Memorandum submitted by Mathematics in Engineering and Industry (MEI)

 

Mathematics in Education and Industry is an independent curriculum development body for mathematics and statistics. It has a history of innovation going back to the 1960s; it works through many avenues such as its examination syllabuses, textbooks covering the full age range and special programmes like the Further Mathematics Network. Much of its work is carried out in partnerships (OCR, Hodder Education and DfES for the three examples above).

 

MEI's work in providing CPD, supporting its specifications and managing the Further Mathematics Network brings it into regular contact with a large number of practising teachers of mathematics, mainly in secondary schools and in post-16 colleges.

 

National Key Stage Tests

 

The MEI response to the recent DfES "Making Good Progress" consultation is available for download at http://www.mei.org.uk/files/pdf/MakingGdProgress_MEIResponse.pdf; a hard copy is enclosed. This deals with a number of issues surrounding KS2 and KS3 tests in mathematics including:

whether testing has improved levels of attainment

the problems inherent in using differences in levels attained in KS2 and KS3 as a measure of individual progress

the lack of comparability between the current system of testing and the proposed single-level tests

the implications for teaching and learning of the proposed "when ready" testing regime.

 

Testing and assessment at 16

 

The Smith report, Making Mathematics Count, highlighted the need to increase the post-16 take up of mathematics. In 2005, MEI published "Delivering Curriculum Pathways in Mathematics" for QCA. This paper highlighted the effect of GCSE and A Level in reducing take up and proposed a new set of pathways 14-19 to address these issues.


"Thus, whereas in many countries virtually all young people stay in education post-16 and continue with mathematics, in England and Wales less than 10% of the age cohort take mathematics post-16. The main reasons for such a small take-up include the following.

Students are discouraged in mathematics by their experience in GCSE.

There is a lack of suitable courses.

Mathematics is perceived to be harder than other subjects at A Level."

(Delivering Curriculum Pathways, MEI)

 

The complete "Delivering Curriculum Pathways in Mathematics" report, is available for download at http://www.mei.org.uk/posn_papers.shtml; a copy is enclosed.

 

The forthcoming introduction of a qualification in Functional Mathematics and the move to two GCSEs in Mathematics provide an opportunity to improve the situation, if this is done in a coherent and well-thought through way. MEI recently cooperated with the Nuffield Curriculum Centre to run a one-day seminar, "Mathematics to Key Stage 4: Meeting the needs of all abilities". This was attending by many of the senior figures in mathematics education; a report is available for download at http://www.mei.org.uk/posn_papers.shtml. A hard copy of the report is enclosed; it highlights the need to consider curriculum and pedagogy, as well as assessment, in order to effect improvement:

"The decision to have Functional Mathematics and two GCSE qualifications has been made. It is now up to everyone to make sure they work well. QCA have drawn up standards for Functional Mathematics and have handed them over to a large number of awarding bodies, leaving them to produce workable schemes. This approach is doomed to failure. Students' lack of functionality cannot be solved by assessment alone; it requires suitable teaching to a suitable curriculum. If the teaching remains much as it is, students will learn (or fail to learn) much the same things, and the assessment will soon adapt to measuring what they know. No awarding body will set papers which they know candidates are in no position to answer."

(Mathematics to Key Stage 4: Meeting the needs of all abilities)

 

A Level

 

The MEI report "Five years on", published in 1995, is the only evaluation of the impact of modular A Levels. It shows that the adoption of MEI Structured Mathematics by centres led to an increase in numbers taking A Level Mathematics, against the prevailing national trend. Both Heads of Mathematics and students reported that re-sitting modules was associated with improved understanding for students who improved their marks. Many schools and colleges felt that, despite an increase in workload, the adoption of this modular syllabus had resulted in an improvement in the quality of their teaching. A hard copy of the report is enclosed and it is downloadable from http://www.mei.org.uk/posn_papers.shtml.

 

Numbers taking A Level Mathematics are only just beginning to recover from the drop following the introduction of Curriculum 2000 and numbers in Further Mathematics are showing an encouraging increase. It would, therefore, be beneficial not to introduce national changes for A Level Mathematics which could have unforeseen, detrimental, consequences.

 


Accountability measures

 

The negative impact of performance tables on the quality of mathematics teaching is a matter of particular concern to us, as it is to the whole mathematics community. While we accept the need for accountability measures, we would urge that alternatives be found to those used at present since they are undermining good practice in many classrooms.

 

Diversity

 

Some years ago significantly different syllabuses and ways of assessment could exist simultaneously. This allowed experimentation; when it led to change, it was based on evaluation. By contrast, recent GCSE specifications in Mathematics have been identical, word for word copies of the National Curriculum. Proposed changes to the National Curriculum are moving in the direction of recognising that teachers need to work in differing ways with different groups of students. However, recent changes to A Level specifications (other than mathematics) show that QCA are now requiring identically structured qualifications in a subject. A return to a system where specifications can differ in structure and content would be more beneficial than constant national changes whose unforeseen consequences need "fixing" by yet more changes.

 

May 2007

 

 

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