The independent advisory committee on mathematics education (ACME) has developed a model for level 3 mathematics, ready for the review of UK qualifications in 2013

Struggling with a math problem

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Are students currently prepared for maths at HE level?

A major review of qualifications in the UK is planned for 2013, with resulting changes expected to be implemented in 2016. With this in mind, the independent advisory committee on mathematics education (ACME) is working on a project to develop a model for level 3 mathematics that will, among other aims: better prepare all post-16 learners for FE, HE, employment and life; and raise the proportion of 16-19-year olds not only studying mathematics but also other numerate degrees, and ensure that these students are better prepared for such study. (ACME was set up by the Royal Society and the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK in 2002.) 

In a consultation paper, Towards level 3 mathematics in 2016, ACME sets out three mathematical pathways and asks: 'Should mathematics/numeracy and English/communication simply be encouraged at this level or should they be compulsory?', and 'If the latter, what standard should learners be expected to achieve in these key subjects?'  

Students moving onto one of the three pathways would be expected to have achieved level 2 GCSE maths. In brief, the proposed pathways are: 

  • pathway one - two hours/week over a two-year course. The content would cover much of level 2 maths but set in new contexts. Potential arts degree students would learn how to deal with mortgages, loans, estimations etc;
  • pathway two - four hours/week over a two-year course. For students, for whom maths will be a substantial, but ancillary, part of their study. Students wanting to become technicians, for example, would fall into this category. Some of the content would be similar to the GCE AS/A-level use of mathematics, and use of statistics courses. There could be a synoptic component to the assessment and an extension project for the most able students;
  • pathway three - six hours/week over two years. For students for whom mathematics will be central to their studies, ie students going on to do a degree in mathematics, the natural sciences, engineering or economics. This pathway would subsume the content of pathway two, but take a deeper and more abstract approach. Students who would currently take A-level maths and further maths would be expected to take this pathway. Assessment would include a synoptic element, an extension paper to challenge the most able, and the possibility of assessing additional content through the student's other subjects. 

The RSC responds

According to the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), England and Wales are in the minority when compared to the rest of Europe in not making the study of maths compulsory for post-16 studies. The RSC comments, 'We believe mathematics is important in underpinning the chemical sciences, as well as to society as a whole.'  

Universities, the RSC adds, are clearly of the opinion that GCSE-level mathematics is not a sufficient baseline for students studying a degree in chemistry. The RSC believes that for students wanting to pursue degree-level study in chemistry they would need to study mathematics to a minimum of the level indicated by pathway two.