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Improving maths uptake

30/12/2014 Joanna
The coalition government has been making concerted efforts to boost the uptake of maths in recent years, as it believes the subject is vital for future economic growth and for securing young people's futures.

A number of initiatives have been launched, while several interventions can be made to ensure pupils consider this line of study.

Information-based interventions

Earlier this month, a report by the University of Birmingham revealed a simple and cost-effective solution for those in teaching jobs to improve children's uptake of maths.

Providing better information about potential earnings would encourage pupils to study the subject at A-level, researchers found.

However, subjects such as art and biology proved less popular with pupils when they were given details of projected salaries.

Peter Davies, professor of education policy research at the University of Birmingham, who led the study, said: "At the core of this project has been a randomised controlled trial in which we gave pupils information about variation in graduate wages to see if this affected their subject choices.

"We found that the expectation of a higher salary increased take-up of maths quite considerably."

A total of 5,597 pupils aged 15-16 took part in the study. They were told the average salary they could expect to be earning for each option at age 30, based on labour market data.

Pupils who received the information on graduate earnings were 39 per cent more likely to study maths than students in the control schools. In addition, they were 27 per cent less likely to study biology and 39 per cent less likely to study computing.

Professor Davies said the study was important because it shows there is an alternative to the government's maths baccalaureate system, which "forces" youngsters to study a subject they do not enjoy or at which they do not perform well.

Core maths qualifications

News of the University of Birmingham study came shortly after the government announced the launch of six new core maths qualifications.

These are intended to provide an opportunity for youngsters who obtain at least a grade C at GCSE level to continue studying the subject, maintaining and developing their skills even if they do not wish to pursue a full A-level.

Included in school and college performance tables from 2017 and as part of the TechBacc (Technical Baccalaureate) measure from 2016, the six new qualifications will help to ensure the majority of young people carry on studying maths to age 18 by 2020.

Developed with the support of employers, many involve the study of practical uses of maths, such as analysing trends in population growth or calculating changes in average house prices over the course of a year.

Schools reform minister Nick Gibb said the qualifications "will help address a 16 to 18 'maths gap', whereby students who achieve a good maths grade at GCSE currently drop the subject and start to lose their confidence and skills".

Teacher exchange

The government has been particularly keen to introduce methods pioneered in other countries that could raise attainment levels in the UK.

In November, teachers from the Chinese city of Shanghai were placed in primary schools around Britain, where they used methods such as 'teaching to the top', which reinforces expectations that all students are capable of achieving high standards, and advocates rapid intervention to prevent pupils falling behind.

Teachers in Shanghai place a strong emphasis on establishing core skills at a young age, providing a solid grounding for them to move on to more advanced concepts.

As part of the maths hub programme, the Chinese teachers led master-classes and training sessions with other local schools, passing on their expertise to teachers in the UK.

The initiative followed the visit of 71 English teachers to high-performing schools and colleges in Shanghai, where they identified techniques that would work well in their own classrooms.

Posted by Theo FouldsADNFCR-2164-ID-801767920-ADNFCR
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