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Core Maths: the most significant development in post-16 mathematics education in a generation

Published: Nov 29, 2017 5 min read

STEM learning

Agreeing to support the work of Core Maths is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It has been, and continues to be, a huge privilege to support Core Maths and the many wonderful practitioners I have met along the way.

But for me, this is only the end of the beginning with so much more support needed for Core Maths.

Back in January 2014, I knew very little about Core Maths except for the ACME report, the government policy document that this influenced, and Liz Truss’s speech.

One aspect I quickly picked up on, though, was captured by this statement:

“It is essential that Core Maths qualifications help prepare students for higher education and employment.”

This was followed up by the government’s Technical Guidance published in July 2014:

“Many entrants to university and employment do not have the mathematical skills expected of them.”

“Qualifications should provide a sound basis for the mathematical demands that students will face at university and within employment across a broad range of academic, professional and technical fields”

These issues were the reason I was so keen to join ALCAB and support the development of reformed AS and A levels in mathematics and further mathematics to make a difference for all students who were university-bound.

Armed with some additional input from my own institution, and many years’ experience teaching students who hadn’t studied mathematics beyond GCSE, I spoke at the launch of Core Maths in July 2014 about the mathematical, quantitative and statistical skills needed to study a wide range of university courses, and uttered the bold claim that:

“Core Maths is the most significant development in post 16 mathematics in a generation”

This statement has followed me around ever since and remains true in my view.

Since then I have endeavoured to act as a trailblazer and ambassador for Core Maths, visiting schools, colleges, universities, employers and professional bodies around the UK, as well as speaking at a number of conferences and workshops.

Fast forward to July 2017, Sir Adrian Smith’s report of his review of post-16 mathematics was published. The very first recommendation states that the Department for Education should seek to ensure that schools and colleges offer students access to a Core Maths qualification.

Given the value placed on mathematical and quantitative skills by universities and employers, it’s no surprise schools and colleges are being encouraged to offer these new qualifications.

What is the future of Core Maths?

With a total of 44 universities, showing their support for Core Maths, the emphasis and awareness of Core Maths is growing. Having toured the country briefing senior university and faculty staff in admissions and departments, I can rightly claim that Core Maths will meet the needs of their students and that they are universally impressed by the qualifications.

Despite recent progress, participation in mathematics post-16 remains low in comparison to many other countries. However, there is a strong case that mathematical and quantitative skills are important for students’ future study and career.

Core Maths plays a vital part in this as there is a strong focus on problem-solving, reasoning and the practical application of mathematics and statistics. This new qualification has been designed with the support and help of employers and universities to suit students with a range of pass grades at GCSE mathematics and provide them with the quantitative skills now needed in a wide range of jobs.

Most recently, Core Maths has also featured very prominently in the Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future:

“We are seeing growth in the new Core Maths qualifications introduced in 2014, which are designed to prepare students for the mathematical demands of university study, employment and life. These have been endorsed by a large number of universities, including many in the Russell Group.

Building on Sir Adrian Smith’s recommendation to make Core Maths available to all students on level 3 pathways, we will incentivise education institutions to offer maths by providing a £600 premium to existing per pupil funding rates for each additional student who takes Core Maths. This will help education providers to support more students aged 16 and over to study maths.”

What advice is out there for those looking to teach Core Maths?

A good starting point is on STEM Learning’s website where you will find a whole host of information and advice about Core Maths. There are many wonderful resources to be found there, many of which were developed as part of Core Maths Support Programme.

There is a huge amount of support on the site for teachers and students, including case studies, and much information for all stakeholders, including students, teachers, employers, and universities.

But Core Maths isn’t for the faint hearted, its success depends on:

  • students committing to learning through collaboration and problem solving – both vital for future studies and work
  • teachers embracing collaboration between each other and with students, and to teaching through problem-solving – both vital to professional development as teachers but also to teaching for other key stages

If you are a teacher of Core Maths or are looking to become one of its growing family of trailblazing ambassadors, take the time to enjoy the richness and diversity of the resources available on the STEM Learning website.

About the author

Paul Glaister is Professor of Mathematics and Mathematics Education in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Reading. He is also the current Chair of the Joint Mathematical Council (JMC).