Maths claims don’t add up

Blackpool Sixth Form students debate science and maths teaching. Emily Ramsay, Alec Wylie and Calvin Ko.

Blackpool Sixth Form students debate science and maths teaching. Emily Ramsay, Alec Wylie and Calvin Ko.

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BLACKPOOL Sixth Form has hit back at claims A-level science teaching is failing to equip students with appropriate maths skills.

This week, a report has been released by Score, (the Science Community Representing Education) which claims students are not learning enough maths to prepare them for science degrees or related jobs.

The report, has been prepared for the upcoming A-level reform and analysed the type, extent and difficulty of maths questions within the 2010 A-level exam papers.

It also studied the levels of mathematical difficulty between different exam boards’ papers in biology, chemistry and physics.

But its conclusion was damning saying exams failed to assess the full range of maths needed for the subjects.

It also claims exams often failed to meet the requirements for A-level science qualifications set out by the exams regulator Ofqual.

Prof Graham Hutchings, chairman of SCORE, said: “Our findings are worrying. A significant proportion of the mathematical requirements put in place by Ofqual were simply not assessed.

“If they were, it was often in a very limited way and at a lower level of difficulty than students will need to progress to degree level or into relevant employment. Mathematics enables students to understand and describe many scientific phenomena.

“Without learning some mathematical techniques, students are missing out on gaining a full understanding of the scientific ideas.”

Score have made a number or recommendations following the report. It says regulation is needed to ensure the standard of maths teaching is consistent across different exam boards.

It has also asked a review of maths requirements be made to ensure adequate skills are being taught for the different areas of science.

Score say professional bodies are “perfectly placed to ensure A-levels are fit for purpose” and have recommended the development of a National Subject Committee for A-level qualification development.

Blackpool Sixth Form has described the findings as “interesting” but say it is committed to ensuring all pupils receive maths qualifications.

Every pupil attending the Blackpool Old Road College is asked to achieve at least a maths GCSE of C or above by the time they leave regardless of what they are studying.

But for pupils studying science, the focus on maths is even stronger.

James Hallmark, head of science at Blackpool Sixth Form, said: “In the science subjects, mathematical understanding is vital for success.

“Our study pathways strongly encourage students to take A level maths alongside science and social science subjects and this is compulsory for students taking physics.

“We are fully committed to ensuring students develop the numerical skills needed for success in a wide range of A level and BTEC subject areas.

“Courses such as psychology, geography and economics also provide an excellent means of building greater mathematical confidence, particularly in areas such as statistics and data analysis.

“The exam boards we use are known for their high standards and at no point have our students been refused a place at university based on their choice of exam board.

“Feedback from students suggests they are well prepared in these subject areas when they go on to university.”