Cambridge University academics ‘to set maths A-levels’ as part of reforms

Tough new maths A-levels will be set by Cambridge academics after the university became the first in the country to directly intervene in the exams system. Leading mathematicians are to script new syllabuses and exam questions as part of radical reforms being introduced to improve education standards. This is from the Telegraph…

Revised qualifications will feature an emphasis on key disciplines such as trigonometry and probability, “demanding” questions will be set to stretch the brightest pupils and lesson materials will be available online.

The move is designed to address major concerns over a sharp decline in teenagers’ maths skills – leaving hundreds of thousands of young people unfit for the demands of higher education.

Cambridge warned that even the most talented students did not have “sufficient mastery of basic mathematics” and existing A-levels were too “superficial”.

Academics including Sir Tim Gowers, who won the prestigious Fields Medal for mathematics in 1998, will be involved in the project, although it could lead to a significant delay in the introduction of new sixth-form exams.

It is the first time a major university has stepped in since the Government announced earlier this year that it was creating new powers to allow academics to set A-levels.

Ministers are also in advanced talks with other top Russell Group universities with a view to overhauling sixth-form qualifications in subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, English, foreign languages, history and geography, the Telegraph understands.

The announcement – to be made on Wednesday by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary – follows plans to abolish GCSEs in favour of new-style qualifications in the core subjects.

Reforms are likely to be opposed by teachers’ leaders who have claimed that shifting powers towards universities ignores the thousands of school leavers who shun higher education in favour of the workplace.

It has also been claimed that A-levels do not require significant revision after a number of small-scale changes in recent years.

But Government sources warned that Cambridge’s intervention proved that leading dons were unhappy with the standards of existing exams.

A number of universities are already being forced to provide remedial catch-up lessons for first year undergraduates to bring them up to scratch.

A source close to Michael Gove said: “It is vital we raise standards, raise ambition and get people who really understand subjects back in charge.

“It is incredibly exciting that some of the best mathematicians in the world want to fix A-level maths. This will spread understanding of teaching the deep problem-solving skills that are so vital to universities and businesses, and give many more pupils an advanced education.”

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