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Mathematics Today Policy Round-up

February 2013

Research

Economic impact report

Working in partnership with the Council for the Mathematical Sciences (CMS), EPSRC commissioned an independent study into the economic impact of mathematical sciences research on the UK economy. The report – Mathematical sciences research: Leading the way to UK economic growth – was produced by Deloitte and is the first of its kind. It reflects the excellence of the UK mathematics research base that has generated a range of impressive and far-reaching impacts. The report is available at http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/Publications/reports/DeloitteMeasuringThe EconomicsBenefitsOfMathematicalScienceResearchUKNov2012.pdf

Chancellor’s support for science 

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, spoke at the Royal Society recently of ‘both his belief in the value of science as a driver of the UK economy and his commitment to science funding into the future’. A transcript of the speech is available at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/speech_chx_091112.htm

Autumn Statement 2012

In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne announced a further £600 million for capital investment in scientific research infrastructure. More information is available at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/as2012_index.htm

EPSRC/DST Interaction Meeting in Applied Mathematical Sciences Research Challenges

The purpose of this Interaction Meeting was to explore possible links and commonalities between the UK and India in Applied Mathematics research. The meeting aimed to identify research gaps, which could yield opportunities for collaborations and cross-disciplinary research. The focus was on providing networking opportunities for researchers from both the UK and India, providing initial introductions which may lead to ongoing collaboration. There were also opportunities for discussion on specific areas of common interest, including Industrial Mathematics and the interface of Mathematics with Energy.

The meeting was co-hosted by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council (EPSRC) and India's Department for Science and Technology (DST). It was organised in partnership with RCUK India and with the assistance of the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences (ICMS).

A report of the meeting is now available at http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/Publications/reports/EPSRCDSTInteraction
MeetingReport.pdf

Higher Education

LMS Benchmarking Survey due to launch in February

The London Mathematic Society will be launching a new report on Good Practice in University Mathematics Departments in February. The report highlights examples of good working practice found in UK university mathematics department with an emphasis on improving the recruitment, retention and progression of women in mathematics. More information will be available in due course.

The London Mathematical Society decided to develop a Good Practice Scheme for departments of mathematics to help them to take practical actions to improve the participation of women and to share examples of good practice with other departments. The scheme will also offer support in applying for an Athena Swan award for those departments seeking an award to recognise their work in this area.

The scheme has been developed in consultation with Athena Swan and other bodies such as the Institute of Physics who have a well established Juno scheme to improve the participation of women in university physics departments. It has also been developed in consultation with HoDoMS to ensure that it offers help with measures that can realistically be taken by a head of department.

By engaging with the Good Practice Scheme, a department will move towards a working culture in which all staff and students, both male and female, can achieve their full potential. This has to be good for recruitment and retention of talented staff. More information about the Scheme is available at http://www.lms.ac.uk/women/good-practice-scheme

Lords not satisfied with government response to STEM subjects report

In July the House Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee I published its report on Higher Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects As part of the consultation process the Council for the Mathematical Sciences (CMS) submitted evidence, which is available at http://www.lms.ac.uk/sites/lms.ac.uk/files/files/reports/HouseofLordsSelCommDec2011final.pdf

The government has now responded to the report and the Lords Committee is not satisfied with the government's response http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/news/government-response-to-stem-report/

Mathematics is mentioned specifically in the following context: 'Government has not proposed sufficient action to ensure that those entering STEM higher education have an adequate level of mathematical understanding to meet their needs. Given the importance of mathematics to those studying STEM at university, the poor performance of the UK in international mathematics education league tables, and the concerns from universities about the lack of maths skills of new students, it is disappointing that Government is not doing more to lead and facilitate the process in collaboration with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and others. Instead they seem to be relinquishing responsibilities completely'.

Schools and Colleges

New teacher training scholarship scheme

Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced a new partnership with the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) in collaboration with the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and the Royal Statistical Society (RSS). The LMS will work together with IMA and RSS to offer around 150 scholarships, worth £20,000 each, to graduates with a 2:1 or a first-class degree wanting to train as a mathematics teacher.

Nigel Steele, IMA Honorary Secretary for education, said: 'Mathematics, through its applications, already contributes massively to the UK economy. Research also shows that those who do well at mathematics at school are likely to earn significantly more than their peers. The scholarship scheme designed by the IMA, on behalf of its collaborating bodies, will attract highly-qualified graduates and career-changers who might not otherwise have considered teaching as a career. These scholars will help strengthen the mathematics teaching force in its capacity to inspire those who will determine the future'.

Alice Rogers, LMS Education Secretary, said: 'This scholarship scheme will increase the number of good mathematicians who become good mathematics teachers, and will ensure they feel welcomed as members of the broader mathematics community. Bringing into schools more teachers with a deeper understanding of the subject will give many more children an intellectually stimulating encounter with mathematics, and an understanding of it which they in turn will use and share'.

Valerie Isham, RSS President, said: 'Getting the best people into teaching mathematics and statistics in schools is a crucial step in helping children to develop the analytical and numerical skills they need for further academic study and exciting careers in a whole range of areas. Inspirational teachers can provide motivation, insight and enthusiasm. Statistical literacy is an essential life skill: the need to make decisions based on numerical data confronts us all in every aspect of our professional and personal lives'. More information about the scholarships is available at http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00219006/new-mathematics-scholarship-for-top-graduate-teachers and http://www.ima.org.uk/careers/teacher_scholarships.cfm

KS4 Consultation

Both the IMA and the LMS have responded to the Department for Education’s consultation on the Key Stage 4 Qualifications reform. The IMA response is available at http://www.ima.org.uk/_db/_documents/ima-response_to_dfe_consultation_reforming_ks4_qualifications101212.pdf and the LMS response is available at http://www.lms.ac.uk/sites/lms.ac.uk/files/files/reports/LMS_KeyStage4QualificationsResponse%20_FINAL_.pdf

Correspondence on English Baccalaureate Certificates

Ofqual has written to the Department for Education to express its concerns over the timetable for change proposed by the Department. The correspondence is available at http://www.ofqual.gov.uk/files/2012-11-19-letter-glenys-stacey-to-secretary-of-state.pdf

GCSE and A-level survey

Ofqual has commissioned a survey of staff responsible for offering places at higher education institutions in England. The study is to help understand perceptions of A-levels, GCSEs and other qualifications, and their regulation. This piece of research will provide key information about how well Ofqual is meeting its public confidence objective, as well as identifying areas around GCSE and A-level qualifications where there are potential problems. More information is available at http://www.ofqual.gov.uk/news/higher-education-staff-invited-to-take-part-in-gcse-and-a-level-survey/

Proposals for post-16 mathematics 

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) has published two papers recently on proposals for post-16 mathematics. The first, Post-16 Mathematics: increasing provision and participation, provides an overview to the fundamental changes to the structure and type of mathematics qualifications beyond GCSE. The second paper, Planning for success, describes the steps that will need to be taken to make this work. We are setting a demanding challenge. Many agencies and organisations will need to work together, alongside government, so that the complex ecosystem that drives students, schools and colleges ensures 21st century students are equipped with the mathematical capabilities that they are going to need in their personal and working lives. ACME looks forward to seeing these changes taking place. The papers are available at http://www.acme-uk.org/media/10520/20121217acme_post_16_strategy.pdf and http://www.acme-uk.org/media/10523/20121217acme_post_16_planning.pdf

Raising the bar: developing able young mathematicians

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) has published a paper, entitled Raising the bar: developing able young mathematicians. The paper identified that the process of accelerating promising pupils through the curriculum was occurring at both primary and secondary school. At primary, schools are assessed on the results of Level 6 tests, which examine pupils on their ability to solve mathematics utilising concepts from the secondary curriculum. At a secondary, league tables encourage schools to enter their pupils to take their mathematics GCSE early (‘early entry’), which can lead to shaky foundations and hinder progression to A-level. The full paper is available at http://www.acme-uk.org/media/10498/20121212_acme_raising_the_bar.pdf.pdf

CBI calls for overhaul of the school system

The CBI is calling for a radical shake up of schools from nursery to sixth form to ensure all young people achieve their potential. In a new report, the CBI warns the education system fosters a cult of the average; too often failing to stretch the most able or support those that need most help.

First steps: a new approach for our schools outlines possible measures to address this. They include: giving more freedom to teachers; moving the focus from league tables to delivering a more rounded education; a shift from GCSEs to make 18 the focus of secondary education; and introducing vocational A-levels with the same standing as traditional A-levels. The full report is available at http://www.cbi.org.uk/campaigns/education-campaign-ambition-for-all/

Ofqual announces changes to A-levels

Ofqual has announced that A-level changes will come into force from September 2013. There will be no January exams for students whether they are in their first or second year of A-level studies. Therefore, students who started a two-year course in September 2012 will not have the option of January exams in their second year.
From September 2013 students in England will no longer be able to sit A-level exams in January, after the proposal received strong support following a three month consultation into A-level reform. The change will also address recent concerns over how many times students can sit their exams by reducing resit opportunities. More information is available at http://www.ofqual.gov.uk/news/ofqual-announces-changes-to-a-levels/

Education Committee - Second Special Report 

In July 2012 the Education Select Committee published its First Report on The administration of examinations for 15-19 year olds in England. Responses have now been received from the government and Ofqual and these are published in a Second Special Report. The full report is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmeduc/679/67902.htm

Other

The Importance of Physics to the UK Economy

This report, published by the Institute of Physics, analyses the contributions of businesses that depend on physics. The full report is available at http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2012/file_58713.pdf

UK Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2012

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has published its annual audit of education systems across 34 of its Member countries, two non OECD countries and a number of other G20 countries that do not participate in the OECD Indicators of Education Systems Programme (such as Argentina, South Africa, China, India).

The main finding across OECD countries is that many countries have increased spending on education at all levels in recent years, as Governments recognise the economic and social benefits generated by a highly educated population. The full report is available at http://www.oecd.org/edu/EAG%202012_e-book_EN_200912.pdf

John Johnston
Mathematics Promotion Unit