Young people could be limiting future salaries by dismissing A level maths

A new report funded by the Nuffield Foundation has found that 80 per cent of 17-year olds disagree with the idea of making maths compulsory post-16 even though there is evidence that those with A level maths earn more later in life.

The report also shows that an increase in the number of pupils achieving A* and A grades in GCSE maths has led to an increase in the numbers taking A level maths. This means the changes to the GCSE grading structure could lead to a decrease in the number of pupils choosing A level maths, as fewer will achieve the top grades at GCSE.

The study ‘Rethinking the value of Advanced Mathematics Participation’ (REVAMP), was undertaken by Professor Andrew Noyes and Dr Michael Atkins from the School of Education at the University of Nottingham and set out to investigate the value of A-level mathematics from several viewpoints.

Experts looked at four different strands of analysis within the project – the economic returns to A level maths, the changing participation in A level maths from 2005-13, the relationship between A-level maths and degree outcomes, and a national survey of ten thousand 17-year-olds.

The researchers found compelling evidence of a continued wage return of up to 11 per cent to those who have studied A level maths.

Professor Noyes said: “The findings of our research do raise a number of concerns that will need to be addressed if the Government wants to get the ‘vast majority’ of young people continuing their study of mathematics to 18. One clear way to encourage take-up is to communicate to young people that there are economic benefits in choosing maths as a subject.

“Unfortunately, the economic benefits of studying maths are overshadowed by the differences between men and women and according to where they live. These are figures that need addressing,” adds Professor Noyes.

“There are also the additional challenges of the current qualifications and assessment reform processes. As our figures show, if mathematics was made compulsory post-16, this could act as a deterrent to young people choosing the subject as an A level rather than encourage take-up.”

Key findings

On economic returns to A level Mathematics

  • There is compelling evidence of continued wage returns of up to 11% to A level Mathematics.
  • The economic benefits of A level Mathematics are overshadowed by the differences between males and females and according to where one lives. For example, for those with A level Mathematics in this sample born in 1970, females earned around 20% less than their male contemporaries at age 34.

On changing patterns of A level Mathematics completion

  • The main driver of increased A level Mathematics participation is the rising number of A* and A grades in GCSE Mathematics. The new GCSE 1-9 grading structure that will be implemented in 2017 is likely to have a detrimental effect on student self-perceptions and A level Mathematics uptake, in particular where students who would have achieved the top grade(s) are now less likely to do so.
  • At each GCSE Mathematics grade, the proportion of students who then proceed to complete A level Mathematics has changed very little, particularly for GCSE grades A-C.
  • A key factor in the increased engagement with advanced mathematics is the rise in numbers completing AS Mathematics, in particular girls and those attaining GCSE A and B grades. The decoupling of AS and A Level is, therefore, a threat to advanced mathematics participation.
  • GCSE Mathematics A* students have been increasingly likely to study A level Mathematics or A level Mathematics with AS/A level Further Mathematics, though this is heavily biased towards boys. The decoupling of AS and A level, and changes to funding that encourage schools to focus on 3 A levels are likely to reverse this trend.
  • There is continuing evidence that, all other things being equal, girls are less likely to choose A level Mathematics.

On the educational value of A level Mathematics for science undergraduates

  • Whether school mathematics prepares students well for undergraduate chemistry and biology degrees is contested in the international research literature.
  • There is little evidence that A level Mathematics completion has much effect on the likelihood of attaining the best degree outcomes in biology and chemistry. Those with the top grade in A level Mathematics did, however, have some small advantage.
  • The effect of high attainment in A level Chemistry upon undergraduate biology degree outcomes and vice versa is clear. This may have implications for those advising students on their educational choices.
  • For a given student, the greatest influence on their chances of achieving a first class degree is the university attended. The differences are striking and have serious implications, for example in how initial teacher education bursaries are awarded, which is a particular concern for STEM teacher recruitment.

On young people’s attitudes to studying mathematics post-16, in particular A level Mathematics or equivalent

  • Students are generally opposed to the idea that they should be compelled to study ‘some maths’ post-16 (78%) but are less opposed to being ‘encouraged’ to do so;
  • Amongst the target group for Core Maths, i.e. those not currently studying AS/A level Mathematics, 80% disagree with the idea of making mathematics compulsory post-16.

Related


Explore our projects

New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
Two teenage male pupils study a science lesson as part of their post-16 options
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Post-16 pathways: the role of peers, family background and expectations

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Young-child-blurred-in-background-plays-with-abacus-in-foreground-Early-years-employment-pathways-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2020

A systematic review of early years degrees and employment pathways

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
man reading picture book to baby
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2022

Do infants learn new words from educational picture books?

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
New

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
Two teenage male pupils study a science lesson as part of their post-16 options
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2021

Post-16 pathways: the role of peers, family background and expectations

View project
Maths resit students taking exam
Reported

Education | 2019 - 2020

A new mathematics GCSE curriculum for post-16 resit students

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2018

GCSE and A-level results day project

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2020

Teaching reading: an integrated programme for deaf & hearing children

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2019

Developing a sustainable intervention for disadvantaged children

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

Growing up digital

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2020

Mathematics in Further Education Colleges (MiFEC)

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2020

Educational attainment of children in need & children in care

View project
Teacher and young schoolgirl in classroom look at building blocks brain training game together
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2019

Trialling an executive function training intervention for preschoolers

View project
Reported

Education | Welfare | 2017 - 2019

Undermatch in higher education: prevalence, drivers and outcomes

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

The effect of retention and turnover on the teaching workforce

View project
Reported

Education | 2016 - 2017

School choice and equality of opportunity

View project
Reported

Education | 2016 - 2018

Modern Foreign Languages, phonics and reading strategies

View project
Search projects

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.

Profile