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Level of Ability in A Level Maths Students.

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by jabed, Jan 23, 2011.

  1. I will chance my hand with this one. I hope its not controversial /doesn't land me in hot water, or there isn't a thread I missed asking the same thing.
    Maths and statistics ( especially the latter) is becoming academically " sexy" it seems. Loads of TV programmes. There was even a very good one on TV last week.... but has anyone experienced an increase in less ( and I mean really challenged) students into their classes as a result? I am getting a much increased uptake of my subjects but am concerned that there is a perception going round that it is an easy option somehow.
    I have to say that I am finding more and more students coming both into my physics and my statistics classes at A level who really should not be there. Is this just my school or is it becoming general? ( I am not allowed to set any formal entry requirement or refuse a student although I do ask for a C minimum GCSE in maths. This is often ignored by the head of year)

  2. CarrieV

    CarrieV Lead commenter

    My son's school insists on an A at GCSE to study Maths at A level, otherwise they have concerns that the students will not be able to cope ( although they have let a few B's in if the result was unexpected/below par). The majority of other A level subjects require a B to access the course!
  3. DM

    DM New commenter

    You need to provide your Head of Year with the evidence that students who attain grade C or D in GCSE mathematics are highly unlikely to be successful on A Level mathematics, physics or statistics courses. It is not in anyone's interest for them to fail.
    I will quote the 2007 figures as they are the most recent I have.
    In 2007, of the 1397 students who attained grade C at GCSE mathematics and <u>then did sufficiently well in their AS mathematics exams to be allowed to continue to A2</u>, only 567 attained an A2 pass grade. Only 28 of the 106 grade D GCSE mathematics students passed A2 mathematics.
    In 2007, of the 2462 students who attained grade C at GCSE mathematics and then did sufficiently well in their AS physics exams to be allowed to continue to A2, only 1000 attained an A2 pass grade. Only 22 of the 143 grade D GCSE mathematics students passed A2 physics.
    I can't provide you with data for A Level statistics as the number of candidates was too low.
  4. We require Bs for A Level in all subjects ... Science and Maths specify A but, like Carrie's son's school accept "predicted A got B kids"

    Also out Physics dept insist that they are also taking AS maths

    With As and some Bs we still get the spectrum of ability across A* to D/E A level capability ... and why not
  5. Nazard

    Nazard New commenter

    Wow - I am shocked at this. So the head of year tells you that you must teach A-level maths to a pupil who got a D grade at GCSE? Unless such a pupil has recently moved to England, or has very good reasons why their GCSE grade did not reflect their usual work (illness, bereavement, etc) this seems utterly unfair on the pupil.
    Can you invite the head of year to a Yr 12 maths lesson and then to a C/D borderline Yr 11 class to show the huge gulf between the two?
  6. Basically , yes. I have no control over which students are put in my classes. I am surprised that anyone else does. I thought the position I was in was fairly general ( just shows how wrong one can be doesn't it?)
    In fact I have one student who has a grade G GCSE (I would love to know how I am supposed to work her up to an AS level , let alone A2). My secondary question was going to be has anyone got any effective teaching strategies but obviously I am alone in having this problem.
    I have managed to get students with grade D maths a pass at A level statistics, even passes as high as grade C occasionally but it is hard work and quite stressful for me. I find myself teaching more by rote and drill than anything else.
    None of these students will be overseas ones. My overseas students generally have a higher ability than that.
    I do not teach GCSE so I have no opportunity to make comparisons. I only teach A level. My teaching career being a part time affair.
  7. You are trying to teach A level (anything) to a students who can barely tell the time/do a calculation that involves 2 operations/solve a linear equation/plot points (never mind draw a graph)

  8. DM

    DM New commenter

    I cannot believe a grade G student at GCSE has EVER gone on to pass A Level mathematics unless he or she deliberately spoiled his GCSE papers. It looks like your employer is only interested in bums on seats and is not bothered about results. It is a real shame you do not have more influence but I suppose this is one of the disadvantages of being a post 16 part-timer.
    Does your school/college not offer any more appropriate courses such as Functional Mathematics or a GCSE mathematics resit?
  9. You and me DM ... shocked together
  10. Seriously. It is reassuring to find that others do share my view that the task I have is one akin to banging my head against a brick wall. With fairness, this is the only pupil I have been sent with a grade G GCSE. Most have a D.
  11. And when you have the induction days and set the summer work and the kid looks at the level of algebra and starts to cry ... what does your HoY say then

    When you have your first assessment and they score zero because they have no idea what you are talking about ... what then

  12. On the contrary, my school is very bothered about results.
    Without wanting to reveal too many details about myself, I work in an independent school, not " Post 16". Its a school you may easily have heard of . It has a high reputation More shock and horror? These students are our home grown ones. Put bluntly they return to sixth form because the local state FE college wont have them as their grades are so poor.
    Most of them do take resits at GCSE. They do not necessarily improve grades. In fairness, until last year there was no real pressure on me to do more than could be done for these pupils and yet, most of them would still achieve a pass with me (although it did seem that the GCSE scores of previous cohorts were higher).
    However, the school currently has a bee in its bonnet about results and doing better than our state colleagues and moving ourselves upwards compared to our independent competitors, even though we are high in the dreaded league tables already and outstrip the local grammar schools results wise.
    Of course the other pressure is that parents who pay expect their children to do much better as a result, even when their children are challenged so. I know it is a strange situation but I had believed that many more sixth forms in the state sector were now taking the less able pupils in this same way.
    It is re assuring to know that others do feel the expectations of school and parents are not realistic.
  13. That is awful.
    Anyhow...I will support all my A level pupils to the end until they cant go ny further but many shouldnt be there if we look at it in the cold light of day.
    Gaining a B grade on edexcels paper this summer gone required 103/200 whcih could be gained by only answering shape and space, handling data and very very basic umber work.
    no algebra was required to get an A
    To highlight some issues I have experienced.
    "I can't":
    (i) Work with fractions, decimals only please
    (ii) Substitue to solve simultaneous equations can we eliminate (non linear ones too)
    (iii) remember what a straight line graph does
    I did an initial pre AS evaulation and the level was so so low for some that they woud not get close to getting the work we have covered. Of a group of 25 to start with I see 5-6 being able to even handle A2
    I am being very supportive and keep on going and going but I feel like I am merely pumping the air into a tyre with a massive hole destined to be flat. As soon as I step away they will be done for. Some of the questions I am fielding at lunch/after school are scray.
    ON the flip I have a couple of stunning workers who are just willing to have a go.
  14. Induction days. what are those? The students are largely self selecting, My subject is quite popular, hence I asked about the recent TV programmes influencing choices. That said, most of the students have been refused in the pure and applied maths depts and several also refused in English and humanities ( poor English results too), so they are often put into Art ( Photography) Home Economics and because it is maths and science my subject. A numbers of them do Business ( and the Business teacher and I often discuss the problems because he has the same ones)
    What happens when they cry? They rarely do for some reason. I also hope that they will give up when they do not do well in the first modules ( they usually get somewhere between 3 and 14. I have never had a zero score yet) . But they do not give up.
    What happens when they do not do well in their first module exams?
    I am told to do better and they re sit, which leads to the rather bizarre situation I have this year where half my A2 class are sitting on grade A B or C at AS and the other half have got U at AS and have just taken all their re sits at AS.
    I am effectively trying to teach AS and A2 in the same class.
    This year we have had a similar problem in Physics too.
  15. bombaysapphire

    bombaysapphire Star commenter

    We had some students start AS Level Maths this year who we were worried would not cope.
    My policy was to be strict with homework right from the start and to make sure they sat some topic assessments before half term. That meant that at half term I could contact parents about those who were struggling and had data to support my concerns. Parents removed some of the unsuitable students. A couple of others managed to pull their socks up and one started having some tutoring which has helped him to keep up.
    When you have students who shouldn't be on the course I think highlighting this with everyone as soon as possible is the fairest thing to do for everybody.
  16. Ah well, indie schools are a law unto themselves ... I would not expect them to have the same expectations re entry to a course as a state school
  17. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    I think you are in a very difficult position Jabed, and I don't really see a way out. I started my teaching career in boarding schools in the UK, and I understand completely where your headmaster is coming from and the pressures he himself may be under.
    If it is a boarding school - which it must be if you have overseas students - then each student will be bringing in between 10 to 25 thousand a year in fees. If you lose 10 of those students you lose the salaries for at least two members of staff. Who does he let go? ( This is almost a direct recollection of a point made by my first headmaster when he was asked why he didn't raise the CE requirement to get a place at the school ).
    We had similar problems in a school I used to teach in Norway. Due to the nature of the IB, you can have students who are highly gifted in languages or the humanities but are very weak in sciences or mathematics, but are still forced to take a science and mathematics. I don't think there is any alternative with these students than teaching by rote and getting them to learn things almost as an algorithm. In the end you more or less teach two different groups within the same class, and the expectations with each group are different even though they are ostensibly taught the same thing. One is aiming for understanding and the other is aiming for application.
    Good luck and all the best. If you get the student with a G through A Level you deserve a medal.
  18. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    It cuts both ways. My school does not guarantee any student within the school a place on the IB Diploma, and we usually refuse places to a dozen or so students each year because we feel they do not have what it takes to be succesful in the IB.
    It is a difficult game to play, and a school has to be confident in what it is and what it offers. You can easily alienate your usual market by raising or lowering acceptance requirements.
  19. I see your point Karvol. These are tough times even for big names like the place where I work.
    Thanks for the help everyone. You have been very reassuring.
  20. From rather a different perspective .. that of a retired and much older learner who dilgently got her GCSE Grade A at evening class in order to do A Level only to find that the local college was holding back lots of places for overseas students and the fees that they pay ; regardless it seemed of qualifications. On another tack, I have started A Level elsewhere and would be amazed tht anyone with Grade C could go on to do it. I did O Level Maths donkey's years ago and whilst I would hesitate to say GCSE is easier (it's different) we did do a lot more algebra and geometrical proofs at O Level . I have not found A level quite as daunting as I thought it would be because the teaching is so organised and targeted and masses of help on the web. with great textbooks, but it does require constant practice and hardwork which someone with a Grade C has probably not been doing! In my other past life at school, we had absolutely nothing to help us other than the teacher (often unapproachable) and a tattered old textbook! And I do think it's an easier subject now than Physics A level (which I did), or perhaps just better taught. Just some scattered thoughts. My thoughts are with all you poor Maths teachers with struggling students. It must be hard.

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