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The importance of Core Maths and the support available

Created on 18 December 2018 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 11 January 2019 by ncetm_administrator


The importance of Core Maths and the support available 

An article from our Director, Charlie Stripp

Maths education is so important that 16-year-olds shouldn’t be pondering ‘Should I take maths post-16?’ Instead they should be asking ‘Which maths should I take?’ 

Historically, if AS/A level maths was not the right choice for students who had ‘passed’ GCSE maths, no suitable alternative post-16 maths option existed. Now (since 2014) Core Maths, which is specifically designed to fill this qualification gap, is establishing itself as an excellent option for these students.

Everyday life and work are becoming increasingly mathematical. It’s indisputable that a facility with mathematics and the ability to analyse and interpret data improve young people’s prospects in higher education and employment[1], but that’s not the only reason why maths education is so important. To play a full part in today’s society, it is essential to be able to make sense of numbers and critically analyse data.

Bertrand Russell is one of my heroes. I disagree with many of his views on education, but I certainly agree with him about its social importance:

‘One of the impediments to successful democracy in our age is the complexity of the modern world, which makes it difficult for ordinary men and women to form an intelligent opinion on political questions, or even to decide whose expert judgement deserves the most respect. The cure for this trouble is to improve education.

Every believer in effective democracy must support this reform.’

Russell wrote this in 1932[2]. The nature of today’s world means that education, and mathematics education in particular, is more important than ever before.

The situation in England

In England, compared with other developed countries, an unusually low proportion of young people study maths to a level beyond GCSE standard[3] and the large majority of those who succeed in achieving the national expectation of a grade 4 or above in GCSE Maths stop studying maths at the age of 16. This is over 250,000 students each year.

A level Maths and Further Maths numbers have grown strongly in recent years[4], which is excellent news, and we must continue to work to increase uptake. However, A level Maths is not the most suitable qualification for the large majority of the students who currently drop maths at age 16. The new Core Maths qualifications, first taken in 2016, are designed to meet the needs of these students. Feedback from students who have taken Core Maths, and from teachers who have taught it, is very positive, and universities and employers[5] agree that it is a valuable qualification. Numbers are growing strongly and almost 7000 students took Core Maths in summer 2018. However, the number of students who would benefit from taking Core Maths is huge. We should aspire to an annual cohort of over 100,000 students choosing to take Core Maths within the next 10 years. 

Schools and colleges where Core Maths is growing

This case study shows how one state funded comprehensive school, Harrogate Grammar, is offering Core Maths very successfully, benefiting the whole school curriculum, enhancing students’ opportunities and supporting the teaching and learning of other subjects.

Other excellent examples of colleges that are providing their students with a full Level 3 maths curriculum are Cardinal Newman College in Preston, where 300 students have chosen to study Core Maths, and Priestley College in Warrington, where 150 students have chosen Core Maths.

All schools and colleges teaching post-16 students should be able to offer every student with a grade 4 or better in GCSE Maths a suitable post-16 maths pathway:

  1. If A level Maths is not the right choice for them, they should be able to choose either Core Maths or AS Maths alongside their other subjects.
  2. If they do wish to study A level Maths, they should also be able to choose either AS or A level Further Maths alongside their other subjects, particularly if they wish to study a strongly mathematics-related subject, or maths itself, at university.

Funding and support for Core Maths

For schools and colleges that do not currently offer these pathways, extensive help is available through the Advanced Maths Support Programme (AMSP). This is the successor to the highly successful Further Maths Support Programme (FMSP) and Core Maths Support Programme (CMSP). Like the FMSP, it is managed by MEIThe AMSP was launched at the 2018 MEI Conference and works closely with the Maths Hubs Network to provide expert, practical support to help schools and colleges to offer Core Maths and AS/A level Maths and Further Maths.

The Advanced Maths Premium, funded by the government, is a funding incentive designed specifically to help schools and colleges raise participation in maths education beyond GCSE level. It offers a £600 per year funding boost for each additional student taking an eligible maths qualification, relative to a baseline[6]. The AS levels in both Maths and Further Maths are eligible for the premium, as is Core Maths. The full A levels in Maths and Further Maths can each be counted twice for the premium, once in each year of study. As an example, starting up a new Core Maths class with 15 students could bring a school or college an additional £9000 of funding. 

The support available through the AMSP and the funding incentive provided by the Advanced Maths Premium mean there is a real opportunity to bring about a steep increase in participation in maths education to the age of 18. 

Funding pressures and teacher shortages mean it will certainly not be easy to make it the norm for all students to study maths post-16, and it will take several years. However, the AMSP, the Maths Hubs Network and the funding premium are there to help and it is vital that schools and colleges take advantage of their support. Studying maths to the age of 18 would benefit many thousands of young people, improving their prospects in higher education and employment and helping them to play a full part in society.

If your school or college doesn’t currently offer the full suite of Core Maths, AS Maths, AS Further Maths, A level Maths and A level Further Maths, please consider how you can make this possible in the future. A good place to start is to contact the AMSP for advice.

Read previous posts in the Charlie’s Angles blog

[2] Bertrand Russell, ‘In Praise of Idleness and other essays’, Routledge, reprinted 2006.

[4] JCQ figures for England: 


A level Mathematics

A level Further Mathematics







[6] More details and an example calculation can be found at https://amsp.org.uk/leadership/funding


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16 April 2019 12:33
For me, Core Maths is an eye-opening, wonderful qualification.

Having started teaching it this year, it is fantastic to see all levels of students choosing to study maths post 16 that SIMPLY WOULDN'T be doing that if A level maths was the only offer.

To my mind, A-level maths is really a post 16 qualification in Pure Maths (with a tiny bit of stats and mechanics thrown in). Core Maths is a post 16 qualification in finance, thinking mathematically and some other, clexible choices to tie in well with other post 16 courses. I don't see the need for geometry to be in this mix and it doesn't really feature in A-level either.

I don't see this as an elitist approach. The blunt fact is that almost all students with a grade 4 or 5 (and maybe 6) at GCSE are going to struggle to get much out of an A-level course. The options are either to make A level easier (not going to happen) or offer an alternative course that recognises that algebraic manipulation isn't the be all and end all of maths. This is where Core Maths fits in. If it is another 'functional maths' qualification, then it's one that's been put together very well and is being recognised by universities as being useful.

I honestly think that the case of returning adult learners is a different matter. If someone has decided to come back to maths, they likely have a certain curiosity and mindset that will see them through.

Parental support for this course is massively positive. Every parent I've talked to about it have said things along the lines of "I wish I'd had that at school" or "Sounds like I should do this course" or "Well, my child should obviously be doing this".
23 February 2019 11:13
It's a real shame to read that the training you went on for core maths has put you off this course. I have been teaching it for five years now and really enjoy it. I see it as part of the answer to opening maths up to a wider range of young people.

I also dislike the idea of the "elitism" of maths and would not support entry requirements for maths a level to being overly restrictive but I see that as a separate issue rather than an argument against the core maths qualification.

One of the successes of core maths is the flexibility of delivery and the diversity of the qualifications themselves - the awarding organisations offer different content so that you can choose what is most appropriate for your cohort of students and their context. They may not contain geometry explicitly as part of new learning but the geometry skills students develop during KS4 are then applied in the contextual problems they encounter in core maths.

I think teaching core maths can help to improve maths teaching across all key stages because it really is about developing the skills in students to be confident mathematicians, problem-solvers and critical analysts.
25 January 2019 13:41
Couldn't agree more with 'suestew'. I have recently come across a truly inpirational book by a Tasmanian Maths. teacher, in which she uses so much interesting material.

As Prof. Jo Boaler of Standford Uni. claims so impressively, high- level maths CAN be available for all---giving impoverished 'returners' like me, real hope.

Instead of being the emotional 'minefield' that threatens the mental health of so many.

A new combination of fine teaching and compassion-filled pastoral-care would be a brave and necessary addition to schools' 'menus' for this New Year.

The book referred to is'the MATHEMATICS Book' by Helen Prochazka ---

ISBN 978-0-9925330-0-7
By kckll1939
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18 January 2019 19:31
I think increasing take-up of maths post 16/GCSE needs to happen but I don't think CORE maths is the course to do it. I did a training course on this when it first came out and I was hugely disappointed. Why no geometry? why no shape and space? this was described by FE colleagues on the course as Functional Skills at Level 3 - do we really want another Functional Skills rather than maths?

I really want to open up maths to a wider range of young people (and adult returners). Why can't they do A level without a grade A? why can't people be allowed to study maths cos they enjoy it? It's just another example of the "elitism' of maths that young people talk about in so much of the research lit. (E.g. Is maths TIRED? BERJ 2003 Nardi and Steward).

We should be doing much better than this - the CORE maths course of just one symptom of all that is wrong with English maths teaching and Learning at the moment and not addressing the real issues that we face.
By suestew
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