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What has gone wrong with Maths at Westminster?

(273 Posts)
committedparent Wed 14-Jan-15 13:48:40

Only 1 pupil applied from Westminster to do Maths at Cambridge. 13 pupils applied to Oxford for maths or computer science. There were 0 (zero) offers from Oxford maths. Staggering.
Does anyone know what went wrong this year?
I am told that overall 25% of pupils took a gap year to re-apply last year. I don't know how this group have done with their applications.

Needmoresleep Wed 14-Jan-15 14:27:23

DS left last year so I don't know much about the current year group, however a few random thoughts:

1. Most schools will have been burned by Cambridge's policy of over-offering on maths in a ratio of about 2:1 and then relying on STEP, taken after A levels, to weed the weaker candidates out. Unless you are an outstanding candidate, perhaps better to try for Oxford.

2. I dont know the exact numbers but almost 50% of the year group take Maths and Further at A level. This is very impressive. Grades are impressive as well.

3. One of DS' classmates had an offer for maths at MIT. I dont know how many choose to go to the States but assume it is an attractive option, especially for computer science.

4. Several of the more gifted mathematicians in DS' year group chose to study engineering or NatSci rather than maths. I think two got offers to read economics at Cambridge. I assume one or two more would have opted for medicine.

5. Top flight tertiary education has become increasingly global. I understand that applications to places like Stanford have more than doubled in the past five years. I assume the same is true for Oxbridge.

There are two questions.

1. Does Westminster teach mathematics well. Our impression was that maths teaching was a well oiled machine. Enough students to run several sets, thus allowing each student to be taught at the right level and lots of good teachers, who made the subject interesting. DS had hesitated about taking Further as he was not an outstanding mathematician. He ended up really enjoying it (and getting an A*!).

2. Has competition, especially for maths based courses, increased to the extent that it is harder for "good" but not outstanding, students to gain places at Oxbridge? I think it has. DS knew others in different schools, who might have been considered certainties for Cambridge engineering but who did not get places.

ScottishProf Wed 14-Jan-15 17:19:45

Numbers in the OP hard to make much of: CS and maths are different subjects with independent admissions at Oxford, aren't they? How many out of the 13 actually applied for maths, not computer science, and how many computer scientists got offers? 0 out of 13 would indeed be staggering from Westminster, but if it's 0 out of 2 who applied for maths and 6 of 11 got offers for CS, say, then not so!

SignoraLiviaBurlando Wed 14-Jan-15 17:39:01

Agree with ScottishProf - you need to drill down - incomplete info in the OP. What does the school say?

TalkinPeace Wed 14-Jan-15 17:40:32

and there was me about to joke about politicians and their budget forecasts grin

committedparent Thu 15-Jan-15 11:35:18

Of the 13 only 1 applied for CS or cs&maths. The others applied for straight maths. So it is zero offers out of 12 for maths at Oxford. Please note we are talking offers .. not even those making their offers.
Yes a couple of outstanding maths pupils went engineering. We heard yesterday that the best of them didn't get an offer from Cambridge. Still waiting for some Cambridge offers as I write.
Head, just arrived, sidestepped the issue when apapproached. He talked about preparation for STEP as if there is no issue to discuss. He is a work in progress still trying to get his bearings.

TheWordFactory Thu 15-Jan-15 11:45:10

I have a son at W and I'll give my views.

The maths teaching is excellent. As stated above at least 50% of the sixth form take maths and the results are fab.

But, I think to some extent this is part of the problem. Some students who are doing very well at maths but are not mathmos are lured to it. Yes, they are more than up to it, but is their one true thang? I'm not convinced.

Take my DS. He'll take maths. He'll do brilliantly well I'm certain. But does he have any real love for the subject? No. So should he apply to Oxbridge for Maths? No.

TBF to W, I think this is a problem that isn't just theirs.

Bonsoir Thu 15-Jan-15 12:37:15

"The maths teaching is excellent. As stated above at least 50% of the sixth form take maths and the results are fab."

I presume that you mean that the results at A-level are fab: lots of A* at Maths and Further Maths?

The issue with Maths and Further Maths A-level is that they don't measure whether DC are gifted mathematicians. It is quite possible to get A* at Maths and Further Maths A-level by being a grafter. However, top universities are not looking for grafters at maths - they are looking for gifted mathematicians. Who might, in fact, be anywhere.

Does Westminster go much beyond the A-level syllabus? Or does it spend its time doing an awful lot of consolidation in order to guarantee A*s to the grafters?

Bonsoir Thu 15-Jan-15 12:41:10

As an example of international competition for maths places: the really hotly competitive French lycées like Louis-le-Grand, Henri IV, Stanislas and Franklin have, at this point in the Bac S Terminale (Y13) syllabus, moved well into first year prépa territory. In France, where end-of-school bac marks are less important for proceeding to top rank HE than are previous school reports, top lycées are in the business of ensuring their truly gifted mathematicians already have a good half year's head start when they enter Prépa (at the expense of consolidation of the bac syllabus). France is not the only country where such practices occur.

skylark2 Thu 15-Jan-15 12:42:37

How many offers to applications do they normally get?

I'd suspect that it is the statistics of small numbers and a fluke year where, like someone else said, the kids who would have got offers have actually applied for physics, or medicine, or to the US...

If something's gone wrong and this year the teaching missed something somehow, that will probably show up in the results of the whole cohort - maybe not the grades, but in the UMSs. No idea if they make those available.

I agree with TheWordFactory that the combination of really good maths teaching and bright kids can produce a situation where kids who aren't "mathematicians" (and I say that as someone who realised she was a physicist rather than a mathematician about 3 weeks before the Oxford entrance exams) get fabulous results in school-level exams and haven't yet hit the point of this-makes-no-sense which most non-mathematicians hit when they start A level. My DS just did his AS maths mock and has been doing past papers. I'd get 100% on them unless I made a stupid mistake. I'd never make an Oxbridge mathematician.

TheWordFactory Thu 15-Jan-15 12:55:50

Bonsoir I'm no expert in maths (having last had a lesson in 1984 shock), but from what I can gather maths at W is very lively and goes a fair way beyond the syllabus.

This is one of the reasons it's so popular.

DS finds his maths teachers particularly easy to work with/for. I suspect most of the other boys do too. Again a reason for its popularity.

But there is a big gap between enjoying maths, being good at it, being challenged appropriately and being a mathmo. A big gap.

I only know one of the boys who applied for maths at Oxford and I would not describe him as a mathmo. I can't speak for the other lads though.

TheWordFactory Thu 15-Jan-15 13:00:41

skylark indeed.

I work at Oxbridge and have a friend who teaches maths. He freely admits that he is looking for the sort of people who dream in numbers and see and equation when they look at a structure.

They're not even keen to take anyone who has had a gap year, for fear that they might lose the mathmatical saturation that they're looking for. It's all very intense and not just a little weird.

Bonsoir Thu 15-Jan-15 13:02:09

My odd job painter-decorator is an Oxford maths graduate.

<random comforting fact>

DonnaTheKamikaze Thu 15-Jan-15 13:02:54

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

DonnaTheKamikaze Thu 15-Jan-15 13:03:48

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

NaturalHistory Thu 15-Jan-15 13:10:58

There have been other anomalies at top independents this year. Schools don't know why, apparently, and are deeply surprised. Cases where those who tick all the boxes and solid A star material are not getting Oxbridge or the back up in some cases.

skylark2 Thu 15-Jan-15 13:14:51

A more relevant statistic might be the number of A*s, and how they are distributed by school. I would expect that in any given year, a huge proportion of schools have no Oxbridge calibre maths applicants.

It's surprising that none had offers from a particular school if, say, ten from that school have had offers every single year for the last 20.

Bonsoir Thu 15-Jan-15 13:23:48

Thank you for the figure of 13 221 entries for FM A-level.

Approx 42 500 French bac candidates did Bac S Spe Maths in 2014 - Spe Maths is equivalent to FM A-level.

I'd been idly wondering (but not bothering to look up the figures) what this comparison looked like.

uilen Thu 15-Jan-15 13:35:46

Students often drift into studying maths at university, with very little understanding of what maths actually is (particularly since A levels are so low level at the moment). Students who apply for physics, engineering, computer science have all made more "conscious" choices and tend to have more interest and passion for their subjects. Students apply for maths thinking that it keeps their options open and is well-respected by employers; they also hope it will be as easy as at school.

Any student with As and A*s will be able to get offers from many good universities for maths but this won't be enough for Oxbridge: MAT and STEP together with the interviews filter out those who genuinely have talent for the subject.

I suspect this year's numbers are anomalous but they are still surprising: such a low success rate wouldn't be expected from Westminster because they are usually able to judge who are serious Oxbridge candidates. In general a lot of the students who apply for maths at Oxbridge are well below the cut, even though they have A*s predicted, but top schools generally don't put forward weaker students. (Schools who don't often send students to Oxbridge do, because they can't judge how good their candidates actually are.)

BTW I don't think any school in the UK is preparing students better for maths at university than Westminster - Westminster is quite successful in Olympiads and sends a fair few to Trinity camps etc. Moreover, preparation and training beyond MAT and STEP practise is not necessary and does not really confer any advantage. Teaching ahead, i.e. covering first year university material, will not give an advantage in an Oxbridge interview as it is obvious that the candidate has met the material before, so the interviewer just switches topic to something they haven't met, sees how the student responds.

happygardening Thu 15-Jan-15 13:44:27

I assumed Westminster does the Pre U at math and further math the latter is definitely not for the grafter but for the gifted mathematician if a D1/D2 is being aimed for.

DonnaTheKamikaze Thu 15-Jan-15 13:45:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

DonnaTheKamikaze Thu 15-Jan-15 13:46:44

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

uilen Thu 15-Jan-15 13:53:54

I don't think Pre U Further Maths in itself picks out gifted mathematicians, as opposed to physicists or engineers. It's quite possible to get top marks in Further Maths and still not be suited to a maths degree (as opposed to another STEM degree). Remember quite a few people get into Cambridge maths, find it tremendously difficult and switch tripos.

Molio Thu 15-Jan-15 13:59:36

Assuming the figure of no offers for twelve applicants is correct, then I find that figure hugely surprising from a school of Westminster's calibre. Were there an unusual number of kids applying for maths against the advice of the school? That might explain it and who's to know? Some parents just won't take advice. Interesting that Westminster appears to be avoiding Cambridge maths (and the over-offering and STEP) like the plague smile

SignoraLiviaBurlando Thu 15-Jan-15 14:01:47

because they are usually able to judge who are serious Oxbridge candidates
Precisely - I suspect the wrong question is being asked ( with all due respect OP grin) it is not that anything is 'going wrong' with math teaching, more a case that the boys have been wrongly identified as having Oxbridge maths potential. One of the reasons the top schools have a good track record of alumni in top universities is the quality of their University teams, and their ability to remind the DC that the DC need to think about what they really want to study/why and where..

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