Fewer young people taking A-level Maths – a tragedy or a blessing?

It was recently reported in the TES (Times Educational Supplements), among other media, that there has been a significant reduction in the number of young people taking A-level Maths. The TES report showed a table comparing the number of students applying to take A-level Maths in September 2016 to those who are applying to study the subject in September 2017. Whilst there has been a slight increase in some schools, overall, there is a significant fall in the number for 2017.

The fall in number of students taking A-level Maths comes at a time when industry, higher education institutions and employees are complaining about the lack of numerate people to employ. It was reported in The Guardian on 14th August 2014 that A-level Maths had just overtaken English as the most popular A-level, which was very good news for the country. Sadly, the optimism has not lasted long, as this year, there has been a significant drop in the number of students taking up A-level Maths.

Why are fewer 16-year olds opting for A-level Maths?

There are two main reasons that are put forward for the drop in numbers: the perceived harder, new GCSE Maths and the decoupling of the AS from A-level.

The new GCSE Maths grading system

As for the more challenging GCSE Maths under the new grading system, the difficulty is caused by the increased content of the harder topics such as Algebra and Geometry – topics that are considered to be more challenging in comparison to those such as percentages and so on. It was reported that even brighter young people feel intimidated by the new Maths course as they find some of the new content too hard and feel they will only achieve a Grade 7, which is equivalent to an A grade under the old letter grading system. With the new system that has just been introduced, students will be awarded pass grades from Grade 1 to Grade 9 instead of Grade G to Grade A* under the old system. The new GCSE grading system comes into effect in Maths and English GCSE this summer, but, for most of the other subjects, it does not come in until next year – 2018.

Many supposedly bright young people who are likely to achieve Grade 7 at GCSE level feel that this is not sufficient to make them study A-level Maths. This is because Grade 7 is equivalent to a low ‘A’ under the old letter system. Grade 8 is equivalent to high A/ lower A* under the outgoing system and Grade 9 is equivalent to the top level of A*.As you will recall, the new number system was introduced in order to allow decision-makers to identify the most able students – sorting the men out from the boys or women from girls, some might say!

Changes in the A-level curriculum

The second reason that may well explain the reduction in the number of students applying to take A-level Maths is the decoupling of the AS from A-level. This means that the grade obtained where a student has sat the AS will not count towards the final A-level grade, as used to be the case. A related development which may also account for the reduction in the number of A-level applicants is the fact that many schools and colleges are no longer permitting sixteen-year-olds to take four A-level subjects in the first year; now they can only take three.

The changes to both the GCSE and A-level Maths are profound – particularly for A-level, where they are the biggest change for 17 years. In the next three blog posts, I will be exploring further all the key issues associated with these changes and the effect on young people and society as a whole. I will also offer suggestions as to what the young person should do if they are contemplating taking up A-level Maths. In my next blog post, I will explain in more detail the changes that are being brought to A-levels as a whole.

Part 2 – Read the next article in the series: The decoupling of AS from the full A-level means that it no longer counts towards A-level

Comparison of the letter grading to the number grading, a conversion of old to new http://excelinkeysubjects.com/yet-more-confusion-about-gcse-grade-9-1/

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