An article on the BBC website says that a report by SCORE has found that A-level science exams do not contain enough maths questions to prepare students to progress to science degrees or related jobs.
SCORE is an organisation described on its website as “a partnership of organisations, which aims to improve science education in UK schools and colleges by supporting the development and implementation of effective education policy” and lists as partners Association for Science Education, Institute of Physics, Royal Society, Royal Society of Chemistry and Society of Biology.
Professor Graham Hutchings, chairman of SCORE, is quoted saying “Our findings are worrying. A significant proportion of the mathematical requirements put in place by the examinations regulator, Ofqual, for each of the sciences were simply not assessed and, if they were, it was often in a very limited way.”
Here are some quotes cherry-picked from the report’s findings:
For biology, chemistry and physics, it was felt there were underpinning areas of mathematics missing from the requirements and that their exclusion meant students were not adequately prepared for progression in that subject. For example, for physics many of the respondents highlighted the absence of calculus, differentiation and integration, in chemistry the absence of calculus and in biology, converting between different units.
There is concern among the science community that competition between awarding organisations discourages them from setting examinations or assessment tasks that might appear more difficult, for example by including both more challenging and more mathematical content.
A perceived consequence, raised repeatedly by the science community in the online survey, is that if mathematical content areas are frequently not assessed then these areas will not be taught or practised in depth. If areas within the mathematical requirements are not taught or practised, it will limit students’ access to the subject, their ability to understand scientific concepts and reduce their mathematical fluency. Instead, there should be a broader spread of mathematical skills assessed every year to accurately reflect the mathematical requirements and encourage teachers and students to practise them.
The article also mentions Nuffield Foundation research showing larger discrepancies in the skills assessed by different exam boards, and quotes an Ofqual spokesman on their research in which universities, employers and teachers offered concerns over the mathematical content of A-levels.
Source: A-level sciences ‘lack the maths students need’.
Report: SCORE Mathematics in science. (The policy report contains a readable overview of the methodology and findings)