Tuesday, 17 November 2009
November newsletter is out today.
Posted by Luke Robinson at 13:24
You may not have heard about it on the mainland, but here in Northern Ireland, the excellent education system has reached a crisis point.
The grammar schools were told that last year, 2008, would be their last chance to use academic selection to decide who would make up the new intake of pupils. The transfer tests, or 11+, were abolished.
But the grammar schools have devised their own tests, one being used by the predominantly Catholic schools, another by the schools with a Protestant tradition. Pupils in their final year of primary school (they call it P7 here) began the new tests, based on mathematics and English, this weekend, with the first of three papers to take place over the coming weeks. They must visit the grammar school of their choice on a Saturday morning, unlike the old official transfer tests, which took place in the primary schools. And, unlike the old tests, they are not free.
Education minister Caitriona Ruane of Sinn Fein believes the old system was unfair, and placed too much pressure on children at a young age. She has so far refused to countenance any form of compromise. Ruane seems to believe so strongly in her cause that she has now threatened the schools with legal action if their tests continue.
Ironically, the unintended consequences of Ruane's actions may be to allow a private education system to develop, which until now has been largely unnecessary because of the high standards of the grammar schools. Fees for the tests is perhaps a first step. School fees and opting out of the state system may be the next, if the grammar schools feel their statuses and reputations are being threatened.
Here at mathsbank, we would like to see a resolution to the increasingly hostile dispute one way or the other, before the education of the children of Northern Ireland begins to suffer as a result of it.
Posted by Luke Robinson at 12:04
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Over the past five years there has been a very encouraging increase in the number of students choosing to study both maths and further maths at A-Level.
This year the increases in both subjects were particularly large, far greater than for other science and technology subjects.
Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) would like to understand this trend a little better and are collecting some data from teachers, through an online survey.
The aim of the survey is to find out what our A-Level maths teachers believe to be the main causes of the rise in maths student numbers. Teachers of all specifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may take part.
Your feedback is valuable and the closing date is 11 October.
Posted by Luke Robinson at 07:34
Monday, 7 September 2009
Many A-Level students have just had their results and are now forming a good idea of how they will be spending their next year, or two or three.
But what for this age group in general? How is the future of post-16 education shaping up? Will A-Level continue to be the Gold Standard of school-leaving exams and university requirements?
There are several factors to consider here. There is no doubt, with the continued improvement in the overall results our students are achieving, that there is pressure for change. The universities are finding it increasingly difficult to use A-Level results as a benchmark on which to judge an applicant. And many schools are now hoping to prove the ability of their pupils in other ways.
It is important to note, at this point, that the improvement in grades is a good thing. Improving teaching methods, and more diligent, better-prepared pupils are the primary factors giving us these results. But, if there is a downside, it is how to then distinguish between the increasing numbers who are getting the best grades.
The new A* grade, to be awarded for the first time this year, was introduced specifically to address this problem. There will be no change for the vast majority, but students who are gaining an A grade easily, with a truly exceptional score, will be awarded the new grade.
Other initiatives have been introduced. In mathematics, Edexcel are now offering the Advanced Extension Award, which, although examining the same content as the A2 exam, demonstrates a higher understanding of the material.
The International Baccalaureate has been adopted by many schools, and one of its aims is to give the student a more rounded qualification, proving ability across a wider field of study.
Cambridge University has devised the Pre-U and at least one private school, Harrow, has said it will consider abandoning A-Levels entirely in favour of this new exam, which is now in its second year of teaching.
Finally, there are bound to be changes to the structure of the GCSE within the next few years. What evolved as a school-leavers' exam is now looking less and less useful in that role, since almost all pupils now go on to some kind of post-16 education. GCSE could be brought forward a couple of years, to fill the 'SATS void' and already a large number of schools are giving their pupils the chance to sit GCSE up to two years early. How all of this impacts on post-16 education remains to be seen, but any decisions made about GCSE will clearly have to be made in conjunction with decisions made about the structure of our ever more critical post-16 assessments.
Whichever party forms our next government, we hope to see some very careful consideration of these issues.
Posted by Luke Robinson at 10:37
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Good luck to all students getting results today, especially to A2 students: your uni applications are probably depending on it more than ever before.
For AS students, you have probably already decided whether to continue with your maths. But if you're still undecided, remember that the A2 really is a great way to open up a huge number of opportunities.
Whatever your level, whatever your plans, wishing you all the best.
Posted by Luke Robinson at 08:18