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A specialist maths school in every city

(67 Posts)
noblegiraffe Sun 22-Jan-17 22:57:36

Theresa May is set to announce plans for a specialist maths school in every city, along the lines of the KCL school which is a highly selective maths-based sixth form.

While on paper this sounds good, I wonder about the effect on local schools who are already struggling to recruit qualified maths teachers.

sendsummer Mon 23-Jan-17 06:51:44

It might at least partly compensate if they also took students from other schools or sixth form colleges for FM, STEP or extension classes in younger years.

Badbadbunny Mon 23-Jan-17 08:03:13

We looked at 4 comps for our son, and none of them made any provision for high achieving maths pupils. The best a couple could come up with was that they could do the UK Maths Challenge, the others just shrugged their shoulders. None of the 4 did further maths at GCSE. This kind of initiative has the potential to be popular and successful if done right.

meditrina Mon 23-Jan-17 08:11:45

Not terribly clear what they mean at the moment.

I'm guessing that by maths they mean STEM, but what happens if you want to do a mix, maybe maths, FM, economics and history? Or is it going to be a full sixth form which just happens to have a good enough maths department to offer several maths A levels?

Given both the raising of the participation age, and the demographic bulge that's been stressing younger-age school entry points, it does make sense to increase sixth form provision when there's still time to do so in a planned (rather than last-minute) way.

So it's a good thing there will be more places. It's a good thing to champion STEM. We have to wait and see what these colleges (and their entry procedures) will actually be like.

Bloody irritating to link it to BREXIT, though.

Violetcharlotte Mon 23-Jan-17 08:19:34

Sounds good in theory I guess, but I'd like to know where they're going to get all these maths and science teachers from Apparently my sons school can't recruit them for love or money! According to the head they've been advertising for a maths teacher for 3 months and have had not one enquiry confused

JustRichmal Mon 23-Jan-17 10:27:17

The one in Exeter works excellently. The students who get into it have to be very keen and able at maths.
I think it could well encourage more graduates into teaching, as some, who lack the management skills required for general teaching, may well thrive teaching higher level maths to enthusiastic sixth form students.
They also run outreach classes for younger students.
The one thing I would alter is for it to teach all the stem subjects and so include chemistry and biology as well as maths, physics and IT.

ErrolTheDragon Mon 23-Jan-17 10:46:34

I'm a bit unclear - a college for high achieving maths/students (which is what some of you seem to be talking about) isnt necessarily the same thing as 'technical training'. That piece seems to be talking about 'technical routes' which are currently lower status than university graduates. I fully agree that 'technical routes' should be valued (more than random degree) but is this also supposed to cater for the kids who top grades to get onto good MEng courses?

noblegiraffe Mon 23-Jan-17 10:59:01

I think it's two separate proposals, one for technology colleges (which will have to work hard to not go the same route as UTCs, a lot of which have closed down due to lack of students), and one for maths schools like KCL and Exeter.

ErrolTheDragon Mon 23-Jan-17 11:05:15

That makes the problem of where the maths and physics teachers come from even worse, doesn't it?

gillybeanz Mon 23-Jan-17 11:13:10

I wonder if this isn't going to be just the same as the specialist college status that high schools used to have.
They did no more than any other school except the named subject happened to have a teacher who was actually qualified in the subject they taught.
My ds1 went to a sports college, the PE teacher was a normal PE teacher and they did actually do PE rather than sometimes have a different subject teacher to cover. The standard was no better than any other school.
My ds 2 school ws a technology college, pretty much the same too, except the named subject was compulsory at GCSE.

ErrolTheDragon Mon 23-Jan-17 11:20:50

I would guess that a large part of the success of the KCL school is its close association with a uni of the calibre of KCL, plus the large pool of potential students in london. They have to be not only able, but be very sure thats's the path they want to take - no chance of swapping a subject in the first term of yr 12 there, or starting 4 or 5 with more doors kept open. It might be possible to replicate, more or less, in large urban centres with a good university but there are going to be large swathes of the country where this is unlikely to be feasible.

DoctorDonnaNoble Mon 23-Jan-17 11:42:12

And where are all these maths teachers coming from? It's a struggle getting teachers who can do Further Maths as it is.
We have SCITT trainees in Science every year, in the 10 years I've been there we've never had a Physics specialist.

gillybeanz Mon 23-Jan-17 11:56:39

I think if there were fewer schools offering specialist Maths or STEM than the proposed every city and the school managed as a private school with charitable status, offering boarding, then they would attract not only the best teachers to the schools but leaders in the field to become an associate of the school.

I agree though the student would have to be sure it was what they wanted to do, be very able and show potential.

The government should offer the same scheme to Maths/ STEM as they do for Music, Dance and Drama.

JustRichmal Mon 23-Jan-17 13:17:32

And where are all these maths teachers coming from?

I think a lot of maths and science graduates are put off teaching because they do not have either the skill set or desire to stand in front of 30 children who could not care less about learning maths or science and teach them maths or science.

It does not mean those same people would not have the skill set or desire to teach maths or science to enthusiastic A level students who they could inspire to look at the subject in more depth than the syllabus required.

By comparison, if you closed down the Royal Ballet School or the Brit School, you would not suddenly get more PE and drama teachers spread out over the other schools in the area. A lot of teachers want to specialise. It is just, for some reason, specialist schools in art have existed for years and become acceptable whereas specialist schools in maths have only just been introduced.

gillybeanz Mon 23-Jan-17 13:26:37

The Royal Ballet School, Brit school and all the other specialist schools do attract the best teachers in the business though.
They are world famous in most cases, not just the best the LA has to offer.
To attract these teachers there needs to be kudos from gaining a teaching position there, like teaching the most talented and dedicated students who show potential.
I think as the schools specialising in the Arts have been established for many years now the government should use the same model as it works and is fully inclusive for all.

ErrolTheDragon Mon 23-Jan-17 13:41:01

There's a big difference though, in that the supply of dedicated, talented pupils for those schools, and the demand for their output (how many ballet dancers are there in the country?) is miniscule compared to STEM.

gillybeanz Mon 23-Jan-17 13:48:21


My point is that the model works and there are thousands not hundreds that benefit.
These schools also have a catchment area of The world, however, if we were to limit the schools specialising in Maths and STEM to UK children then we would be able to produce the finest scholars able to compete on a global scale.
So it would only take the same percentage of children as the Arts schools to make such a difference.

JustRichmal Mon 23-Jan-17 13:49:52

I agree with Errol. There is a lot more demand for specialist maths (or stem)schools as there are so many more jobs in this sector. A school in every city would be better than just one in London.

bojorojo Mon 23-Jan-17 14:19:39

I think we do educate fine mathematicians at the moment. Surely we are needing to educate more pupils in STEM subjects at all levels, not just do more for the top ones? How will these schools function alongside new grammar schools? I think this is flawed thinking. How can these two types of schools exist together? How will they exist with other high-achieving comprehensive schooIs? Selecting out talented pupils is always a problem. It is very complicated.

The Government have been talking about needing more technicians. These young people are not the ones accessing MEng courses and then going off to work for City Accountants! They are the cogs of the engineering world. Also, the pay for many of these careers is a problem. London salaries are high. Higher than anyone pays for engineering graduates. This needs to change but employers will find this difficult. It is the same reason why maths and science graduates do not go into teaching.

Also lots of pupils do economics and maths. Maths goes very well with other arts subjects. What about MFL? Will mathematicians not want to study MFL?

I think there is a great need to teach a foundation course in Engineering alongside A levels. When at grammar school, many moons ago, DH had extension science lessons at a university and was actually taught by Professor Heinz Woolf. He also did a pre-architecture course at school, although he became an Engineer. This type of innovation has largely disappeared. He did Engineering A level. In those days it was a mix of practical and academic and meant the first year at univeristy was not too challenging (he says it was a doddle) because some of it was familiar. Young people should not need to go to a specialist school to do this; they just need a very good school.

ErrolTheDragon Mon 23-Jan-17 14:20:22

we would be able to produce the finest scholars able to compete on a global scale.

We already do. The UK has a disproportionately large number of nobel prize winners etc. The shortfall isn't so much at the very top as that we need lots of capable people in engineering, software etc.

The KCL example seems to be doing well, but I'm quite dubious as to whether splitting out like this at A level (and certainly not earlier!) is a good idea. I'm doubtful that the 40% girls would be replicated elsewhere. And what happens to the many kids who don't know what they want to do at age 16 many of whom should be taking maths? If its, as with KCL, just maths and physics plus some computing or economics, whats going to happen to the other sciences - most chemists should do maths and physics, biologists chemistry and maths, medics some combo - it wont do british science overall or the quality of our doctors any good at all if they're in schools with the best maths/physics students and teachers stripped out. What happens to those superbright mathematicians who currently do something different with their double maths and physics because they aren't one-dimensional nerds and are quite capable of doing a language or humanity or arts subject too?

bojorojo Mon 23-Jan-17 14:30:59

Why is it that no Government ever understands that all we need are very good schools in every city, town and especially rural areas where parents have no choice!!! Not specialist schools that few can access.

I think ballet and music schools are so specialist as to be of little value for comparison. They are more of a one dimensional vocational training. Very few young people attend these schools and they do not drive our economy. If all the best maths teachers go into specialist schools, what about everyone else at the other schools? The best teachers also teach 11 year olds. We cannot afford for these children to have low quality teaching or the STEM pupils for 6th form will never emerge!

gillybeanz Mon 23-Jan-17 15:06:03

I think there is a good comparison tbh and the model would work just the same for any subject.
Say there were the same 8 or 9 nine schools offering specialist STEM subjects or maths etc, the children still do the other subjects as well.
they would still take the same number of GCSE's as other schools.
Only the best teachers would want to work at the schools which would leave good teachers in other schools.
Taking the most able students from throughout the UK woulld probably amount to the same number as the music and dance schools.
Not everyone would want to go, there are lots of children who aren't a bit interested in pursuing these subjects passed GCSE and many only tale them as they are compulsory anyway.
Take out the dedicated talented and those showing potential there wouldn't be tens of thousands breaking the doors down to be admitted.

HPFA Mon 23-Jan-17 15:55:55

This doesn't seem to be anything intrinsically wrong with this idea however with the funding crisis in general and the recruitment problems in particular it would seem better to concentrate on that rather than introducing further confusion into the system.

I think people are rather missing the point about ballet schools. The government has decided for many years to support national ballet companies and quite rightly makes a contribution to supporting the training of our future dancers, who need intensive training whilst still young Whilst they obviously select from those who seem to have the most potential that is quite different from supporting those who have a "talent for ballet". I am sure there are many more children who have talent than will ever see a penny of government funding. This model could only be applied to maths if we needed a tiny number of highly advanced mathematicians, whereas we actually need a pretty large number of very good mathematicians, as specialist teachers for instance.

If this was an alternative to grammar schools (which I'm rather hoping may be the case) then I'm quite happy with it but I would really prefer the govt to concentrate on the real issues.

DoctorDonnaNoble Mon 23-Jan-17 15:58:23

It won't be as an alternative to grammars. TM is pretty wedded to the idea.

Blu Mon 23-Jan-17 16:12:53

Teachers / tutors at places like BRIT and the Royal Ballet School are often practitioners who have learned to teach specialist courses within a specialist environment. Not specialist teachers who would be in and out of school based teaching.

I THINK the teachers at the KCMS are maths tutors from the university, aren't they? They may not be good at explaining Yr 8 maths to non-maths-orientated students in a school.

The A level options are very limited at KCMS. It seems a great thing for maths geniuses, alongside more general provision - supporting maths within a wider clutch of science subjects, for example.

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