'Disastrous' rate of AS-level maths drop-outs threatens new teaching crisis

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The Independent Online

The "absolutely disastrous" effects of the new AS-level exams are making it more difficult to recruit maths teachers, it was claimed yesterday.

Sixth formers' maths courses are much too hard, forcing teenagers to drop the subject, the National Association of School Masters Union of Women Teachers heard at the union's annual conference. Delegates in Scarborough accused the Government of scoring an "own goal" at a time when it needs to recruit four out of every 10 maths graduates to meet its own targets.

Andy Mulley, a maths teacher at a Southampton college, said curriculum reforms had been "absolutely disastrous" and would lead to a dramatic drop in people entering the profession.

He said that, in the past, able students in a range of subjects with a love of maths have trained as maths teachers. Now, he said, all but the best were dropping it after a year.

Mr Mulley told delegates: "The country is going to be faced with a very severe difficulty in a couple of years time.

"The shortage of maths teachers is going to get much, much worse.

"I have passed on many maths students to university degree courses who are not great mathematicians, but who have a real interest in the subject and have gone on in some cases to become good maths teachers.

"These very same candidates are being discouraged because they got such low marks in AS maths." Mr Mulley claimed the new courses demanded a "degree of maturity" that candidates did not have.

Delegates demanded an immediate inquiry into the effects of the new AS-levels on pupils and teachers.

AS-levels were introduced in September 2000 as part of a drive to encourage students to broaden their studies beyond the traditional three A-levels. The first exams last summer were followed by a flood of complaints from pupils, parents and schools about the volume of work and inconsistencies in the difficulty of the exams. Last year, 30 per cent of AS-level maths candidates failed.

Teachers condemned the attempts of Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, to tackle the "debacle" saying her proposals to change the exam timetable without reducing the volume of testing would have "little beneficial effect".

David Haigh, from Sheffield, who proposed the motion calling for the inquiry into the effects of the exams, accused the Government of damaging the life chances of thousands of sixth formers with the reforms.