British schoolchildren are less likely to study maths to a high standard than in most other developed countries because of failings in the way the subject is delivered, a leading academic has warned.
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
7:30AM GMT 04 Mar 2012
Prof Stephen Sparks said that few pupils took maths beyond the age of 16 after being “put off” by test-driven lessons in primary and secondary school.
He said classes often focused on the dry “procedures” behind sums to make sure children pass exams instead of passing on a well-rounded understanding of the subject.
Only one in eight teenagers studies maths in the sixth-form, leaving Britain trailing behind many other developed nations. Between 50 and 100 per cent of teenagers in other countries, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Fin-
land, Japan and Korea, study maths to a decent level, the figures show. Prof Sparks, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME), which represents academics and teachers, said the number of pupils failing to take A-level maths “puts us at a real anomaly internationally and likely affects our economic competitiveness”.
The comments came as The Daily Telegraph started a campaign, Make Britain Count, to highlight the scale of the mathematical crisis and provide parents with tools to boost their children’s numeracy.
The Nuffield Foundation compared the number of pupils studying advanced maths in 24 industrialised countries. Around 13 per cent of students took
A-levels in the subject in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, numbers reached around a quarter. In almost every other nation, more than half of pupils took advanced maths courses, while in eight countries, including South Korea, Russia, Sweden and Taiwan, maths was compulsory until the age of 18.
Prof Sparks called for the majority of pupils to study maths up to the age of 18, and said that some teenagers should take tailored courses “between a GCSE and A-level”. “The reason some people are being put off maths is related to that issue of teaching to the test,” he said. “Schools are given a big incentive to make sure pupils pass tests, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they get the well-rounded understanding that a good education requires.”