Baccalaureate would multiply maths success, new chair of education committee says

A new baccalaureate-style qualification for 16- to 18-year-olds could encourage students to keep studying maths for longer, according to the new head of an influential Parliamentary committee.

Neil Carmichael, the Conservative chair of the Commons Education Select Committee said today that a broader post-16 curriculum could prevent sixth-formers from dropping the subject.

“If you compare what we do here with other countries, you find many people stop doing maths altogether at 16. We’ve really only just got the EBac [English Baccalaureate] into place to encourage people to do maths at GCSE, and do it well,” he told the annual conference of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education in London.

“But I do think there is a strong case for a baccalaureate beyond 16. I think we should put that on the table, discuss it and ask ourselves what it would it look like and how to introduce it if we decided to do so. The baccalaureate would be partly mathematics. I think that is the way to extending mathematics through the system of education.”

The last attempt to bring greater breadth to the academic sixth-form curriculum – by linking AS-levels to A-levels – has only recently been abandoned by Conservative ministers.

Mr Carmichael, who became chairman less than a month ago, said he was keen for his committee to look into how to close the gap between England and other countries when it came to the numbers studying maths at 17 and 18.

Speaking to TES after his talk, he made it clear that he was thinking of a qualification along the lines of the International Baccalaureate, rather than a version of the EBac, which credits students who have taken specific set of GCSEs. “Why is the International Baccalaureate popular? Because it gives a broader set of outcomes,” he said.

It has not yet been decided whether the select committee will look into the issue.

There are about 250,000 young people who get at least a grade C in GCSE maths each year but do not go on to study the subject at AS- or A-level.

The Coalition government hoped to encourage these students to continue with maths by asking exam boards to offer “core maths” courses, which focus on problem-solving techniques and can be taken alongside other A-levels. These courses will be available to all schools from September.

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