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Improving A level Mathematics

Jun 2012

A level reform means that new A levels will be developed over the next couple of years. MEI wants to use this as an opportunity to improve A level Mathematics. We have produced a discussion paper about this and are keen hear your views. Please use this page to post your thoughts using the comment option below.

Your Comments

The MEI discussion paper has raised many important points. The idea of a bridging unit for those with grades B and C at GCSE and an appropriate pathway (or pathways) for those not wishing to/ not suited to studying traditional AS maths are particularly vital if more students are to study maths post-16. Issues of assessment are always trickier as we all want the best possible results for our students even when this is sometimes at the expense of their learning experience.

I agree with Kristin's comments.
Also the idea of a separate paper for A* sounds like an interesting idea.

From previous discussion on the quantity and type of applied maths to include in an A Level, there is not going to be an answer that everyone likes.
Many students progressing onto Engineering courses would of course benefit from ensuring that they are exposed to M1/M2.
Many staff feel comfortable teaching S1/S2 and so do not offer beyond this...
But there are many students who move onto Computer Science Courses (and other courses) who benefit from accessing the Decision modules.
I hope that any future A level ensures that all three applied strands are maintained.
Beyond this, the gap between GCSE and AS is interesting and much discussed. However, if the "O-Level" is returning, then this has implications for Core 2 etc. Which topics from FP1 would filter back into maths to strengthen the A2 if calculus is now taught pre-A level.
Perhaps even moving some more DE into Core 4 would assist with the lack of this commented upon by some admissions tutors privately.
Even more important is the future of technology involved with mathematics. It is essential that the expansion of modules like DC/NC be continued to include perhaps an Statistical Computation and a Mechanical Computation. An idea would be to have one applied AS module (and one A2) with three options (like some other A levels have). Then students have the option of answering questions only on a foundation of applied techniques (some S/M and D) with a section B where they only answer questions on one strand (two questions on Mech/2 on Decision and 2 on Stats). This would address breadth and depth concerns from many commentators. The A2 unit could be the computation unit with all students able to complete the exam using either a computer or a Graphic Display Calculator.
Of course there are logistical issues, but that should not mean we do not push the boundaries of Maths. And it would certainly be seen as encouraging Maths as a Dynamic and Cutting Edge Qualification.

Call for a post 16 bridging qualification in order to allow students with GCSE C/B grade to make “an effective transition to AS level mathematics” is an interesting proposal. But is a new qualification required ? Surely the content would be largely the content of the A/A* elements of the GCSE course. Would the students not be better served by offering a Post 16 course that was designed to make GCSE A or A* grade achievable. This is surely the qualification that allows “an effective transition to AS level mathematics”.

I agree that the AS qualification should be looked on as a valuable qualification in its own right. Either as a Y12 qualification for more able students or, after a suitable bridging course, in Y13 for those students with lower prior attainment.

Could not agree more with 4b – early GCSE entry for large numbers of students should be strongly discouraged.
On the other hand 5c – next steps – promoting wide ranging new modes of assessment for A-levels is not a path we should be following. To suggest moving away from the award of A-levels in maths other than by examination results is likely to be counterproductive in the current political environment. It is also likely to gather little support from the teaching profession. However the inclusion of questions with less structure which test mathematical thinking should be strongly encouraged. The suggested A* paper could consist largely or entirely of these questions.

Comment on Appendix 2.
Lots of suggestions that students should choose courses based on planned entry into employment or higher education that require maths. I was disappointed however to find no suggestions that the AS and A2 were suitable for students who “enjoyed” mathematics and had high achievement in GCSE.
The descriptions in Appendix 2 would seem to positively encourage a talented student who had the eventual aim of studying (say) History not to take Maths even if they were talented and enjoyed the subject.

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