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Smith Review of post-16 mathematics: response from the Nuffield Foundation

By Nuffield Foundation

The Nuffield Foundation welcomes Sir Adrian Smith’s report on his review of 16-18 mathematics education.

Several of his recommendations echo those made by the Foundation in its 2014 report, Mathematics after 16 – specifically, that:

  • All post-16 students on academic routes should have access to a core maths qualification.
  • The DfE should work with learned societies to encourage universities to better signal and recognise the value of level 3 mathematics qualifications for entry to undergraduate courses with a quantitative element.
  • The DfE and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) should improve the evidence base on the FE workforce teaching mathematics and quantitative skills in order to assess supply, teaching quality and the effectiveness of current recruitment measures.
Take-up of core maths

The Foundation also supports Sir Adrian’s recommendation that the DfE and Ofqual should consider how the core maths brand could be strengthened in order to improve awareness and take-up. The Foundation first made the case for a new post-16 mathematics qualification in 2013, but has always maintained that take-up would be dependent on cross-party political support, backing from universities and employers, and successful marketing by the relevant awarding bodies. We are currently funding a team from the University of Leeds to undertake an assessment of the early progress of Core Maths.

Addressing the skills shortage in higher education

Nuffield-funded research forms the basis for Sir Adrian’s assessment of the UK’s comparatively low rate of post-16 mathematics participation. He goes on to report on some of the implications of this relatively low participation, namely the fact that young people are left ill prepared for the mathematics in their university courses and for the needs of the UK economy. He identifies several ways in which various bodies are seeking to address this, highlighting Q-Step, the Nuffield Foundation’s programme designed to address the skills shortage within the context of social science undergraduate degrees (co-funded with the ESRC and HEFCE).

During the consultation phase of the review, many respondents expressed the view that universities should learn from Q-Step and work together to incorporate a relevant understanding of data analysis into humanities curricula. This is something that the Foundation will be developing as part of its new five-year strategy.

The rise of data science

Sir Adrian’s report highlights the rise of data science and the corresponding need for people with skills in applied mathematics, statistics, engineering and computing. In addition to the work the Foundation is doing to meet this need through Q-Step, we are also working with others to explore how we ensure the opportunities presented by data science are underscored by the need to ensure public confidence in data management and use. Working with the British Academy, Royal Society, Alan Turing Institute and the Royal Statistical Society, we are undertaking the necessary groundwork to launch an independent Convention on Data Ethics in 2018.

Our work in mathematics and quantitative skills education

Equipping young people with skills and confidence in the quantitative and scientific methods necessary to participate fully in a digital knowledge economy is a key objective of the Foundation and cuts across both the research that we fund and the student programmes we deliver. Relevant projects include:

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We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.