Girls and A-Level Further Mathematics

I recently received my IMA member’s magazine “Mathematics Today” in the post and in this issue there is a very interesting article by Claire Baldwin, Sue de Pomerai and Cathy Smith titled “The Participation of Girls in Further Mathematics“. Luckily they have made this article available online here so if you aren’t a member of the IMA I’d encourage you to read it now.

This article draws heavily on a literature review, “Gender and participation in mathematics and further mathematics A Levels: a literature review for the Further Mathematics Support Programme”Ā prepared by Cathy Smith and a subsequent report detailing 5 case studies authored by Cathy Smith and Jennie Golding titled “Gender and participation in Mathematics and Further Mathematics: Interim report for the Further MathematicsSupport Programme“. If you are interested in gender and the take-up of A Level mathematics I would encourage you to read them.

I think most teachers of A-Level mathematics would love to have more girls continue mathematics and in particular continue their study into Further Mathematics, I think it is important that we do everything we can to encourage this. About 20% of both my Year 12 and Year 13 classes are female and I am glad that there are female peers in these classes.

From the IMA article I particularly liked the 4 reasons they gave for Further Mathematics being valuable:

  • The increased time spent engaging with mathematics and developing greater fluency.
  • The study of important topics in pure mathematics not covered at A-Level, such as complex numbers and matrices, that are essential for anyone going on to study maths, physics or engineering.
  • The opportunity to study a broader range of applications of mathematics.
  • The development of increased confidence and resilience in tackling demanding mathematical problems.

These four things very nicely sum up why Further Maths is such a good qualification.

Despite a significant increase in participation for further mathematics in general, the proportion of girls taking the qualification has stayed broadly consistent with significantly less girls taking the subject than boys. I wasn’t aware that the situation was different in the US, where participation is roughly equal at similar level optional calculus courses.

One of the interventions highlighted in the case studies to increase participation at A-Level was the provision of extra courses alongside GCSE for the high attaining students. This is a concern to me, as anecdotally I have heard of many people stopping the provision of these with the introduction of the more demanding GCSE syllabi – I think this is a shame as the AQA Level certificate in Further Mathematics is a really nice qualification.

I believe we need to do everything we can in schools to encourage students to take A-Level Mathematics and Further Mathematics. What do you do to encourage participation?

One reply on “Girls and A-Level Further Mathematics”

One of Y12 students is not continuing onto A2 F Maths because it doesn’t fit with his chosen career. He is very capable, he got 174/175 in his GCSE last year and I expect him to get close to that in this year’s modules. He really enjoys the subject and the lessons and we have discussed him continuing but I have encouraged him to Drop it as it is what is best for him.
Essentially we should be driven by what is in the students’ best interests no matter our desire to deliver further maths.

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