Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | September 6, 2011

Vorderman’s Report

In my opinion the Vorderman Report contains some sensible (although not very deep) general statements. Meanwhile at the level of concrete recommendations the Report appears to be flawed.

To save time, I briefly discuss only a few recommendations from the Report. Their analysis suggests that the Report missed, or its authors were afraid to raise, a few key issues. The most important of them is the need to revise the National Qualifications Framework and its principle that any two qualifications taught in parallel for the same length of time are equivalent (it is this principle that justifies the existence of “dummy” courses).

4.4 Each school should have the responsibility for adopting or creating its own mathematics programme.

The report says that teachers have insufficient mathematical knowledge; how could Recommendation 4.4 be implemented in absence of properly trained and knowledgable teachers?

In real life, the free market for curricula will be dominated by exam boards who will compete with each other in making their curricula easier to teach and tests easier to pass.

6.3-6.4 Full support should be given to the twin GCSEs during their pilot phase. The twin GCSEs should be seen as the first step towards a national provision that will meet the needs of all students, and should be led, managed and developed accordingly.

In plain English, this appear to suggest that twin GCSEs should be introduced regardless of the outcome of the pilot. This looks as an anti-scientific approach.

Two parallel GCSEs, one “harder”, and one “easier”, will lead to confusion with pre-requisites, sequencing and timing of material, basic scheduling problems. It is stronger students who will suffer from the ensuing mess and be put off mathematics.

The National Qualifications Framework forced invention of two equal modules; but, in my opinion the two twin GCSEs should be taught consecutively for those students who will be later taking full A-levels in mathematics,, while those students who will not be taking full A-levels in mathematics, should take only the first (easier) module, appropriately stretched over the two GCSE years. For this second group of students, who at the present time are entirely lost for mathematics, KS5 study of mathematics should be based on material from the second GCSE module, allowing them to get by the end of school some qualification similar (but not identical) to the full set of two GCSEs, but not equivalent to A Level Mathematics for the purpose of university admissions. These new GCSE pair will be different from the currently piloted twin GCSEs proposal because new GCSEs have to be designed for different purpose.

The key obstacle to this common sense solution is the National Qualifications Framework.

8.3 A variety of types of A level syllabus should be allowed and encouraged, including both modular and linear. A review is needed to ensure that the design features of good modular syllabuses at this level are better understood by those responsible for writing and approving them. [...]

Modular A level syllabi will easily win market competition over linear syllabi, because they are easier by default (even if of lower quality).

10.2 University departments offering degrees in STEM subjects should consider increasing the level of mathematics in their offers and in the advice they provide to applicants.

This is extremely naive. University are autonomous and act within a competitive market, which will soon become even more competitive. Any mechanisms that will ensure compliance with these demands will be counterproductive and lead only to further growth of red tape. In particular, the new AAB+ rule for students’ places allocation is incompatible with Recommendation 10.2.

11.1 The examination boards should be required to offer a number of syllabuses designed by responsible external bodies and consortia.

AQA, for example, already has about 60 mathematics qualifications on offer. Who needs more? 11.1 is a direct recommendation to keep untouched the flawed and dysfunctional system of examination boards.

Also, I have concerns about “responsible external bodies and consortia.” With all the talk of international comparisons, UK appears to be the only country without a proper National Curriculum authority which takes full responsibility for developing, monitoring and amending National Curriculum and which has resources and expert staff for doing so.

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