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Rethinking the value of A Level mathematics participation

Researchers: Professor Andrew Noyes

Project overview

The level of participation in advanced mathematics courses has been raising concerns for several years. Recent international comparisons funded by the Nuffield Foundation show England to have one of the lowest levels of post-16 mathematics engagement. This, together with sustained pressure from stakeholders, has led to the Secretary of State’s call for most young people to be studying mathematics up to 18 by the end of the decade.

This study will weave together four strands of quantitative analysis to understand the current and changing attitudes to, participation in, and value of A level mathematics. It will use high-quality secondary datasets and includes a large-scale survey of 17-year-olds’ understandings of the value of mathematics in their educational and life choices and aspirations.

The four quantitative strands of the project are:

  1. Updated research on the ‘economic return’ to A level mathematics
  2. An investigation of the nature of changing participation in A level mathematics from 2005-13
  3. Modelling of the relationship between A level mathematics and outcomes in a range of science and social science degree level programmes
  4. A large-scale survey of 17-year-olds.

These quantitative studies will be interwoven with a policy trajectory analysis that traces the values attributed to A level mathematics, in particular its economic value. The project will produce a thorough and timely account of the state of attitudes to, and participation in, advanced mathematics just prior to the introduction of reformatted A levels and new level-3 mathematics qualifications in 2015.

Latest on this project


  • Professor Andrew Noyes
    University of Nottingham

  • Cheryl Lloyd
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

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

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