Inquiry calls for £150m rescue package to save mathematics from teaching crisis

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The Independent Online

Students taking maths degrees should have their fees and loans paid off to reverse the decline in the subject, a government inquiry concluded yesterday.

An inquiry into post-14 maths, headed by Professor Adrian Smith, the principal of Queen Mary College, London, also warned that maths teachers should be paid at least £5,000 more than their colleagues in other subjects to bring teaching salaries in line with other careers available to maths graduates.

Professor Smith criticised the current system as well as government reforms, arguing that maths teaching was in crisis and needed a £150m rescue package.

The 171-page report, Making Mathematics Count, said modern maths teaching failed to meet the needs of pupils, teachers, universities and employers. Professor Smith said maths was vital to the economy and should be treated as a special case.

He condemned the Government's reform of A-levels three years ago as a "complete and utter disaster for maths". Splitting the course into two equal parts to create an AS level "simply doesn't work", he said at the report's launch in London.

This had resulted in 20 per cent fewer students taking maths A-levels and contributed to a decrease in the number of maths undergraduates and teachers at a time when demand for maths graduates was rising.

He criticised GCSE maths for failing children of all abilities. He called for it to be reclassified as worth two GCSEs as with other core subjects such as English and science.

Exam league tables had had a "perverse and negative" effect on school mathematics. Instead of "teaching the joy of mathematics", teachers concentrated on the next exam module, Professor Smith said.

More than 30 per cent of maths in schools is taught by teachers without a degree in the subject. The report warned that secondary schools are short of 3,400 maths teachers - equivalent to more than one for every comprehensive in the country - despite government incentives which offer maths graduates up to £10,000 to train as teachers.

The report said: "The shortage of specialist mathematics teachers is the most serious problem we face in ensuring the future supply of people with appropriate mathematical skills."

A quarter of people qualified to teach maths were teaching another subject, Professor Smith said, raising "serious issues" about how schools deployed staff.

He warned that the teaching profession, which disapproves of differential pay rates, as well as ministerswould have to acceptthat "market forces" should dictate salaries for maths teachers, who can earn more in the City.

"We remain convinced that the issue of differential salaries will ultimately have to be faced," he said. He suggested paying maths teachers an extra £5,000 a year, which would add £125m to the salary bill.

Professor Smith called for an increase in the £4,000 "golden hellos" and £6,000 training bursaries offered to maths graduates to become teachers, so that they kept pace with inflation.

The Government has already pledged to write off student loans for trainee teachers in the so-called "shortage subjects", including maths. But Prof Smith warned this could be "hit-and-miss and potentially unfair", as it did not benefit students who did not take out loans.

The report was welcomed by mathematicians, teaching unions and universities.

Sir Alistair MacFarlane, the chairman of the education committee at the Royal Society, welcomed proposals for financial incentives for maths teachers.

"To some this may be heresy, but the Royal Society believes that a thorough debate of the merits of offering additional pay to attract and retain more teachers in shortage subjects, including maths and science, is long overdue," he said.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association called for the Government to take "rapid action".

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed the report but warned that Professor Smith did not go far enough. "Radical action needs to be taken to halt the decline in mathematics," he said.

David Miliband, the minister for School Standards, defended the Government's record. He said: "Since 1997 the Government has put maths at the top of the education agenda."


* Less than 10 per cent of GCSE students go on to take A-level maths. Fewer than 56,000 sat the exam last summer

* Less than 10 per cent of A-level students go on to a maths degree, with 4,329 students starting university maths courses this autumn

* Nearly a third of candidates failed AS-level maths in its first year, summer 2001, leading to a 20 per cent drop in A-level candidates the following year.

* Secondary schools are short of at least 3,400 maths teachers

* One in four of qualified maths teachers based permanently in school is not being used to teach maths

* Nearly one third, 30 per cent, of existing teachers of maths do not have a post A-level qualification in maths.

'Extra cash would not attract the right students'

Tiphaine Shah, 18, Copthall School in Mill Hill, north London

Tiphaine, who will sit A-levels in maths, history, chemistry, plus an AS level in further maths this summer, plans to study maths at university and welcomed the plan to waive the fees of students taking the subject at degree level. She doubts, however, that the cash will attract extra suitable students.

"It's probably not such a great idea to get a lot more people into a subject just because of the money. They probably wouldn't be as motivated and might not be as good at it. With maths you have to put a lot of effort in and have to enjoy it.

"I don't think it would produce that many maths teachers. I would not want to teach; I just wouldn't enjoy it. There's no point persuading people into a job they don't really want to do.

"If you find it difficult it is a lot more work."

'Maths doesn't appeal to me the way English does'

Marsha Vinogradov, 16, Copthall School, Mill Hill, north London

Marsha dropped maths immediately after she achieved an A* grade in her GCSE, choosing instead to take A-levels in English, history, theatre studies and French.

She has no regrets and does not think payment would have persuaded her to continue with maths. "It sounds like discrimination. It is just not right," she said of the proposal.

"Maybe if there are barriers stopping people studying maths they need to be removed, but you shouldn't pay people to do one subject over another. It should be completely open.

"If someone offered me a full bursary to go and do maths at university I would have to think long and hard about it because it would be a lot of money. But I don't think I would be very good at degree-level maths.

"There's a danger that it will just get people on to maths courses for the money who aren't very good at it," she added.

"I was really surprised to get an A* in maths GCSE. After that my maths teacher tried to persuade me to continue at A-level and I was tempted at first, but I thought hard about what I enjoy doing and what I want to do as a career and maths played no part in it. I have always loved English literature and would like to be a journalist or a theatre director.

"It may be true that I would earn more if I had a degree in maths, but I need to study something that genuinely interests me. Maths doesn't appeal to me in that way, but English literature does."