A report was published today by the Nuffield Foundation on the state of post16 mathematics in a handful of countries around the world.
The purpose was to inform education policy in England and already a Schools Minister has responded favourably to it.
The basic message as I see it is that a new course/qualification should be made available in England to encourage far more students to continue with mathematics until age 18. This is because traditional A-level Mathematics and Further Mathematics are not suitable for all, particularly those specialising in the humanities who may only need to acquire more depth in statistical techniques.
This is not a new issue and ACME and others in the mathematics community have spoken about this over many years.
What is interesting is the increased focus on New Zealand as a potential model for England, given its significantly higher participation in post16 mathematics. The benefits of a ‘Kiwi’ approach to a points-based qualifications system has come up elsewhere recently in discussions about a post on an alternative English Baccalaureate model.
So what is it about New Zealand that might appeal to us here in England?
Here are some very speculative bullets – additional thoughts are welcome from those who know much more about New Zealand (education) than me.
- There is the shared multi-cultural legacy of the British Empire. This means a common language and converged attitude to economic, social and philosophical issues. Both countries are not like Confucian Singapore or Hong Kong, though there are similarities with Presbyterian Scotland, from which arguably both have learnt lessons if only by absorbing emigrant Scots into their populations.
- There is a lack of willingness to be compelled to study specific subjects, therefore choice mechanisms come to the fore in this area. Incentives often predominate over penalties in such systems.
- From my previous experience when at the Royal Society (the UK’s national academy of sciences), our counterpart the Royal Society of New Zealand seemed ahead of most other international academies on actual science education delivery, with significant Government confidence in its programmes. This sends a message to the rest of the system.