In 2017, AS examinations worth half a full A level are to be discontinued. This highly controversial move has been opposed by academics, teachers and the leading universities in England and Wales. Even the A level Content Advisory Board (ALCAB) has warned that a return to the traditional A level examination format with a two year gap between completing GCSE Maths and taking A levels, will stop the uptake of Maths A level and threaten the recovery in the numbers choosing to study the subject.
A gap of two years between GCSE and A level without an intermediary qualification to aim for will make it harder for those not naturally gifted students to engage in or fully absorb the subject. Vital skills in numeracy will be lost, at a time when employers continue to complain about the lack of numerical proficiency at all levels in the workplace.
The abolition of AS level Maths will also have a knock-on effect on those wishing to study Physics, Chemistry and Computer Science. A basic knowledge of Maths is an important acquisition for the study of Sociology, Physiology, Business Studies and Economics, etc. The dropping of AS Maths is likely to restrict career choice across a raft of professions, limiting job opportunities for young people, particularly girls who have chosen to study Maths at AS level in significant numbers over the past 5 years.
The number of students going on to study the subject beyond GCSE has risen from 52,000 in 2004 after the introduction of the AS level qualification, to over 88,000 in May 2014. The numbers taking A level Maths, using Maths as a gradual stepping stone to advanced learning has risen by 152% over the period 2004 – 2014, surely a remarkable achievement.
Many argue that the proposed abolition will result in declining social mobility by restricting the opportunities to make an informed choice between different types of career, that it will reduce the number of young people qualified to take up engineering apprenticeships. Again, this is likely to affect the job opportunities of young women. This is surely not about raising standards, it is about saving paltry sums of money (the costs of setting and printing exam papers, marking scripts, providing teaching material and employing extra teachers).
The modern workplace needs recruits who are numerate and have a basic knowledge of science. Abolishing AS level Maths will damage the economic competitiveness of the country at a time when government is attempting bridge the skills gap and boost manufacturing and entry into a new export market.
The final question, then, is: If the present system works, why change it?
Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.