A level further maths - why is it treated so differently?

(110 Posts)
TheBeautifulVisit Tue 25-Feb-14 11:29:13

I'm just wondering about further maths. In further maths A level 58% achieved A* or A grade versus 12.7% achieved A* or A grade in ICT in 2013, source here: www.telegraph.co.uk/education/leaguetables/10247947/A-level-results-2013-national-results-by-subject-and-gender.html

Why are students discouraged from sitting further maths if it seems likely they'll go on to achieve anything but the top grades? Why are schools unhappy for students to countenance a C or a D grade in further maths but are perfectly happy for students to take ICT, even though they can reasonably expect to achieve a C or D grade?

It makes no sense to me at all. We are short of computer scientists and a further maths at C or D grade would be very useful, possibly much more useful than a similar or higher grade in ICT.

Why do we support this system? Surely we should be encouraging children to study as much maths as possible for as long as possible?

Can somebody please explain to me why further maths is treated so preciously?

titchy Tue 25-Feb-14 11:35:59

Errr because FM A Level s harder than normal bog standard Maths A Level, so only the most able mathematicians take it. Also most kids want a broader range of subjects at A Level rather than using two of the three subjects on Maths. So it effectively self-selects those likely to get top grades.

A better comparison would be Maths A level not Further Maths, though most sixth forms require an A grade Maths GCSE so again it selects the more able kids.

MinesAPintOfTea Tue 25-Feb-14 11:42:32

Because to do further maths you have to first do A-level maths in a year (with further maths taught in the second year). If you can't do that well then you'd be better off just doing A-level maths over two years as is normal, understanding it all and getting a good grade.

A C or D doesn't really indicate full and confident understanding of the subject matter so its better to get one A/A* than two D/C grades. In terms of computer scientists there is also a "computing" A-level which is more programming based than ICT.

In the schools I've taught in Further Maths is only done by a tiny handful of the most able, talented students. Very often they are foreign students too-in my last school they were nearly all Chinese, I think in part because their Maths teaching lower down school is very rigorous.

LaVolcan Tue 25-Feb-14 11:54:12

You don't necessarily need to do A level Maths in one year, or at least you didn't need to at my son's school. You certainly needed to get a high grade to do A level Maths anyway.

Further Maths seemed to be offered to those who had a strong desire to study Maths at University, especially Oxbridge, usually as a fourth A level, rather than one of three, so you could say it was a self-selecting group of high ability mathematicians.

TheBeautifulVisit Tue 25-Feb-14 12:13:02

MinesaPintofTea - That's nonsense. You don't have to do A level maths in a year at all. And computing isn't always on offer. And you are misunderstanding me about the grades. Why is it OK to get a grade C or D in ICT but not OK to get a grade C or D in further maths?

MummyPigsFatTummy Tue 25-Feb-14 12:13:24

I took Further Maths as a fourth A level way back in the Dark Ages (1980s) and I was more or less baffled all year. What I understand is that Maths used to be divided into Pure Maths and Applied Maths (with the Applied Maths having a reasonable cross-over with Physics) and they simply joined the syllabuses (syllabi?) togerther and the easier half became Maths A level and the harder (and more esoteric) stuff Further Maths.

Unless you want to do Physics and/or Maths at degree level you can get by with just the Maths part so there would be little point most A level students taking both. Certainly it was pretty much a waste of time for me (as I went on to study Biochemistry for which the department had to provide a remedial Maths class as so few students had anything above O level).

My friend on the other hand took a joint Physics and Maths degree, so for her it was very useful. Funnily enough, both of us got Cs in the A level and yet she went on to do very well in her degree.

Personally, I think I shouldn't have taken it as it simply tied me up for studying something I didn't really understand when I could have devoted more time to the subjects I did understand (Physics, Chemistry and regular Maths in my case). I think students should think very hard before starting a subject like this as to whether they really need it for their future and whether they love Maths enough to devote so much time to it.

25-odd years on, I can barely remember my O level Maths, never mind the FM stuff (but I am such an old gimmer my brain cells have probably just fallen out).

yourlittlesecret Tue 25-Feb-14 12:13:57

It does seem to be harder.
At his college there are a high number of overseas students, mainly Chinese who study Maths and FM. They start from a point way beyond the UK students as AntoinetteCosway says.

They do the AQA system of sitting the A level maths modules in Y12 and FM in Y13.
Many of DSs year who got A*GCSE struggled. There was a huge drop out rate at the end of Y12 with many choosing to spend the second year redoing the maths. Even a C or a D was looking unachievable to them.
Those who have continued seem to be a small minority of the most able mathematicians.

MummyPigsFatTummy Tue 25-Feb-14 12:17:46

TheBeautifulVisit, on the grades side of things, I suspect the view might be that it is better to get a C or D in a practical subject like ICT than a C or D in a subject which has very limited practical value for most people. The theory possibly being that if you are 'only' capable of a C or D in Further Maths, is there really any point taking it at all and, like me, diverting your time and brain power from subjects you really will need in your future degree/career?

Maybe.

titchy Tue 25-Feb-14 12:22:18

I don't think anyone would claim it isn't OK to get a C or a D in FM per se, although as most kids doing FM would be those aspiring to a Maths degree, a C or D might indicate they would struggle at degree level.

The grade distribution though simply highlights the self selecting nature of the subject, not the acceptability or otherwise of particular grades.

TheBeautifulVisit Tue 25-Feb-14 12:25:18

But universities recognise it's harder than normal maths. That's why they lower their grade offers for students who have further maths.

A degree is harder than A levels but lots of students go on to do something maths-related at university having not opted to do further maths at school, even though it was on offer.

tiggytape Tue 25-Feb-14 12:31:14

Agree with titchy. It is nothing to do with the acceptability or otherwise of getting a C or D grade. It is simply the case that nobody would embark on further maths (or see it all the way through) unless they were of exceptionally high ability in the first place and this is reflected in the final grades they tend to get.

Further maths is pretty inaccessible to anyone who isn't brilliant at maths so only exceptional students take it and, being exceptional students, they tend to get top grades.

TheBeautifulVisit Tue 25-Feb-14 12:33:44

Schools have become completely obsessed with A*/A grades.

Seeline Tue 25-Feb-14 12:39:05

Agree - further maths is not just MORE maths - it is a completely different range of topics. Like MummyPigs I started it as a 4th A level in the 80's, having got an A at O Level. I dropped it after a year because it made no sense at all. I went on to get both Maths and Physics A Levels. I think if you are likely to 'only' get a C or a D in FM, it would have been a miracle if you had finished the course. I think it is really all or nothing.
It would probably be better if everyone had a better grounding in Maths, by increasing the scope of the GCSE. As I understand it they now cover far fewer topics than the old O Level. Alot of what I did at A Level is now considered to be degree level confused

LaVolcan Tue 25-Feb-14 12:47:46

Same with my son Seeline, he dropped the subject part way through and quite honesty, it was a waste of time for him as an aspiring engineer.

MinesAPintOfTea Tue 25-Feb-14 12:54:49

Its not nonsense: a lot of schools teach the maths modules in year 12 and the further maths modules in year 13. Its normal to give twice as much teaching time for this, but it means that the pupils have to understand all the normal maths material in year 12 and then go on to learn the further maths stuff in year 13.

Especially if you want to do something with a maths component (which isn't a maths degree) its more important that you thoroughly understand the basic maths A-level than get two but don't fully grasp the material.

Your school might do things differently, but my point about harder material learnt faster still stands.

LaVolcan Tue 25-Feb-14 13:07:40

I suspect also, that ICT is one of those subjects that kids who are not aiming for A*/A/B get shunted into and hence the lower grades overall.

LaVolcan Tue 25-Feb-14 13:10:22

Having worked as a computer programmer and software designer for 10 years, I don't think Further Maths is necessary at all for them. A logical brain yes, but A level maths will develop this.

Cerisier Tue 25-Feb-14 13:12:19

Seeline I teach GCSE and A level Maths and FM. The GCSE course we use covers calculus and functions as well as all the usual topics and is a challenging course, it covers far more topics than my old O level course did.

The A level courses we offer are also rigorous. I disagree that the content has changed, certainly the pure is pretty much the same as ever.

PowderMum Tue 25-Feb-14 13:19:19

My DD is currently doing further maths as she will need it for her degree choice. In an academic school with a selective 6th form there are less than half a dozen pupils doing FM and as they all take 4 subjects to AS level and then drop one for A2 only those who really need it and are going to get a A will continue.

I think it really needs to be looked at more of an extension subject for bright maths pupils

noblegiraffe Tue 25-Feb-14 13:20:14

Less brilliant kids aren't likely to get Cs or Ds in further maths, the chance is that they would struggle so much they would bomb out completely. It's a genuine risk that teachers would probably advise an insecure candidate against taking.

yourlittlesecret Tue 25-Feb-14 13:41:18

It's a genuine risk that teachers would probably advise an insecure candidate against taking.
When we took DS2 around sixth forms I was a little surprised that all the maths teachers were encouraging him to take FM as well as maths. He has an A* in maths GCSE but is by no means gifted at maths. I know this because his brother is gifted at maths.
There were no words of caution or any hint that it was only for the brave.
He is not doing it.

bruffin Tue 25-Feb-14 13:42:35

I thought you can chop and change some of the modules (ocr) between Maths and Further Maths if you are doing both, at least that's what DS tells me. DS is sitting on a C in FM at the moment but that is made up of an A, a very high B and an E. He is retaking the E as he did no revision for it, so could turn it from an E to A, so agree it appears to be an all or nothing subject

Seeline Tue 25-Feb-14 13:45:42

Cerisier Interesting - I had understood that calculus was no longer part of GSCEs, and barely covered in A Levels. Perhaps it has been reinstated? I'm pleased - I loved calculus blush

TheBeautifulVisit Tue 25-Feb-14 13:51:32

Cerisier - What's your GCSE course?

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