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Mathematical needs

Researchers: Dr Nick Bowes

By Nuffield Foundation

Project overview

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) has examined how both national and individual mathematical needs of 5-19 learners can best be met by a curriculum and delivery policy and implementation framework.


ACME published its findings in June 2011. It found that of the 330,000 students studying university courses that require mathematical knowledge beyond GCSE level, 210,000 of them (64%) do not have the required skills, causing problems for both students and universities. Other findings include:

  • We need more young people to know more mathematics and to be confident, robust and fluent in their use of it. Not only are university courses increasingly quantitative in content, but there is also a steady shift in the employment market away from manual and low skill jobs and toward those requiring higher levels of management expertise and problem-solving skills, many of which are mathematical in nature.
  • There are concerns that the current high stakes assessment system in the form of ‘league tables’, creates a situation where institutions are more accountable for results than for the mathematical understanding of their pupils. This has a detrimental effect on the ability of young people to apply mathematics and creates long-term problems in both the workplace and higher education.
  • Good mathematics learning needs knowledgeable teachers, who can draw on students’ understanding, involve them in discussion, and engage all students in a variety of complex tasks in which mathematics is presented as a subject with many aspects. All teachers should be entitled to subject specific continuing professional development (CPD).
  • Changes in commonplace technology also affect the kinds of mathematical questions that can be asked and answered, and the way that mathematics is used in the workplace. Learners need to understand ideas and problems that could not even be asked by earlier generations, and to become adept at answering them by using, and developing, 21st century tools.
  • Employers highlighted that to use mathematics confidently at one level, experience of it at a higher level is required. However, a common concern is that the demands of ‘performance tables’ may be forcing schools to take low risk options and discourage students from taking higher levels of mathematics ‘ either at GCSE or at A-level.

Latest on this project


  • Dr Nick Bowes
    The Royal Society

  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
By Nuffield Foundation

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