Universities urged to sponsor free schools specialising in maths

From The Guardian

Universities are being urged by the government to sponsor new free schools specialising in mathematics, in a plan supported by the Office for Fair Access (Offa) to encourage talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study maths at degree level.

As an incentive to open the new schools, universities will be allowed to fund them using budgets otherwise reserved for improving access to higher education for under-represented and disadvantaged groups.

According to letters from education minister Elizabeth Truss to the heads of higher education maths departments in England, universities will be able to sponsor the new free schools through a fast-track, simplified procedure, and without the competitive application process normally required of those bidding to open free schools.

“This country has some brilliant university maths departments and world famous mathematicians,” Truss wrote.

“But there is no denying there is a big jump between studying maths in schools and colleges – even for those students taking A-level further maths – and what those young people go on to study at university.”

If the scheme takes off, it could create a network of selective free schools teaching 16-19-year-olds under the aegis of their local universities, providing academic support and strong links between higher education and local populations.

Les Ebdon, director of Offa, said: “I’d be happy to see more university-led maths free schools because of the role they can play in helping able students from disadvantaged backgrounds access higher education.

“It is for individual universities and colleges to decide whether or not this is something they want to do, but Offa is supportive of anything that is targeted at under-represented groups and helps them to fulfil their potential.”