Abigail Bown, AC for Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, and Tameside
In its heyday during the 1980s, there were between 10 and 15,000 students studying A level Further Mathematics. But by the turn of the millennium, this had dropped by over half to around 5,000.
During the 90s, there was a concern from university academics about the decline in basic mathematical knowledge of the students arriving at their institutions. A new curriculum was introduced in 2000 that promoted a broader range of subjects, and this prompted many schools and colleges to stop offering Further Mathematics, due to low staffing and low student uptake.
In 2005, the curriculum changed again, now accompanied by the work of the Further Maths Support Programme (FMSP) – the predecessor to the AMSP. This helped boost the number of students studying Further Mathematics significantly, with the qualification rising to nearly 16,000 entries by 2018. However, this is only around 17% of students studying A level Mathematics, and in the North West, only 68% of schools/colleges with students studying an A level in Mathematics offer A level Further Mathematics.
Changes to the A levels have made it possible for Further Mathematics to take on different roles, which are not possible with the broader base of students within A level Mathematics. Here the official advice from the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme:
“The most important reason of offer Further Mathematics is to help your students realise their aspirations. It’s particularly valuable for students who intend to take a degree with a high level of mathematical content; Further Maths is an essential requirement for maths courses at many leading universities.
“Offering Further Maths can also benefit your school/college. It can help you attract and retain both students and teaching staff, and there are also financial incentives.
“If you can’t offer the full A level in Further Maths in-house, it is well worth considering offering the AS. As well as introducing students to topics such a matrices and complex numbers, which are very useful for many degree courses, it improves mathematical fluency, and often helps students to improve their A level Mathematics grade.”
AS and A level Further Mathematics are encouraged for other STEM subjects, particularly Physics and Engineering. The IOP comments that in Physics “students who had studied Further Maths reported coping better with the mathematical content of the degree”. They commented that the Maths Support courses for these subjects often closely resemble Further Mathematics, including complex numbers, matrices and differential equations. The fluency in applying these techniques that Further Mathematics brings is valued.
If you would like support with offering Further Mathematics, or would like to learn more about how your school or college would benefit from offering A level Further Mathematics, please get in touch with your Area Coordinator to see how we can help.