving grade C in maths are considerably behind English. The A-level Information ystem (ALIS) project at Durham University showed that in 1999 a student starting A-level with average GCSE results of a grade B could expect very different A-level results depending on the subjects chosen. For maths the predicted outcome was 4.6 UCAS points (just over a grade D). In English literature the same student could expect 5.7 UCAS points. The figures for other large subjects are art (6.9), geography (5.9), history (5.3), chemistry (5.5) and sociology (6.4).

Is maths teaching from the age of 14 significantly worse than other subjects? Of course not; maths remains a hard subject. Only science subjects compare with the degree of difficulty in maths.

I would like to see the AS courses in Year 12 made even more accessible to more students. Let them have some success and enjoyment. A2 will need to be more demanding to prepare students for university courses.

Universities will have to accept that the world has changed. I am not asking that the rigour is taken out of their courses but they have to understand that the national curriculum has taken away their power in deciding the curriculum.

Geoff Poole is deputy headteacher at Gateacre comprehensive school, Liverpool

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