Scholars Event - International Society, Manchester, 7th May 2016

The third Scholars Event was held on the 7th May at the International Society in Manchester.

Third Scholars Event

It was the warmest weekend of the year so far and was attended by a lively and enthusiastic group of both current scholars and previous scholars, who are now in their NQT year

Scott Keir, from the RSS, opened the event welcoming people and explained how the RSS supports teachers in several ways including:

  • e-Teacher membership programme
  • Global Learning Programme for schools
  • Mathematics teacher training scholarships
  • Encouraging Fellows, including the William Guy Lecture
  • Further resources

The focus of the morning was  Core Maths. This is the new qualification for those who want to maintain their valuable mathematics skills but are not planning to take AS or A-level mathematics.  Sue Pope from Manchester Metropolitan University provided an illuminating introduction to Core Maths. She started by outlining the current government’s determination to increase the proportion of young people studying mathematics post-16. This will include an additional performance measure from 2017 based on the proportion of young people studying mathematics.  You can read more detail regarding the exact government maths requirements here.

Scholars Event - International Society, Manchester

Currently, students have to study mathematics until 16, at which about 65% of students in England achieve a Grade C or better in mathematics.  So, let’s consider all students who are in education and aged between 16 and 19. There are those who have decided to continue studying mathematics and those who are re-sitting a mathematics qualification.

However, about three quarters of students aged 16 to 19 are not studying any mathematics at all.  It is this large proportion of students who form the so-called “maths-gap”. It’s here where the new Core Maths qualification fit.  Having such a small percentage of students, post 16, actually studying advanced mathematics (about 15% of students) is not normal when compared against other advanced economies.  

A recent OECD survey shows numeracy (and literacy) skills of current university students in England are lower than those for almost every other country in the survey.  Given the lack of participation in mathematics post-16 in England, this may not be surprising. Nevertheless, the position of England near the bottom of this long list of advanced economies should be a major cause for concern – and a call to action. Do read the Building Skills for All document here.

One serious consequence of the ‘maths gap’ is that students in many subjects lack the quantitative skills they need for further study.  Too many students think they can just ‘drop maths’ without further consequences. However, a report from the British Academy for the humanities and social sciences makes clear, dropping maths has some significant consequences.

For many areas in the humanities and social sciences, quantitative skills are in enormous demand.  Indeed, with undergraduates embarking on courses with varying, and often weak, fluency in statistics, many universities have modified degree courses in a non-quantitative direction.  

Students often graduate with little confidence in applying what skills they do have, which then has knock-on effects for businesses. It is obvious that graduates may well be ill-prepared for the data demands of the workplace.

So what can be done?  Core Maths is a new suite of Post-16 mathematics courses and qualifications designed to produce a step-change in mathematical participation post-16, and equip a generation of young people with the mathematical skills they need to thrive in life, work, and further study.  As Prof. Stephen Sparks, ACME Chair, 2013 said   “Whatever path young people choose, they will face situations where they need to be competent and confident in dealing with numbers, data and graphs. These courses will give them the opportunity to work mathematically with authentic materials and resources and in a range of realistic contexts, outside of the world of mathematics.”

Core Maths builds on and extends GCSE mathematics with a sharper focus on problem solving skills.  The course covers:

  • Statistics and algebra
  • Probability and estimation
  • Data analysis and modelling
  • Sequences and growth
  • Financial planning and management
  • Collaborative problem solving approaches and techniques
  • Using technology and spreadsheets

Core Maths can play a vital role in supporting students with the mathematical demands of subjects such as psychology, economics, geography and business.  Core Maths is also a Level 3 qualification, and attracts UCAS points on the same basis as an AS-Level exam.  As a new qualification, awareness of Core Maths among universities is still growing. The course has been endorsed by an increasing number of institutions, with both the awareness and the desirability of Core Maths to grow and develop further.

The delegates then participated in a series of practical teaching examples led by Steve Nixon and Iram Hussain relating to the new core maths syllabus.  The examples used included:

  • Estimating the likelihood of having a disease
  • How much tax an individual pays
  • Fermi estimation

Fantastic maths resources around financial calculations can be found here.

The HMRC  Income tax calculator is also available for additional help.

All the delegates were able to network in the sunshine over lunch before returning to an afternoon facilitated by Neil Sheldon, Vice President for education and statistical literacy, RSS. He gave an introduction regarding many of the main themes within statistical thinking. Neil also demonstrated how to use software to develop statistical understanding through Randomisation, Replication and Re-sampling.

Neil Sheldon

In the first of his sessions he outlined ways of exploring statistical thinking, by looking at a variety of sources of data on height of humans around the world.

Topics covered included cross-sectional versus longitudinal studies, questioning the source of data (e.g. In the Wikipedia table of human heights. what’s comparable between countries?), regression to the mean, and variation, which Neil described as being at the heart of statistics.

In the second of his sessions, “The three Rs: how to use software to develop statistical understanding through Randomisation, Replication and Re-sampling”, he demonstrated a range of ways of using technology to encourage intuitive understanding of statistics. This is particularly seen through visually presenting repeated sampling of larger datasets to explore, e.g., whether 2/3 of data lie within one standard deviation around the mean in a normal distribution and 95% in two standard deviations, or whether n or (n - 1) is better in the calculation of variance (proof of which is in Further Mathematics A level, but earlier demonstration can aid understanding). The software used was Gnumeric (Linux and Windows versions available), and datasets included Censusatschool.

Speakers Biographies

  • Sue Pope of Manchester Metropolitan University and chair of the Core Maths Support Programme advisory board for teaching Core Maths. Currently associate head of department in the faculty of education at MMU. Sue has worked in mathematics education for more than 25 years, including five years as head of mathematics in an 11-18 mixed comprehensive, four years as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s national lead for mathematics curriculum, qualifications and assessment development 5-19, and local authority advisory work working across both primary and secondary.
  • Steven Nixon of Priestly College, Warrington and Core Maths Lead. Steven has 10 years teaching experience in schools and a sixth-form college. He has taught on a range of courses, GCSE Mathematics, A-level Mathematics and Further Mathematics, IB Mathematics at both standard and higher level. He was the Mathematics lead on the IB when the Priestley College became an IB World School.
  • Iram Hussain of Sir John Deane's College, Northwich and Core Maths Lead. Iram has 10 years of teaching and training experience within various sectors ranging from primary to higher education, specialising in ICT and Mathematics. She is also a Professional Development Accredited Lead for the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM).
  • Neil Sheldon, Vice president for education and statistical literacy, RSS. Neil has more than 40 years’ experience in education. He taught at Manchester Grammar School for much of his career, and he also taught, part-time, at Manchester Polytechnic and the OU. Neil is chief examiner for statistics and for pure mathematics with Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR), he works on the Cambridge University STEP papers, and he is an examiner for two of our professional exam modules.