This post is a brief comment on the following fragment from the Education White Paper The Importance of Teaching.
A levels are a crucial way that universities select candidates for their courses, so it is important that these qualifications meet the needs of higher education institutions. To ensure that they support progression to further education, higher education or employment, we are working with Ofqual, the awarding organisations and higher education institutions to ensure universities and learned bodies can be fully involved in their development. We specifically want to explore where linear A levels can be adapted to provide the depth of synoptic learning which the best universities value. [4.47]
I fully support the LMS Response to the Education White Paper which says, in particular:
Mathematics assessment strongly benefits from end-of-course, linear assessment, and we support moves towards this both at GCSE and at A-level. Effective mathematics teaching is a long-term project, whose goals are undermined by a modular structure: mathematics is a body of unifying ideas which often take time to assimilate.
But, to avoid any ambiguity, I have to emphasise that the present post is written by me in my private capacity and does not necessarily reflect views of the LMS or any other institution or organisation.
I believe that demodularisation of school mathematics will be welcomed by the universities, but with one important caveat: demodularisation should be introduced step-by-step as evolution, not revolution, to avoid damaging shocks of the kind that happened in 2002 with previous reform, when scared students became reluctant to take Mathematics A Levels.
As an admission tutor from an elite university wrote to me,
Maths A-levels are not perfect — we all know that. n particular, the modular scheme (no synoptic paper) [… ] is damaging. However retaining the current scheme, perhaps with some tweaks, will be far less damaging than trying to overhaul the system.
My personal opinion is that demodularisation is worth trying. I suggest it can be achieved by means of a low-cost evolution by
- shaping linear syllabus,
- gradual introduction of synoptic questions into exam papers, and
- step-by-step retraining of teachers over several years.
But this is difficult, and requires a carefully coordinated work of a number of bodies over many years. In my opinion, it is best do nothing than rush unprepared decisions.