Universities are being asked to teach further mathematics A level to local sixth-formers to boost their outreach activities while improving the skills of students entering mathematics, science and engineering degrees, writes Caroline Davis.
Only 8 per cent of UK schools and colleges offer further maths, due to cost, lack of qualified teachers or insufficient demand. The number of further mathematics candidates has dropped by two-thirds over the past 20 years. Last year, 20 per cent fewer students sat mathematics A level.
Roger Porkess, Mathematics in Education and Industry project leader, said:
"Curriculum 2000 has been a disaster for mathematics."
He said a government review this autumn was expected to further reduce the mathematics A-level syllabus. "The need for further maths will be even greater. Otherwise, universities will find people have very little in the way of mathematics skills. This project is trying to redress the balance."
Last year, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and Warwick University took part in the pilot Enabling Access to Further Mathematics scheme run by MEI. Academics taught groups of students from local schools and colleges.
From next autumn, the scheme will be extended nationally, with universities, sixth-form colleges and schools that can offer further mathematics teaching acting as "lead centres". Twenty universities have expressed an interest.
Universities would charge about £600 a student per year, which could be claimed back from the learning and skills councils.
Project coordinator Charlie Stripp, a lecturer at Exeter College, said many students did not realise further maths existed. He said: "It's quite a big thing for students to go into a university every week. It makes them feel special."
Trevor Hawkes, mathematics admission tutor for Warwick University, said more further maths A-level provision would help in student selection. In the past, Warwick has over-recruited as too many students met its three As offers.