More than half of students in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not complete a maths syllabus in their first year, according to new research published in The Times Higher Education Supplement.
The research, which surveyed a representative sample of students across the three regions, found that only 11 per cent of first-year maths students are taking their mathematics syllabus to a specialist maths tutor, despite the fact that their parents are.
“As a consequence of this lack of support, many students will not understand how their maths course will benefit them in the long term,” said Professor David Stott from the University of Stirling, who led the research.
“Many students will also fail to take part in their tutor’s teaching or learning experiences.
This can have a negative impact on the learning outcomes of those students who do succeed.”
To tackle this, the researchers developed a new maths syllabuary model.
Students would be assigned a set of maths problems to solve in the first year of a maths course and would receive a number of points based on how well they solved the problems.
“Our aim was to help the maths teacher, but also the students, understand the importance of the maths problems they are trying to solve,” said Prof Stott.
“This could also provide a useful tool for students to learn about maths, to be able to reflect on what they learnt in the course and also to be prepared to be more productive in their next course.”
In the first phase of the study, students received a minimum of two hours of maths content, which consisted of a short series of problem sets, one for each problem.
“The number of maths tests students took was also set at six, but we were told that this was too low to give students a meaningful number of problems to work on,” said Dr Andrew Taylor, the paper’s lead author.
“At this stage, students are already familiar with the material, so we were not interested in increasing the number of tests they took.”
In addition to providing students with a structured maths curriculum, the study also highlighted the importance for parents to be involved in the planning and development of their children’s maths syllabi.
“Parents are in a much stronger position than students to help them develop their understanding of maths,” said Stott, “but there are also significant financial constraints that can prevent them from having access to a structured and well-planned curriculum.”
“There are plenty of people out there who are actively seeking to support young people, including maths teachers, to achieve their own goals,” said Taylor.
“We’re also finding that parents are keen to encourage their children to use their own creativity to tackle their maths problems, even if it means doing it on their own.”
For the second phase of this research, the team recruited a random sample of parents who had been a primary school teacher for a minimum time of 12 months and were willing to share their knowledge and experience.
“It’s a small sample, so it’s not representative of the overall maths community, but it’s a good start,” said study co-author Professor Joanna O’Brien, from the School of Mathematics and the School for Advanced Studies at University College London.
“There’s a lot of parents of secondary school children who don’t understand what they’re doing and they need to be helped to do maths correctly.”
To test the model, the authors surveyed parents across the UK who had completed their second year of their maths syllabs.
“A key part of our work was to collect data on parents’ responses to the maths sylla,” said O’Connor.
“The first part of this was the parent survey, which we collected through an online questionnaire.
This survey gave us a wealth of information about the parents’ views on the subject, and they were then asked to provide a summary of the views they had expressed on the maths and science syllabaries.””
We also asked parents what they thought of their son’s maths homework assignments, which gave us insight into what they had in mind for their son to tackle,” she added.”
What we found is that parents have a wide range of views on maths, with some parents saying they want their children not to take maths at all, others saying they would prefer their children take more maths, and still others saying their son would be able do more with maths.””
These parents were willing and able to share this information with us, so that we could have a better understanding of the different ways they view maths.”
The study also explored the use of a new online tool to help parents understand the mathematics they are teaching their children.
“Although the parents surveyed did not have access to this tool, we were able to find some interesting data about the tool,” said co-lead author Prof Brian Wilson, from University College Dublin.
“We also found that some parents had been using the tool to give feedback on their maths teaching, so there may be some overlap in their teaching and