Having read the Ofqual A Level Reform Consultation I suggest that DfE:

- Be wary of changes which may lead to a reduction in numbers taking Mathematics and Further Mathematics.
- Accept that there MUST be a common core in at least the pure parts of Maths and Further Maths.
- Accept that if the country/government is serious about wanting a more numerate population then the maths curriculum must be drawn up to do the job, not fitted into an unsuitable mould for the sake of ‘consistency’ across subjects.
- Accept that, at A level, no one exam can test satisfactorily the whole ability range in mathematics.
- For minimum disruption, redesign something like AEA or STEP to stretch the top ability range with problems (where students are not led through to the solution) and where rigour and good style are recognised and rewarded. Fund it and make it more accessible than the present AEA/STEP, with on-line support as for Further Maths. (I imagine HE are not so unhappy with the content of Maths and Further Maths but with the lack both of rigour and of problem solving.)

[Related posts: Universities to set A-levels; A Level Reform Consultation; Commons Select Committee on Education: Introduce National Syllabuses]

We’ve been thinking about this long and hard, and ACME is consulting on its own response. My personal overview is that

1. It would be a very good thing to re-involve universities with (especially) 16-18 education. This, however, is not the way to do it. One might hope that merely to push for such re-involvement, in whatever form, would have *some* positive effects, in getting awarding bodies to re-engage with academe, but in the proposed form such re-engagement will probably be outweighed by negative effects.

2. I would divide A level delivery (roughly) into three steps: syllabuses, teaching materials, and assessment. The current proposal focuses on the first, which is precisely where HE involvement is *least* needed, in general. For example, the core C1-4 of Maths A-level looks fine, as a syllabus, complete with aims which emphasize rigour, methods of proof, and so on. We need a core syllabus, and (if one had to write from scratch a first course in calculus and associated topics) it would look pretty much like this. There is little benefit to be had by getting academics to rubber-stamp a re-write, and many dangers.

3. Teaching materials, CPD and assessment, however, would benefit enormously from a fresh injection of ideas from up-to-date, widely read, free-thinking mathematicians, of whom there is a huge pool in HE. I would rather that this initiative be aimed at creating such a re-engagement. It would also need oversight by a national subject committee for maths and regular academic scrutiny of assessment.

4. The initiative is already going wrong. At least one awarding body has already started soliciting contacts in HE, in what appears likely to me to be very much a ‘rubber stamping’ form. Much deeper and longer-term engagement is needed, at the levels which actually generate teaching and assessment materials, and such involvement needs to be properly funded, and valued in the HE career structure.

I agree with Niall (para 2) that the syllabus is not the problem but delivery is. Since now testing drives teaching it follows that the problem of how to test adequately has to be tackled before any progress can be made.

One way in which HE can be involved in 16-18 teaching is by involvement with the provision of good teaching material and good texts. But none of this will happen on any scale if schools are not forced, at least for their better students, to teach a more rigorously tested syllabus than the present A level.