Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My first reaction was a groan

Really, I thought, as I looked at the front page of City AM, this is not what I expect from a more or less reasonable newspaper. The Evening Standard has long given up any pretence of being one and its purpose seems to be to run endless campaigns to help or save somebody who is having a bad time. Furthermore, as I have pointed out before, people seem to support all these campaigns with great vigour without ever asking themselves whether the previous similar one had achieved anything worth writing home about. But City AM?

It has proudly announced that Michael Gove is backing their campaign "to improve financial literacy by boosting the number of students who study further maths at A-Level". In fact, this campaign makes some sense in that the drive is to ensure that there are more teachers teaching Further Maths to A level, thus ensuring that more people study Maths or related subjects at the better universities whose Maths departments are filled with foreign rather than British students.

Moving on from there, says Allister Heath, editor of said publication (and a friend), we must eliminate or, at least, greatly diminish the innumeracy and fiscal illiteracy that is "rife in this country". At least, unlike the Evening Standard, City AM does not scruple to lay the blame where it belongs: the educational system, the schools and the teachers.

As outlined by Mr Heath the campaign is targeted and focused as well as hard-hitting. One can support it with ease and I hope businesses do. I am a little less impressed by what, according to the BBC, Mr Gove actually said. It seems that, instead of concentrating on the quality of maths teaching and the need for better school and university qualifications in the subject, regardless of the pupils' background, Mr Gove once again waffled about making Maths compulsory up to the age of 18 and lamented, as he frequently does, the low level of maths teaching in this country as compared with that in East Asian countries.

The problem is, Mr Gove, that if the standard of maths teaching is low up to the age of 16 and not very high at A level, making something that is not good enough compulsor for more pupils is not the answer.


  1. Not to mention that quite a lot of people would be wasting their time doing A-level maths. It is (supposed) to be quite difficult at that level and should be outside the scope of those who aren't gifted at the subject, as well as not really being that useful for anyone not heading for academia, engineering or similar technical areas. If you did make it compulsory you would have to simplify it sufficiently that average students could grasp it. O-level/GCSE should be/used to be enough for the vast majority of the population.

    I suppose I should mention that I did do A-level maths more than 20 years ago after getting an A grade at GCSE without difficulty. I later dropped it and switching to Computing instead, one of the best decisions I've ever taken! Fairly recently one of my younger colleagues at work exclaimed "wow, you're doing real maths!" after taking a look at the scribbling in the open notebook on my desk. While I was amused & flattered, what I was doing used to be GCSE standard maths and should really not have impressed anyone with a degree in a technical subject like programming, which is what he had. Unfortunately this lack was all too common among his fellow code-monkeys.

  2. It is, in fact, a typically daft idea proposed by a politician instead of the hard-headed one that CityAM is campaigning for.