New 'M-level' exam to be introduced in bid to reverse UK's poor record in mathematics

By Daily Mail Reporter


Michael Gove

Michael Gove has drafted a new maths test to help improve standards

A new maths exam nicknamed the ‘M-level’ is to be introduced to try to reverse the UK’s poor record in the subject beyond the age of 16.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and education minister Elizabeth Truss have drawn up proposals for a new ‘core maths’ exam – harder than GCSEs but less onerous than A-levels – which will be offered to 16-to 19-year-olds.

The Government hopes that even students who take arts subjects at A-level will also do the new maths exam, which it believes will be hugely attractive to prospective employers.

Just 15 per cent of pupils carry on with the subject beyond compulsory education up to 16 - which is among the worst rate in the developed world.

The new course is part of a drive by Mr Gove to encourage the ‘vast majority’ of pupils to take maths until the age of 18 within a decade.

Miss Truss said the new M-level could be a subset of a more traditional maths course or a statistics and probability qualification, like one which has increased take-up in New Zealand.


Teenagers are also expected to be able to take courses studying the maths behind real-world scenarios such as the cost-effectiveness of insurance, the trustworthiness of opinion polls and the odds of lotteries being fixed.

They would learn to interpret graphs, manipulate spreadsheets, estimate quantities and calculate probability and risk.

‘All the evidence from international tests and league tables suggests that high performing countries put core academic subjects at the centre of their curriculum for longer than we do in this country. Nowhere is this more striking than in 16 to 18 maths,’ Miss Truss said.

It is hoped the new maths exams will encourage the subject to be studied at higher levels


She pointed out there has been a resurgence in maths and further maths in the last few years, with A-level entries rising almost 50 per cent since 2007.

‘But there’s still much further to go,’ she added. ‘Last year we announced that maths will be compulsory for students up to the age of 19 who have not achieved a C at GCSE.

‘But that doesn’t mean that young people who have achieved a C or above at GCSE should wave maths goodbye. On the contrary, we want many more students to study maths after 16 – whether they are doing arts or sciences in the rest of their options.

‘Countries with higher maths uptake between 16 and 18 tend to offer mid-level qualifications at this age – what I describe as core maths – effectively as an alternative to A-level.

‘We are keen to see a range of approved qualifications that can provide rigorous, respected mathematical options for 16- to 19-year-olds who have achieved at least C at GCSE. For example, these could be a subset of a more traditional maths course or a statistics and probability qualification – like one which has increased take-up in New Zealand.’

She said it was crucial that the new post-16 courses were ‘respected by higher education and employers’.

‘At the moment, even the brightest 18-year-olds at this country’s top universities are struggling.

Academics warn that too many students are arriving to study maths or mathematics-related degrees without the basic mastery they need – which inevitably means that they struggle with the demands of a university course,’ she added.

The Government has pledged funding for new specialist maths free schools for 16- to 18-year-olds, supported by strong university mathematics departments and academics. The first is to be opened by King’s College London in September 2014.

Charlie Stripp, chief executive of the charity Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI), said of the proposals for new post-16 courses: ‘This is a new type of maths course that will start from interesting, difficult realistic problems, that students can see the point of solving, and show them how maths can help solve them.

‘Many students are turned off maths because they can’t see the point of learning maths techniques to answer textbook questions that seem irrelevant to real life.

‘We hope this course will motivate many more young people to take maths post-16, instead of dropping it after their GCSEs, only to regret it later when they realise they lack the skills they need.’
Research published today (FRI) underlines the importance of maths – showing that children with greater skill in the subject at age ten go on to earn significantly more as adults.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that a child who scores in the top 15 per cent of maths scores at age 10 is likely to earn 7.3% more at age 30 than an otherwise identical child who achieves a middle ranking maths score, even after controlling for the qualifications that they go on to obtain. This is equivalent to earning around an extra £2,100 per year.

Reading skills are also important, but less so than maths skills: a child who scores in the top 15 per cent of reading scores at age 10 is likely to earn around 1.9% (£550) more per year at age 30 than an otherwise identical child who achieves a middle ranking reading score.

‘Employers seem to value maths skills more highly and are willing to reward them with higher wages, indicating that there may be a shortage of such skills,’ the IFS said.


The comments below have not been moderated.

Stop changing the system. There was nothing wrong with O and A levels and standard grade/highers.

Click to rate     Rating   16

What is this obsession with maths? Some people are gifted at maths and some are gifted in other ways. Some people are just not academic at all. Be honest, who uses more than basic maths in their every day life? I'm 53 and when I was at school if you did a 'commercial' course in your fourth and fifth year at secondary school (accounts, economics, typing, shorthand and English) you did not have to take maths. So from 13 years old I didn't study any maths and nor did my classmates . Can't say it's held me back.

Click to rate     Rating   2

Suppose the 'M' stands for Mickey Mouse.

Click to rate     Rating   4

Read a comment by that idiot Stephen Twigg (he of the very strange nose), castigating Michael Gove, saying he would take the UK's education system back to the 1950s. Chance would be a fine thing, those halcyon days have long gone.

Click to rate     Rating   1

sounds like the uk has given up on excellence and decided to lower aim to accomodate the ever growing number of youth that are 2 sandwiches short of a picnic. Going by whats written in the papers the uk is sure heading for the world record in picnics!!!

Click to rate     Rating   2

yet another exam aimed at those who are interlectualy challenged due to uk having a poor education system. If you cant educate to a high standard dont bother making excuses by trying to market the new exam as a norm, if you cant pass your higher exams then plain simple, you fail. Retailers of clothes are marketing outsized clothes as the norm, this doesnt mean that the uk doesnt have an obese problem they are just marketing it as the norm, as the old saying goes, if it quacks like a duck it probably is a duck!

Click to rate     Rating   2

"You can fiddle about with the exams all you want, but if you have poor teaching, not much in the way of discipline...............the main reason is that the great majority of junior and primary school (and secondary) teachers are women. There is a lot of evidence that women have a lack of confidence (and are unable to gain the respect needed to keep a class of boisterous rowdy pupils under control)............ so standards of behaviour in class worsen, too much distraction, and academic standards drop.

Click to rate     Rating   1

All this tinkering around changing the names & introducing 'new' exams (M-exam, Baccaulaureate, etc) is not changing the fact that the root problem is with the actual teaching methods themself. Poor English, poor discipline, and 'every child is a winner', have destroyed the very fabric of primary & secondary academic education. There was nothing wrong with the old system of CSE, and GSE O-levels & A-levels, and changing the 'exam to GCSE did nothing to improve standards. If anything the standards dropped significantly, so introducing another 'trendy name' for an exam is not addressing the real issue. What needs to be done is to get back to traditional 3 R's, phonic spelling, grammar, long division & multiplication, and good old-fashioned DISCIPLINE.

Click to rate     Rating   3

"There is a lot of evidence that women have a lack of confidence and often a real dislike of maths. It is impossible to teach it well if you arent any good yourself. So a partial solution will be to recruit significant numgers of male teachers at that level (as already happens in private schools)" - Old Sweat , Llanfihangel, 09/3/2013 21:48 *************** Where is your evidence? There were 5 male teachers in our primary school and only one of them understood maths. The other four just thought they did. At secondary level, my children were inspired by the women, the male maths head of dept. being so interested in sport he just doled out excercises from old books and left the children to flounder. Alas, many male teachers were employed by the county precisely because they were good at football. I am not saying all women were better, but certainly they were no worse. Your sort of ' received wisdom' just perpetuates the problems.

Click to rate     Rating   3

Well - 'they' - the politicians, appointed Carol Vorderman as Tsar for the teaching of maths and the revision of the maths curriculum some years ago. What a waste of money on this motormouth of a celeb. There are some excellent maths scemes in existence, but too many teachers fail at basic level because they themselves do not understand basic concepts. Instead of teaching an understanding of number systems they depend on trite sayings such as 'Go next door and borrow one.' There is a need for specialised teaching by polymaths right from year one, and investment in mathematical apparatus instead of chalk and talk.

Click to rate     Rating   5

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