Report by Dr Jenny Koenig of a meeting organised by the Advisory Council on Mathematics Education (ACME) held at the Royal Society, London on Tues 10th July 2012.
On 29th June 2011 Michael Gove, in a speech to the Royal Society , announced that:
“we should set a new goal for the education system so that within a decade the vast majority of pupils are studying maths right through to the age of 18.”
Clearly this idea has legs. Just over a year later (10th July 2012) ACME, the Advisory Council on Mathematics Education, held a meeting at the Royal Society to discuss its paper  on “Increasing provision and participation in post-16 mathematics.”
The background to this relies largely on international comparisons. The Nuffield Foundation’s “Is the UK an Outlier?” report  showed that the UK had an unusually low participation in post-16 mathematics compared to many other countries which was attributed to the degree of specialisation at A level. ACME also pointed out Ofqual’s study of international comparisons which showed that many other education systems have a wider range of post-16 mathematics qualifications available.
However the most important factor in my view is that students who gain a B or C grade at GCSE maths are unlikely to be able to, or allowed to, progress to A level maths even if they wanted to. Therefore as ACME point out “the vast majority of young people have no widely-recognised way of continuing to study mathematics after GCSE.”
So what is to be done about this? ACME has put forward five options and the discussion at the meeting on 10th July effectively narrowed this down to three. The first option is to include maths within other subjects. Whilst this is desirable, and certainly something that must be done for biology A level at least, it was not seen as the entire answer and a separate mathematics course was also seen to be required. Therefore there were three main options remaining on the table at the end of the meeting. “Option 2” was called “Fixed Programme Approaches: Baccalaureate-type models” whilst “option 4” was a transition course between GCSE and AS-level so a student might do this transition course in the lower sixth and an equivalent to AS in their final year. An alternative, “option 5”, might be a range of “Mathematics for…” qualifications or a “generic problem-based course with a focus on mathematical thinking in context.”
There was much discussion about whether a mathematics course post-16 should be compulsory and, whilst some thought that this would put a lot of students off, the consensus seemed to be that it should be compulsory.
The remit of the meeting excluded discussion of the curriculum content and focussed entirely on the structures. I guess it was hard enough within the time constraints to keep to this and we would never have had time to cover the issue of content. But it is a very important one, particularly for bioscientists where context is essential for motivation and understanding. No doubt this will come up in future months and this will be where bioscientists will really need to be involved.
ACME is consulting on this issue and is keen to get responses. There is one question which is particularly relevant to higher education lecturers:
1- How can we ensure that any new qualifications are demanded and valued by Universities and employers?
Any views are welcomed … please comment below or directly to ACME (firstname.lastname@example.org).
 Michael Gove speaks to the Royal Society on maths and science, 29th June 2011. http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00191729/michael-gove-speaks-to-the-royal-society-on-maths-and-science [Accessed 12th July 2012]
 ACME, 2012, Increasing provision and participation in post-16 mathematics. http://www.acme-uk.org/media/9786/acme_post16discussionpaperjul2012.pdf [Accessed 12th July 2012]
 Is the UK an Outlier? An international comparison of upper secondary mathematics, Jeremy Hodgen and David Pepper, King’s College London; and Linda Sturman and Graham Ruddock, NFER (Nuffield Foundation 2010) http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/uk-outlier-upper-secondary-maths-education [Accessed 12th July 2012]
 Ofqual, 2012, International Comparisons in Senior Secondary Assessment Summary Report. http://www.ofqual.gov.uk/files/2012-05-10-icossa-summary-report.pdf [Accessed 12th July 2012]