The misuse of maths - CentreRight

Today 64 leading mathematicians put in their objections to the proposed Use of Maths A Level. The QCA consultation on it closes today. To put your views forward fill in the form here [If you can bear to answer a series of questions such as "The learning outcomes are statements of learning achievements and are expressed in terms of what a learner should know, understand, and be able to do on completion of a module. The learning outcomes are appropriate as currently stated a) agree b) disagree"],

The Use of Maths A-level purports to offer a version of mathematics that is "accessible" suitable for learning relevant skills. In fact it is a hollowed out version of the real Mathematics A-level. University mathematicians say that the content of the qualification is not of A-level standard and does not provide sufficient preparation for studying at university. The optional units are a "hotchpotch" which will not give a solid base of preparation. Pupils will have graphical calculators in the exam which means that they can plug the equation in and copy out the graph rather than having to understand it.

One can only imagine the uproar that would ensue if a Use of History A-level was mooted where students did not have to know anything that happened in the past. Instead they would "apply techniques" and fill in worksheets. However people who do not understand mathematics themselves seem happy to encourage a view that the subject is too difficult for average students to do and a new content-free version needs to be set.

Mathematics teachers are already in short supply (only 76 per cent of those teaching maths have a maths qualification). The introduction of Use of Maths will stretch this resource further. The qualification may cannibalise A-level mathematics as schools and students seek the "easier" option. Poorly-informed students - in particular those at the weaker schools - will either be frustrated as they find that universities continue to insist on A-level Mathematics, or may be accepted for courses with mathematical content only to discover that Use of Mathematics is inadequate as preparation for university.

Significantly expanding post-16 take-up of maths - a laudable goal - will only be achieved by improving the GCSE and making A-level more interesting, challenging and attractive. Unfortunately the QCA is taking the opposite route. As Professor Nick Shepherd-Barron at Cambridge University said:

"As far as A-level is concerned creativity has been not just hidden, but lost. Instead mathematics is presented as a mindless exercise in the execution of routines."