In fact the number of 14 year-olds who know virtually nothing about maths has doubled in the last 30 years.
Despite all the fanfares about GCSE and A level grades improving year on year anyone with half a brain knew that things weren’t what they seemed. Take grade inflation for a start. Grade A in GCSE maths reflects the same level of knowledge as a grade C in the late 1970s (which means I must have an A*** equivalent for my GCE maths).
Examples of questions given in the Times report last week were: O level maths 1979: “Prove that the internal bisector of any angle of a triangle..”; GCSE maths 2010: “Write the number 50,000 in words”, say it all.
The research was presented to the British Educational Research Association last week. The researchers compared results from 1979 with 2008-9 at year 9, mostly aged 14. They looked at elementary tests of algebra, ratio, decimals, and fractions. The proportion of pupils scoring the lowest grade went up from 6% to 16% in algebra and from 7% to 14% in ratio tests but results were broadly the same overall.
Yet 59% of pupils got a grade C this year compared with 22% in the early 1980s. As the researchers say “this is highly implausable” which is one way to put it. An absolute disgrace and a disservice to the pupils who think they have good grades but will struggle in the real world is more to the point I think.
Modular exams with endless repeats, group course work rather than strict exams, reliance on calculators, parental input, teachers fixing grades, and poor teachers have all been blamed.
One thing everyone seems to agree on however is the need for more specialist maths teachers if we are not to continue producing innumerate young adults.