Methods

All ‘official’ reports focusing on mathematics (and STEM) education in England, and published between January 2011 and December 2013 (i.e. two years) were collected. The reports include those produced by governmental committees  and bodies, Royal Societies, the Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education, charities, think tanks and so on.

The reports that were included were those that would possibly reach stakeholders in mathematics education, designed to be read by audiences who were possibly accustomed to attractive presentation and/or used to reading policy advice. It was likely that these might be made visible via channels such as Twitter or summarised by services such as the Document Summary Service at the University of Bristol. The reports that qualified for inclusion in the collection met one or more of these criteria. For example, the collection includes both ‘glossy’ reports, which usually appear to be designed to be visually attractive, such as the one published by the Joint Mathematics Council Digital technologies and mathematics education and plainer ones produced by Government bodies, such as the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

It also includes research papers, where these are published in the public domain, have media attention and include visual design elements, such as pictures, presumably to make them attractive. One example is the report produced by Nuffield ‘Towards universal participation in post-16 mathematics : lessons from high-performing countries’. I argue that these should be included because of the (implicit) intended readership of policy makers. For example, the foreword to the Nuffield report above states that

“While there is now a broad consensus that change is necessary, the debate about the precise nature of this change will continue, particularly in the context of concurrent reforms of GCSEs and A levels. At the Nuffield Foundation, we are keen to ensure this debate is informed by rigorous and independent evidence.” (p. 2).

The implication is that those engaged in the debate should read the report. (The report also passes my test for ‘glossiness’ – see below).

The reports may be aimed at policy makers, but also at schools, colleges and universities although the audience for the reports is only sometimes made explicit. For example, the Ofsted report Mathematics: made to measure appears to be aimed at schools (head teachers, heads of mathematics departments) and the Department for Education, stating that:

 “This report calls on schools to take action to ensure that all pupils experience consistently good mathematics teaching. They must pinpoint and tackle the inconsistencies and weaknesses. We also urge the Department for Education to raise national mathematical ambition and take action to improve pupils’ mathematical knowledge and understanding.” (p. 4).

On the other hand, the RSA report, Solving the mathematics problem is less clear, stating only that it outlines the core choices facing mathematics education… examining which mathematics approaches and reforms have worked overseas” (p. 4) and “highlight[s] some of the approaches that might inform or give strength to our own reforms.” (p. 23).

Many of, but not all, the reports are glossy and attractive, often with considerable care given to images and layout. This is important, I think, in saying something about the intended readership.

Using social media

Based on the assumption that the emerging results of the project would be of interest and relevance to the entire mathematics education community, and that the community may want to contribute to the analysis, the ongoing work was published on a blog. A range of social media tools, such as Twitter, were used to publicise the blog. Background to this experimental approach can be found here.

Analysis

The analysis is in two parts. In the first, the whole collection of reports was analysed in terms of the originator (funder) of the reports, the area of concern related to a) the age or educational phase of the learners, b) the topic and c) the academic subject(s) the report relates to (mathematics, mathematics and science, STEM) and the date the report was published. The second, which is the substantive part of this study, aimed to achieve an overview of the messages contained in the reports. To do so, the content of the various reports was synthesised by looking for themes, similar messages and contrasting messages.

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