Civil Engineering academics and teaching specialists have backed a leading government adviser's claim that A-level mathematics are getting easier.
Chair of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME), Sir Peter Williams, made the assertion in Sunday's Observer newspaper.Williams is also Prime Minister Gordon Brown's new adviser on primary school maths. He said: 'I don't think there is any doubt whatsoever that absolute A-level standards have fallen. They have edged south continuously over a period of time.'Williams said as an example that A-level students today faced equations that required less depth of knowledge and understanding than in the past.ACME told NCE he stood by his comments to the newspaper. Civil engineering academics in particular are worried about falling standards. 'We are very concerned,' said Imperial College professor of Civil Engineering David Nethercott.'Because of the modular set up of the [Imperial civils] course we would like to know what the students do and don't know before they arrive. The syllabus has changed and mechanics, which we value, has almost disappeared.'We think that because schools are under pressure to perform in league tables, students are taught how to pass exams, but there is sometimes no depth of understanding.'Past president of the Maths Association and current chair of its teaching committee, Doug French, agreed with Nethercott that academic league tables were affecting the quality of teaching. 'There has always been cramming, but it is a lot worse now,' he said.'And if you look at A grade students now it is probable that their level of attainment is less than 20 years ago.'But under the modular arrangement all students study core subjects like calculus. There is a choice as to whether to pursue statistics or mechanics. And students have had that option for 30 years.'ACME said that it would look at maths A-levels to establish whether they are fit for purpose.Engineers add voice