Solving the maths problem: international perspectives on mathematics education

Document type
Norris, Emma
Date of publication
1 February 2012
Education and Skills
Social welfare
Material type

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This report found that many students do not realise that mathematics is necessary for success in a range of higher education subjects such as psychology, social sciences and human sciences. The limited mathematical facility of university teachers also means English universities are not keeping pace with international standards. The report draws on international examples of best practice to lay out guiding principles behind future mathematics reform including:

  • The need to provide flexible, bi-level qualifications that allow students to progress at their own speed and aim for the highest possible grade (as per National 4 and 5 in Scotland). On this basis the linked pair of mathematics GCSEs currently being piloted should be rolled out across England.
  • Upper secondary maths education should extend beyond re-takes even for students who have not gained GCSE Mathematics.
  • Further consideration of making mathematics compulsory for all students in upper secondary education is needed and should draw on Hong Kong’s experience.
  • The importance of incorporating both functional and academic elements (including arithmetic) in secondary and upper secondary education.
  • Designing assessment arrangements that limit performativity (teaching to the test), for instance through some element of teacher-led assessment for students studying foundation-level qualifications.
  • Recognising that too much diversity in qualification-type can be confusing for students, education-providers and employers and that diversity in curriculum content would be a better route for meeting diverse learner needs (as with the Scottish Higher and Hong Kong's NSS).
  • Once the pilot and evaluation of the linked pair GCSEs is complete, the mathematics community should come together over a one or two day period to consider the big picture and learning from overseas, and develop definitive recommendations for the future of maths education in England.

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