GCSEs: radical rethink needed to make maths education add up for all students
20 August 2013
The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has today published a paper calling for a radical rethink of mathematics education to avoid setting thousands of young people on a path to fail in this critical subject.
Despite widespread good teaching practice, evidence shows that too many young people are not reaching functional levels of numeracy and that more talented students are not being sufficiently challenged.
The paper, Why mathematics education needs whole-system, not piecemeal reform, argues that current proposals to reform GCSEs run the risk of compounding this problem. To allow every pupil to progress as far as they can in maths, there is a need to acknowledge that mathematics is a vast subject, and to offer a wider variety of routes to and types of qualifications.
“The idea of one size fits all is patently wrong for mathematics,” said Gillian Whitehouse, research director in NFER’s Centre for Assessment. “Mathematics is a complex subject and there is a huge range of abilities. We need system-level change, not piecemeal reform, so that we have a mathematics curriculum and assessment that are flexible enough to provide for the needs, capabilities and skills of different learners.”
To address these issues, NFER proposes:
- A consensus among stakeholders about what is important for our students to achieve in their mathematics education
- System-wide change so that we have a mathematics curriculum and routes to achievement that are sufficiently flexible to provide for different learners
- Clear, well thought-out routes through mathematics education that lead to defined end points with requirements understood by employers, and by further and higher education providers
- Clear links between courses so students avoid being trapped on a particular mathematics path at an early age and can change as their aspirations develop.
The NFER Thinks Piece can be found at: /wmer
Note to editors
Why mathematics education needs whole-system, not piecemeal, reform is the latest paper in the series of NFER Thinks, What the evidence tells us. It is authored by Gillian Whitehouse, an experienced research director of large scale assessment development projects in NFER’s Centre for Assessment, and Dr Newman Burdett, an educational assessment expert and head of NFER’s Centre for International Comparisons. Both have particular interest and experience in national and international assessment systems and policies.
NFER is the UK’s largest independent provider of research, assessment and information services for education, training and children’s services. www.nfer.ac.uk