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.

Monday 7 September 2009

What next for post-16s?

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.