The Royal Society Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) and Contact Groups

Anyone currently teaching in schools or colleges in England is only too well aware of the major reforms to the mathematics curriculum and associated qualifications introduced by the Department for Education (DfE) in recent years, including reforms to AS/A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics and the introduction of the Core Maths A Level.

Question. What major body external to DfE:

  • monitors and reviews the implementation and impact of these reforms

  • provides strategic advice for future curriculum and qualification reforms

  • commissions new evidence, analyses existing evidence, and provides authoritative and considered advice on high-level, cross-cutting issues in mathematics education and beyond on behalf of stakeholders and communities such as teachers, parents/carers, universities, business and industry, to ensure that mathematics education 5-18 meets needs of the current and future workforce in the mathematical and quantitative sciences?

Answer. The Royal Society’s Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME), and its four (phase-specific) Contact Groups which have been established to cover each of:

  • A Levels

  • Post-16 Pathways

  • Early Years and Primary

  • GCSE and Key Stage 3

ACME was initially set up in 2002 by the Royal Society and the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK (JMC), with the backing of many mathematics organisations and the wider mathematics education community.

In 2017 ACME was reformed to have members who are respected and trusted in their own field, have experience of high-level and strategic thinking and delivery, are well networked and with awareness of the education and wider policy landscape.

The reformed ACME has the support of The Council for the Mathematical Sciences (CMS) - comprising the learned societies, and JMC – comprising the learned societies, subject and professional associations, and governmental and other bodies, across the whole of the mathematical sciences and mathematical education landscape.

One of the primary missions of ACME is to ensure that the mathematical and quantitative skills of young people are improved. Working closely with the CMS and the JMC, ACME achieves this by developing strategic relationships so that it is seen by government and others as the trusted body on mathematical and quantitative education in schools and colleges.

The scope of ACME’s work includes:

  • the supply of mathematics teachers and the education and professional development of teachers

  • the mathematical and quantitative knowledge and skills set out in curricula and qualifications within and beyond the mathematics classroom

  • the processes for developing and reviewing mathematics curricula, qualifications and assessment and the evidence base and expertise required for such development and review

  • the mathematical and quantitative competency needed by business, industry, the third sector and government

  • the mathematical and quantitative skills needed by higher education institutions

  • cultural attitudes towards mathematics in schools and colleges.

Current priority areas of ACME include:

  • Signalling - working with academia and industry to allow young people to see where science and maths can take them

  • Technical Education - providing advice on the mathematical and computational skills components of new technical education pathways in England

  • Data Skills - providing insights on the role of school and colleges in meeting the data science skills needs now and in the future.

To support the work of ACME, groups of experts in specific fields and specialists in unique policy areas are needed to provide advice and evidence. This has been achieved through the formation of phase-specific Contact Groups (CGs) who provide a key source of expertise for ACME. At present there are three such Contact Groups established to cover: A Levels; Post-16 Pathways; Early Years and Primary; and one is currently being established to cover: GCSE and Key Stage 3.

The CGs have the full support of CMS and JMC, with specific resource to support the A Level and Post-16 Pathways CGs generously provided by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and the Royal Statistical Society (RSS).

The Contact Groups:

  • can be thought of as ‘curriculum and qualification’ expert panels similar to those of other learned and subject/professional societies for other sciences

  • complement the work of ACME with knowledge of issues facing teachers and students in schools and colleges.

  • comprise members with expertise which will enable the Groups to offer responsive and proactive advice on policy and strategy

  • have the primary aims of:
    • monitor ongoing enactment of the curriculum and assessment
    • proactively work to prepare for the next curriculum review

The A Level Contact Group:

  • is concerned with the educational development and provision within AS and A Level Mathematics and AS and A Level Further Mathematics

This Group has evolved from the pre-existing Groups: ALCAB - A Level Content Advisory Board, and ALMAB - A Level Mathematics Advisory Board (that ALCAB morphed into). ALCAB was responsible for advising the DfE on the Content for the Reformed AS and A Levels for first teaching in 2017 in Mathematics and Further Mathematics.

The Post-16 Pathways Contact Group:

  • is concerned with the educational development and provision within Core Maths, T-Levels, Functional Skills in Mathematics and GCSE resits.

The Primary and Early Years Contact Group:

  • is concerned with the educational development and provision within Early Years, and Key Stages 1 and 2.

The GCSE and KS3 Contact Group:

  • will be concerned with the educational development and provision within the whole of the 11-16 age group, including GCSE.

In addition to ACME and the CGs, a Monitoring Qualification Reform Group has been established which comprises members of ACME, the Contact Group Chairs, along with key mathematics education personnel and stakeholders, including the awarding bodies, government and government agencies: DfE, and Ofqual – the examinations and qualifications regulator. This Group meets regularly, with an initial and primary focus on monitoring recent changes to mathematics qualifications.

In conjunction with ACME and the CGs, the Royal Society convenes a range of events, including meetings, round tables and conferences for the mathematics education community. These are used as a way of stimulating debate, as well as shaping mathematics education policy advice.

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