Reform of maths hits trouble

November 22, 1996

MATHEMATICS will suffer if the Government rushes through a proposed restructure of modular A levels before the general election, leading academics and politicians have warned.

Mathematics academics have almost universally condemned the blueprint for a new maths A level subject "core" from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. They say it is based on fundamentally flawed and "secretive" new A and AS level rules.

In a leaked document dated August 6, Draft Rules for the New AS and AS/AL Modular Syllabuses, the SCAA proposes that AS papers count as 40 per cent of an A level, rather than the present 50 per cent.

Roger Porkess, of the Centre for Teaching Mathematics at Plymouth University, has attacked the 40/60 split. In a paper for the maths curriculum development body, Mathematics in Education and Industry, he argues that it "is almost guaranteed to prevent students taking a broader curriculum than just three A levels".

A student who completes six subjects at AS would gain fewer units of credit for two years' work than a student with three A levels.

"The only function of the new AS would be as a waystage to the full A level," he says. "If work of A-grade difficulty is not to appear on AS module examinations, the best A-level students will not be intellectually challenged in the early parts of their courses."

SCAA is also criticised for failing to promote coherence between the new A levels and GNVQ courses and reducing the module re-sits available.

The rules follow Sir Ron Dearing's March 1996 review of qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds and are timetabled to be in place by September 1998.

SCAA assistant chief executive Tony Millns said: "We have involved everyone we could possibly involve in the timescale given."

The Royal Society and the Joint Mathematical Council have raised doubts about the rules. Royal Society vice-president Sir John Horlock has written to Sir Ron about the haste to get them in place.

Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster has written to Education Secretary Gillian Shephard complaining that the model will not achieve any of its objectives.

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