Statement on A Level reform

16 July 2014

Today the A level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) published its report on the content required in new AS/ A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics. Consultations have also been published by the Department for Education and Ofqual, looking at content and assessment respectively.

ALCAB was established in late 2013 by the Russell Group universities to provide advice on the core content requirements considered desirable in A level facilitating subjects. ACME is supportive of the transparency in the process that ALCAB undertook in setting up the mathematics subject panel and its engagement with the mathematics education community and other communities in formulating its report. What the process showed was the coherence of voices in mathematics with regard to A level content.

Professor Steve Sparks FRS, ACME Chair, reflected on some of the concerns of Professor Richard Craster, Chair of the ALCAB panel on mathematics, such as potential threats to the uptake of further mathematics and the need for changes to be implemented in a staged manner to avoid decreases in uptake and continued scrutiny of A level mathematics in the years ahead. He said:

The increase in numbers taking mathematics and further mathematics in recent years has been a great success story. The content of these subjects has been looked at in great depth by ALCAB as was their remit. However, assessment and funding are just as significant as content. The changes proposed may make A and A/S level Further Mathematics less attractive to students and schools and colleges. ACME will monitor the take-up of the new A levels closely in case the recent strong increase in numbers should reverse.

ACME has argued for retaining the transferability between AS/A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics, to allow students who are unsure about their chosen path to have a stepping stone between qualifications. AS and A level qualifications have been decoupled, which means that AS does not count towards A level but can be taken as a separate qualification. Given that this is the case, it is ever more important that the AS qualification is valuable and valued by universities, as pointed out by Professor Nigel Thrift, Chair of ALCAB and Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University.

ACME supports the Government's policy goal of increasing the number of students taking mathematics qualifications at A level. ACME welcomed the delay in reforming mathematics until 2016 and the importance that is attached by this Government to post-16 mathematics. However, in the future the curriculum should be considered over a longer period than just six to eight months. High performing jurisdictions take years to adjust their syllabuses and consult widely, including with text-book authors to ensure high-quality resources. A standing subject committee for mathematics is needed to review curriculum and assessment across all phases of education to ensure coherence in reform and to bring transparency and expertise to all changes.