Maths does not add up

December 8, 1995

Scrapping A levels and slimming the number of competing examination boards are among measures urgently needed to raise students' ability in mathematics, according to Geoffrey Howson of Southampton University.

At a conference on the mathematical ability of school leavers today at Gresham College, London, Professor Howson is expected to call for a switch to a baccalaureate model or one in which students have to opt for more subjects.

Professor Howson, chairman of Southampton's school mathematics project, also calls for a review of post-16 mathematics teaching.

The variety of exams should be replaced to ensure greater comparability of syllabus content, a tighter control of standards and higher quality examining: "This can only be done by concentrating our resources. The examination system no longer operates in the best interest of education."

Peter Saunders of King's College London, will argue that the mismatch between school and university is not just a question of standards. There is also "a fundamental disagreement about what mathematics students should learn and even what mathematics is ".

He questioned whether personalising mathematical problems and linking for example, fractions with portions of pizza in school mathematics made the subject more relevant: "Mathematics is an abstract subject. It is about patterns but it is not about patterns of pizzas or patterns of chairs."

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