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Mathematics Free Schools - Your views

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by emilyisobel, Nov 26, 2011.

  1. I'm not too sure that just offering maths or maths and sciences is the way to go. I did a mix of maths and arts at A level and I think that it gave me a slightly different insight into the subject that has been very valuable to me and the students that I teach. I have also taught students at A level that did a similar mix and went on to study maths at university.
    Maths covers such a wide range of disciplines that it cannot be purely allied to science and engineering.
  2. The idea of a free schools system is that it's bottom up. Anyone can set up a school. So if you think it's a god idea to have a maths-only 6th form school, and can negotiate strong links with a nearby university maths department, then good luck to you. But government shouldn't be setting up the schools, and forcing the maths departments to co-operate - that's central planning, not a free system.
    It depends what we mean by suitable pupils. I'd say that for a university maths department to be positively interested, they want most of the pupils to have a positive liking for maths.
    This link gives the number of maths undergraduates in the UK
    ignoring the Open University, there are about 3,300 undergraduates entering every year to read maths at the universites with large maths departments. About 50% will be private or foreign, so say 1,500 state school maths undergraduates a year. If the 12 maths sixth forms have 100 pupils each, and they desire that almost all of them go on to read maths, it follows that they'll need to recruit virtually every budding mathematician to fill their places.
    On the other hand, it's probably acceptable for a large proportion of the students to go on to do other STEM subjects at university. So the figures might work out.

  3. The obvious flaw in this argument being that you need good Mathematicians to go into Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, Computer Science, ..., and university maths departments will be involved in teaching maths courses to these students.
    It's naive to think that the best mathematics A level students all do maths degrees, so your 1500 is a gross underestimate.

  4. But is a specialist maths school the best environment for someone who wants to do a numerate but non-mathematical subject at university?

  5. I wouldn't describe Physics or Computer Science as non-mathematical.
  6. I think a better argument is that universitys don't segregate students in this way - most of the best universities offer a wide range of subjects, so why would we model 6th form free schools differently?

    this is the typical path a kid going to those schools would take:
    age 4-16: in a school offering a full variety of subjects, with kids who have varied interests
    age 16-18: in a school where all kids are mathematically inclined
    age 18-21: in a university with students who have varies interests.
    I can see subject snobbery becoming ingrained in the kids who at a critical age of development see only similar minded kids, then going to university.
  7. Physics isn't a branch of mathematics. There's maths in it, but you can't do physics without making observations and conducting experiments.
    Computer science you could argue it either way. You might want to regard it as a subset of maths, or might argue that it's a discipline in its own right. Most universities tend towards the latter view.

  8. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    And bgy1mm makes a return.
    Stick to something you know would be my advice.

  9. DM

    DM New commenter

    He's a lot less loopy than he used to be. I have seen him over in Opinion and have to keep telling myself not to be so daft when I find myself agreeing with some of the things he has to say!
  10. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    I have to admit he is keeping himself remarkably on topic at the moment. There is evidence of going off on a tangent when he claims knowledge of the finer points of physics and computer science, but I am sure a background in English and creationism is more than an adequate foundation.
    As a non-teacher he can bring a viewpoint from the "man on the Clapham omnibus".
    I would draw issue with his view on Free Schools being completely free entities in theory. No educational establishment can be a free entity and it is naive to think so.
    If the government decentralises control of the schools, it still retains control by advocating what a curriculum should be. Even independent schools are, to a large degree, bound by what is to be examined. Thus the entitiy setting exams has a say in what is taught. A school can disregard it, but it then loses its client base.
  11. The government tried to do that with the GCSE. it worked for a while, but then independents rebelled and started putting pupils in for the IGCSE, which had been protected from all of the educational fads. That led to a brief situation where schools like Eton were bottom of official league tables. That was so self-evidently absurd that it didn't damage those schools, and the independents won.
    But if you run an independent school or a free school, you can't force parents to send their children to you. Every child enrolled is there because the parents have made a positive choice, in the case of independents, against a free alternative. Most parents want something pretty conventional, with normal subjects, recognised examining boards, and usually with the goal of university entrance. But exceptional schools do exist.

  12. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    My school does not sit exams at the age of 16 because it deems them as not appropriate for its needs. However, if a school wishes to send children to university, then there will be a terminal exam.
    In my case it is the I.B. or the Bac Francais.
    No examination is ever protected from government control and meddling. All are subject to it, to one degree or another.
    The issue of decentralisation is a common one in schools around the world. Decentralisation - and its raison d'etre to raise standards by making schools more responsive to local needs - still makes Free Schools subject to government control. They have to go through Ofsted and the funding is from the government.
    I would, however, question the long term strategy for Free Schools. They may start as a bottom-up enterprise, but they soon revert to top-down system. This is due to the fact that any school that follows the GCSE program ( and the vast majority of the UK schools do ) must to a certain extent follow government initiatives. If not, Ofsted will not be too happy. ( Similar experiences have occured in Norway in the 1990s for example ).
    When you look at something like Free Schools, you have to ask how much autonomy will the schools have when choosing resources. The main areas of resources that schools have autonomy over are:
    Input Variables ( finance, staff, students )
    Structure Variables ( provision of education)
    Process Variables ( management of curriculum )
    Environment Variables ( reporting and marking )
    The question is, under what form of control and constraints must this power be exercised? Sooner or later accountability is going to raise its head. Who are the schools going to be accountable to? Is the accountability political, to the market ( parents and students ), professional or cultural?
    This then brings with it the following thought. Do the local communities which the Free Schools are meant to draw from, have the knowledge and resources to adequately protect the quality of education provided to their children?What happens to those children with SEN etc. etc?
    There is a great deal of literature produced on this, and not all of it makes pleasant reading.
  13. This is happening already. Instead of letting some Professor of mathematics say "I'm not happy with the quality of candidates applying to read maths. I know what I'll do, I'll set up a free school, which just teaches mathematics, and I'll get the department to support it." Government is telling the professor that the school will be set up, and he must be involved. Maybe they've got the sense not to actually issue an explicit order, but if Whitehall wants you to do something, you don't ignore them, if you've any sense.
    Basically it's to the market. Parents can send their children elsewhere. If ypu lose a pupil, then you also lose the money asscoiated with that pupil. Exactly as in the independent sector. Of course one would hope that a certain professionalism is laid over that. But attempts to set up teachers' professional bodies have failed.
    My view on this is that parents, rather than bureaucrats, are much more likely to make decisions in the interests of their own children. Sometimes this doesn't seem like the case, because a lot of parents are poorly educated, and not always very responsible people. Bureaucrats are well-educated, and have the personal resources to hold down a responsible job. They're very good at giving a simulacrum of acting in the interests of the community as a whole. But it's an illusion. People are quite ruthless in protecting their own jobs, because their own children's welfare depends on maintaining a steady income stream. Other people's children come a distant second to that priority.

  14. BillyBobJoe

    BillyBobJoe Established commenter

    Damn, do I have to hand in my Theoretical Physics (with Mathematics) degree, now bgy1mm has declared it invalid? I guess that IOP accreditation counts for nothing.
  15. You can derive mathematical constants through pure reasoning. We don't measure lots of circular objects to get the value of PI.
    The same's not true of physical laws. For instance basic particles seem to have a two-fold complementarity, which we call positive and negative (though the signs are arbitrary). They could just as logically have a three fold paper-scissors-rock type symmetry, but they don't. You can only discover that through observation. Physics isn't necessarily true in all conceivable worlds, mathematics is.

  16. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    It had to happen sooner or later.
  17. BillyBobJoe

    BillyBobJoe Established commenter

    If you look behind you, you'll see the point, bgy1mm. I have an accredited physics degree, which contained precisely zero practical or observational work. Yes, some of it relied on the observations of others, but in terms of those required for study, nothing at all. It is, frankly, disingenuous to try and detach mathematics from its context. You can construct a free standing mathematical edifice, but its structure and content are, in large part, a result of physics. Pi may have a theoretical definition, but it exists because of people measuring lots of circles. Calculus is a lovely mathemtatical tool, but it exists because Newton, among others, wanted to model physics.
    You can study both physics and maths without application.
  18. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    bgy1mm is an English language graduate, who is not a teacher and has no background in mathematics.
    Every so often he dips his feet into the water and, inevitably, the water is too hot.
  19. Agree with every word.
    However, this stems from my point that Physics and Computer Science are mathematical. I didn't say they *were* maths. There's a difference and I honestly cannot believe that anyone would argue that Physics is not mathematical.
    I'd like to see a numerate (ie can multiply) person who wasn't good at maths (algebra, geometry, trigonometry) handle a Physics degree!
  20. One of these statements is false, one true.


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