The collection of reports: an overall view
One way to understand overall ‘story’ of the big collection of reports is in terms of their main concerns. There are some, for example, which could be seen as ‘landscape’ reports, and these are those that take a view of the systems of mathematics education in place in England, usually identifying the problems associated with mathematics education and then making recommendations about what should be done to address these. A subset of these are reports mainly aimed at the development of policy for post-16 mathematics. Others tend to have a stronger focus on the curriculum, young people’s engagement with mathematics or teachers and teaching. Although the majority of reports are not restricted to one of these foci, for the purposes of this account, the reports have been organised in terms of their main focus.
The first of the landscape reports A world-class mathematics education for all our young people (Vorderman, Porkess, Budd, Dunne, & Rahman-hart, 2011), referred to in this paper as ‘Vorderman’, is a wide ranging report covering mathematics education for young people aged between 5 and 18. It assesses the current state of mathematics education in England and outlines what needs to be done to address concerns about this in terms of attitudes towards mathematics, qualifications (e.g. GCSEs), teachers and teaching and the role of higher education and government agencies. It covers issues addressed in more detail in many of the later reports, and ambitiously suggests that ‘Major innovation is needed to develop a provision that meets the diverse needs of all our students’ (p. 13).
One other report, published two years later by the thinktank NfER, NfER Thinks: Why mathematics education needs whole‑system, not piecemeal, reform (Whitehouse & Burdett, 2013) can perhaps be seen as equally ambitious, arguing that the country must ‘avoid mathematics education becoming a ‘political football’ rather than being viewed as the ‘national treasure’ that it should be’ (p.6) and that a ‘national consensus to develop clear, well thought out routes through mathematics education’ (p.6) is needed.
Whereas schools are the focus of the Vorderman and the NfER reports, the House of Lords Select Committee report published in July 2012 relates to STEM in Higher Education. It explores the interface between school and higher education pointing out that mathematics at this interface is particularly problematic (as also pointed out by another report in this collection, Morgan, 2011)). It looks at supply and demand in STEM subjects at HE, at the quality of provision at HE, and at policy reform (Select Committee on Science and Technology, 2012).
Amongst both Vorderman’s and the Select Committee’s recommendations is one that all young people should study mathematics post-16. This echoes the recommendation in the Wolf report (see above), published about four months before Vorderman. However, whereas Wolf’s recommendation was related to young people who had not achieved Grade C or above at GCSE, Vorderman and the Select Committee’s recommendation relates to all young people.
The other ‘landscape’ reports, all of which were published after Vorderman and before the NfER report (above), address the question of what to do about post-16 mathematics education. Solving the maths problem: international perspectives on mathematics education (Norris, 2012), was published six months after Vorderman, refers frequently to Vorderman (and to the Nuffield Foundation report Is the UK an outlier? (Hodgen, Pepper, Sturman, & Ruddock, 2010)), identifies many of the same problems and then draws on international case studies to make many similar recommendations, with an emphasis on qualifications; both GCSE and particularly post-16.
Six later reports address the issue of what to do about post-16 qualifications: the usefulness of making post-16 mathematics compulsory (Harris, 2012) how the country should organise mathematics education (ACME, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2013a) and what it can learn from other countries (Hodgen, Marks, & Pepper, 2013). One further report considers STEM education for young people aged between 14 and 19, outlining the current situation, challenges to be overcome and what is being done (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2013).
A large number of reports (22) mainly address the issue of what mathematics is taught, how it should be taught, its assessment, for which topics this paper uses the broad term ‘curriculum’. A review of the National Curriculum in England was announced at the beginning of 2011 and a number of reports within the broad category of curriculum relate specifically to the development of the new National Curriculum. 2012 saw the beginning of a number of reports related to the review of the National Curriculum. The first, published by the Department for Education (DfE), reviewed the content of mathematics, English and science curricula in other countries (Department for Education, 2012). In June 2012 the draft Primary National Curriculum for Mathematics was published to which two responses were published in August 2012 (ACME, 2012d) and December 2012 (Burghes, 2012). A further ACME report was published in April 2013 (ACME, 2013b) in response to the consultation on the proposed curriculum for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. Finally, a report published in December 2013 analyses the challenges of implementing the new primary curriculum(Hanson, 2013).
More generally, in terms of what mathematics is taught, three reports, all published in June 2011, are by ACME, and these identify first what arithmetic should be taught in primary schools (ACME, 2011a) and then mathematical needs within the workplace and higher education (ACME, 2011b) and the mathematical needs of learners (ACME, 2011c). All three have advice for the development of the national curriculum (implicitly in the first and explicitly in the other two).
One of the things the ACME report on the mathematics needed in HE points out is that many young people entering degree courses are not aware of the mathematical requirements of their courses. In the case of science subjects, even those who have taken A-level mathematics are not well prepared. A month later Morgan (Morgan, 2011) looks at the mathematics taught at A-level and how well it equips young people entering physics and engineering degrees. Morgan does not reference the ACME report.
In December 2011 and January 2012 two reports on what should be taught within mathematics, financial education (All Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education, 2011) and statistics (Porkess, 2012) respectively, were published. In December 2012, ACME’s report, Raising the bar : developing able young mathematicians, (ACME, 2012e) was published, making some recommendations related to mathematical experiences for students that might encourage more able young mathematicians to study mathematics at university level. A further report on financial education was published in June 2013 (Gillie, 2013).
It can argued that assessments are highly related to what mathematics is taught, and this topic is the subject of two reports, published in April 2012, that investigate the mathematics that is assessed (and therefore taught) within subjects other than mathematics at A-level (e.g. sciences, economic) (Nuffield, 2012; Score, 2012). The research within the second of these two reports aims to address the concerns identified by the Morgan report six months earlier. Towards the end of 2012, another report related to quantitative skills in subject other than mathematics, but this time focusing on higher education, was published (British Academy, 2012).
Three reports evaluate existing initiatives which aim to explore alternatives to the usual routes through mathematics at ages 14 to 19, all commissioned by the DfE. The earliest of these evaluates new Mathematics Pathways such as linked pair GCSEs and Use of Mathematics at A-level (Noyes, Drake, Wake, & Murphy, 2011). The linked pair of GCSEs is also evaluated in the other two reports (AlphaPlus Consultancy, 2012; Alphaplus Consultancy, 2013). [There were other interim reports on this, but only the second and fourth were included in this study as the third (by the admission of the authors) does not add anything substantive].
Finally, two reports, published by the Sutton Trust in July (Hodgen & Marks, 2013) and by ACME in October 2013 (ACME, 2013c) suggest what mathematics should be included in new courses and qualifications for post-16 students. Whereas Hodgen and Marks make suggestions for all students, ACME’s guidelines are related to the development of ‘Core’ mathematics; a proposed course and qualification aimed at young people who have gained a C grade or above at GCSE, but who do not choose to study mathematics AS or A-level (ACME, 2013c). The ACME report does not make reference to the Sutton Trust report.
The mathematical activity of young people and adults
The achievement, attitudes and engagement of young people and adults is the main focus of ten reports. The first, published in January 2011, reports on numbers of high achievers in mathematics and the sciences at A-level (Department for Education, 2011). In February that year the Royal Society published a report mainly on levels of participation in STEM subjects (Royal Society, 2011). Other reports related to achievement (in international tests) include one published in late 2012 and two published early in 2013 (Jerrim & Choi, 2013; Smithers, 2013; Sturman, Burge, Cook, & Weaving, 2012).
Three reports, two published in November 2011 (Finegold, 2011; Straw, Hart, & Harland, 2011), one in June 2012 (Archer, Osborne, & DeWitt, 2012) have students’ engagement in STEM education as their focus. The first two evaluate initiatives designed to encourage engagement in STEM, with a particular focus on developing careers advice in STEM. The third draws on international literature to develop ten myths about STEM, highlighting the need for careers advice in STEM.
Finally within this section are two reports published by the charity National Numeracy, which was established in March 2012. The first, published in March 2012, provides facts and figures related to numeracy skills in the general population (National Numeracy for everyone for life, 2012a). The second, published in October 2012 (National Numeracy for everyone for life, 2012b), describes a project set up by the charity aimed at improving the skills in, and attitudes towards, numeracy in the general population.
Teachers and teaching
The final set of ten reports relate mostly to teachers and teaching. The first, published in April 2011 (Burghes, 2011), has initial teacher education as its focus and is an international comparative research study. The second, published towards the end of 2011, relates to the use of digital technologies in the teaching and learning of mathematics in schools (Clark-Wilson, Oldknow, & Sutherland, 2011). This is followed by two Ofsted reports, both published in November 2011; one on good practice in mathematics teaching in primary schools and the second which is also essentially about good practice, but this time in adult settings (Ofsted, 2011a, 2011b). A second report, again essentially about good practice in adult settings, was published in February 2012 (Southwood & Dixon, 2012).
In May 2012 a major inspection report by Ofsted was published (Ofsted, 2012). It is one of a series of mathematics subject reports published in four yearly cycles and this one draws on inspection evidence gathered between January 2008 and July 2011. The recommendations are aimed mainly at schools.
Almost a year later, in March 2013, the next report within this category (teachers and teaching) was published. This report, by NfER (NFER, 2013), makes suggestions about ways in which schools and teachers might improve young people’s engagement in STEM education.
The last three reports in this section, published in June (Walker, Straw, Sainsbury, & Clarke, 2013), July 2013 (Science Learning Centre, 2013) and November 2013 (ACME, 2013d), relate to the development of teachers. The first evaluates the MaST programme which was set up in response to the Williams review (see above) and aimed to address the recommendation in Williams that every primary school should have a mathematics specialist. The second is largely about ways in which to develop and support teachers and teaching in STEM subjects. The ACME report explains why professional development for teachers of mathematics is urgently needed, outlines a vision for professional development, and makes seven recommendations, five of which are aimed at the DfE and call overall for support.
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ACME. (2011b). Mathematical Needs Mathematics in the workplace and in Higher Education. London.
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Burghes, D. (2012). Primary Problems: A First Curriculum for Mathematics. London.
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Finegold, P. (2011). Good Timing. London.
Gillie, C. (2013). Financial education in schools. London.
Hanson, R. (2013). The Challenges of Implementing the New Primary National Curriculum. Cockermouth, Cumbria.
Harris, J. (2012). Rational Numbers. London.
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Hodgen, J., Marks, R., & Pepper, D. (2013). Towards universal participation in post-16 mathematics : lessons from high-performing countries. London.
Hodgen, J., Pepper, D., Sturman, L., & Ruddock, G. (2010). Is the UK an outlier? London.
Jerrim, J., & Choi, A. (2013). The mathematics skills of school children : How does England compare to the high performing East Asian jurisdictions? London.
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Norris, E. (2012). Solving the maths problem: international perspectives on mathematics education. London.
Noyes, A., Drake, P., Wake, G., & Murphy, R. (2011). Evaluating Mathematics Pathways Final Report. London.
Nuffield. (2012). Mathematics in A level assessments. London.
Ofsted. (2011a). Good practice in primary mathematics. Manchester: Ofsted.
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Score. (2012). Mathematics within A-level science 2010 examinations. London.
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Smithers, A. (2013). Confusion in the ranks: how good are England’s schools? London.
Southwood, S., & Dixon, L. (2012). The Vital Ingredients: Adults learning maths. Leicester.
Straw, S., Hart, R., & Harland, J. (2011). An evaluation of the impact of STEMNET’s services on pupils and teachers. Slough.
Sturman, L., Burge, B., Cook, R., & Weaving, H. (2012). TIMSS 2011 : mathematics and science achievement in England. Slough.
Vorderman, C., Porkess, R., Budd, C., Dunne, R., & Rahman-hart, P. (2011). A world-class mathematics education for all our young people. London.
Walker, M., Straw, S., Sainsbury, M., & Clarke, C. (2013). Evaluation of the Mathematics Specialist Teacher (MaST) programme Research report. London.
Whitehouse, G., & Burdett, N. (2013). NfER Thinks: Why mathematics education needs whole‑system, not piecemeal, reform. Slough.