Background and context
4.1 The main activities of the education workstream have been to get to grips with the boundaries of the remit, to identify the main constituencies and communities with which we need to collaborate and consult, and to identify the burning issues within mathematics education that could be reasonably expected to fall within the Academy’s interest.
Within the education context, we use the term ‘maths’ as opposed to ‘mathematical sciences’ and ‘maths teachers’ or ‘mathematicians’ as opposed to ‘mathematical scientists’ which is used elsewhere in the Academy when referring to the discipline. This reflects the way in which the term is commonly used, especially in the school and college landscape within England. To be clear though, the term ‘maths’ in an education context covers all elements of the mathematical sciences discipline, including mathematics, statistics, operational research and data science.
4.2 The remit in terms of stages of education encompasses:
- Early years – pre-school education.
- Compulsory education 5-16.
- Education in the post-16 phase. This includes (in England) qualifications studied in schools, FE Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges including A levels, T levels, Core Maths, Functional skills and GCSE resits, apprenticeships – and the equivalent settings and qualifications in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- Undergraduate mathematical sciences degrees, and other undergraduate degrees with a high proportion of mathematical sciences in the programme of study. (Postgraduate degrees and research are covered under Academies and Societies.)
- Numeracy in the general populace.
4.3 For each of these stages, the remit in terms of activity includes consideration and research into curriculum, assessment, resources, and recruitment, initial training and professional development of teachers/educators, all of which would ideally interact in a coherent policy landscape.
4.4 The mathematical sciences education community is diverse. Across all stages it includes teachers/educators, researchers, educational consultants, project leaders, and university mathematical scientists involved in teaching undergraduates. All of these groups have communities or membership organisations, many of which, such as the Royal Society’s Advisory Council on Mathematics Education (ACME) and Joint Mathematical Council (JMC), may be considered to be operating in the same, or connected, space as the Academy. We will do a piece of collaborative work on the complex education landscape and how the Academy fits into that – and how it can best meet our intention to add value to the work of these organisations to the benefit of maths education. We recognise that these organisations already do substantial good work and we want to work in partnership, not in competition, with these education organisations.
Ways of working
4.5 The education workstream has been extended to include a more varied membership as possible, with additional expert guests joining for specific focussed discussions, where their expertise is required. We have been bringing in other members, in particular from the devolved nations and from those with current school expertise, and are still doing so.
4.6 Our approach is, and will continue to be, to work with key members of the maths education community and to act in a collaborative, consultative, and inclusive way, to identify key personnel in education constituencies to listen to what they have to say, and to communicate our ways of working as widely as possible.
4.7 We will work with the Policy Unit to identify key decision makers and actively seek to engage with them. We will exploit the synergies between Education and the other workstreams to ensure joined up thinking and a coherent message to external agencies.
4.8 The education workstream has the following suggested priorities:
- Consultation to date has identified securing adequate recruitment, supply and retention of knowledgeable and effective teachers as a major imperative. Policy and action recommendations would firstly require collating information and data to establish the status quo and then considering the workforce agenda holistically rather than piecemeal.
- Mathematical sciences is involved in many other school subjects and there is an urgent need to ensure the coherence of the mathematical sciences/stats/data curriculum across those subjects, and develop a programme of work to identify synergies and support non-maths teachers in both secondary and primary schools.
- While applicants with A*-C in A-level mathematics can enter mathematical sciences degree programmes across the UK, those universities requiring the very highest grades have a very high, and growing, share of these applicants. Mathematics departments with relatively lower entry grades are struggling to fill their places – there seems to be a perception that it is not viable for applicants with less than an A at A-level Maths to study mathematical sciences. Yet employment prospects for maths sciences graduates are good whatever the A-level grade. The current trend is reducing diversity of opportunity, leads to a less diverse cohort of graduates and further contributes to the shortage of mathematics teachers. Designing a coherent policy to reverse this perception and the absolute decline in applicants for mathematical sciences degrees with B and C grades at A-level would be to the nations’ advantage. (This issue exists across the UK, although Scotland pupils sit Highers and Advanced Highers rather than A-levels.)
- Looking externally, there is much communications work to be done to address the negative attitude of the populace to mathematics. There is a need for a well-designed communication strategy which addresses individuals across all ages.
4.9 The Prime Minister’s aspiration of extending maths education to age 18 for everyone in England, and the responses to it, suggest the absolute centrality of addressing these and related mathematical science priorities, and integrating mathematical skills into the UK’s economy, society, and political culture. It also demonstrates the importance of considering how the Academy and others might tackle these issues holistically.
Q7. Priorities will arise over time – are the priorities above the right ones to begin the work of the education workstream?
Q8. Are there other areas you would like to see prioritised instead?