Core Maths – The Most Important Initiative In Post 16 Mathematics Education In A Generation?


Can this really be true?

If it is, why is Core Maths so important, who is it for, and how do stakeholders view Core Maths? Let’s begin by looking at the evidence to support my bold claim.

In March 2016 Sir Adrian Smith was asked to undertake an independent review of 16–18 mathematics to consider:

the case for and feasibility of all students continuing some form of mathematics until 18’, with ‘mathematics being interpreted in its broadest sense, including quantitative skills, statistics and data analysis.

The subsequent report was published in July 2017, with the first recommendation:

The DfE should seek to ensure that schools and colleges are able to offer all students on academic routes and potentially students on other level 3 programmes access to a Core Maths qualification.

Which was based on much evidence in the report and the background and rationale for introducing Core Maths in 2014.

Two paragraphs in the report tell us all we need to know about the importance of Core Maths:

Given the value placed on mathematical and quantitative skills by universities and employers, schools and colleges are being encouraged to offer these new qualifications, intended for the approximately 271,000 eligible students each year who would not otherwise continue to study mathematics. These students could be those who intend to go on to do further study of quantitative subjects or those with interests mainly in non-mathematical areas.
The content of Core Maths qualifications has been well received by stakeholders, and feedback has been widely positive. Core Maths provides the opportunity to apply mathematics and statistics to examples from economics, sociology, psychology, chemistry, geography, computing, and business and management.

If that doesn’t convince you, just look at the Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future, which says that:

We are seeing growth in the new core maths qualifications introduced in 2014, which are designed to prepare students for the mathematical demands of university study, employment and life. These have been endorsed by a large number of universities, including many in the Russell Group.
Building on Sir Adrian Smith’s recommendation to make core maths available to all students on level 3 pathways, we will incentivise education institutions to offer maths by providing a £600 premium to existing per pupil funding rates for each additional student who takes core maths. This will help education providers to support more students aged 16 and over to study maths.

and finally, as stated in their response to the review:

The government is determined to give all young people the world-class education they need to fulfil their potential. This means that they must have the opportunities to develop the mathematical and quantitative knowledge and skills appropriate to their chosen careers. In that way we will also ensure that the future workforce will be productive and competitive in the global marketplace.

of which Core Maths is a very significant part.

I coined the phrase:

at the launch of Core Maths in July 2014 when I spoke about the mathematical, quantitative and statistical skills needed to study a wide range of university courses, and this phrase has followed me around ever since. Over three years later I now feel vindicated in making that claim.

So here are some more answers to some of the questions posed. Core Maths refers to a set of level 3 qualifications which are taken alongside A levels, or other level 3 qualifications, and with the same UCAS points as an AS. The qualifications have three key objectives:

  1. Deepen competence in the selection and use of mathematical methods and techniques.

  2. Develop confidence in representing and analysing authentic situations mathematically and in applying mathematics to address related questions and issues.

  3. Build skills in mathematical thinking, reasoning and communication.


Core Maths is designed to:

  • provide opportunities for students who achieved a pass in GCSE Mathematics (but who are not taking AS/A-level Mathematics) to continue with the subject

  • help students retain, deepen and extend mathematical knowledge and skills gained at GCSE, as well as studying and applying new level 3 material

  • complement a range of academic and technical programmes, strengthening and building on students’ existing skills

  • address the problem of transition to mathematical study at university which is compounded by the fact that many students have not studied mathematics since GCSE, resulting in a lack of fluency and confidence in using and applying mathematics

  • address the needs of many stakeholders, including universities and employers, for mathematical and quantitative skills - the Smith report says that Core Maths has been well-received by stakeholders, and feedback has been widely positive, particularly from universities who have engaged strongly with Core Maths, leading to public endorsement by the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, as well as a total of 44 universities, showing their support for Core Maths

  • provide opportunities to apply mathematics and statistics to examples from economics, sociology, psychology, chemistry, geography, computing, and business and management

  • offer a pathway for the approximately 271,000 eligible students each year who would not otherwise continue to study mathematics

  • focus on using and applying mathematics and statistics to address authentic problems/real-life scenarios, drawn from study, work and life, with a strong emphasis on contextualised problem-solving

  • develop fluency and confidence in applying mathematical skills, even when applying known techniques and methods to new problem areas

Further details on the skills developed through studying Core Maths qualifications can be found in the briefing paper I wrote for the DfE and BIS (now BEIS) to accompany a Ministerial Communication that was sent to all university vice-chancellors, along with an offer from DfE/BIS for me brief senior staff on Core Maths, which has resulted in over 50 such visits.


Collaborative learning (and teaching), problem-solving, and further information

Key to the success and enjoyment of Core Maths is the commitment that:

  • students make to learning through collaboration and problem solving – both vital for future studies and work

  • teachers make by embracing collaboration between each other and with students, and to teaching through problem-solving – both vital to professional development as teachers but also to teaching for other key stages.


Further information and the ‘wow factor’

I haven’t included any examples of problems, activities, content, contexts, resources, case studies, to convey the detailed nature of Core Maths, or the enjoyment and satisfaction students and teachers jointly share when studying and teaching it, or details of how Core Maths promotes learning through a contextualised problem-solving approach. I simply couldn’t do Core Maths justice in such a small amount of space, and with so much available to see elsewhere there’s no point in even trying. So, to get some sense of this, and be ‘wowed’ by how great Core Maths is, just visit the excellent STEM Learning pages, starting with the bank of resources, many of which were developed as part of the Core Maths Support Programme.


Carpe diem (seize the day)

If you’re not already involved with Core Maths, now is the time to become part of this revolution that is still the most important initiative in post 16 mathematics education in a generation.

But if that wasn’t enough, Core Maths could have even more to offer...

…the most important initiative in post 16 education (in at least one generation) is the Post 16 Skills Plan for Technical Education and the development of T levels.

Is it just me that believes that the quantitative elements of T levels should be informed and inspired by the Core Maths revolution?

By Professor Paul Glaister, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Reading, UK.



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