Universities asked to open more post-16 maths free schools

Universities are being sought by the government to open specialist post-16 free schools to encourage more pupils to study maths at A-level.

The government will also provide £350,000 dedicated funding every year to each existing and future maths school to support outreach work with local schools and colleges, schools minister Nick Gibb will announce today.

The two existing specialist maths schools – King’s Maths, linked to Kings College London, and Exeter Mathematics, sponsored by the University of Exeter and Exeter College – have been rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Last year, 98 per cent of Kings’ maths students got an A or A* in their A-level mathematics, as did 75 per cent at Exeter.

The government set out plans to expand the maths schools across the country in its industrial strategy in January last year.

At the time, business secretary Greg Clark said the government would seek “partners” to help “spread” specialist maths schools across the country, but did not say who the partners would be.

Cambridge Mathematics School is due to open in 2020. It will be led by Cambridgeshire Educational Trust, in partnership with St John’s College, Cambridge.

Gibb will say the Department for Education want to encourage more students to study maths and “open up a wide range of options for future study, training and work”.

“The success of existing maths school shows the value of tapping into the expertise of our world-class universities,” he will add. “We now want more institutions to follow the lead of King’s and Exeter and help our most talented students, regardless of background and gender.”

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  1. The downside of specialist maths schools is that they draw resources away from sixth-forms which offer a range of subjects including maths. And it’s likely they’ll take only the highest achievers in maths creaming other sixth forms of top-performing pupils. Is there any evidence that such top-performers wouldn’t achieve the same high grades if they remained in non-specialist sixth forms?

    • JD asks: “Is there any evidence that such top-performers wouldn’t achieve the same high grades if they remained in non-specialist sixth forms?~”

      They might get the same grades, but would they get the same enrichment opportunities? If you want evidence I suggest you look at those and compare them to the average sixth form. Education is about more than just grades.

      If non-specialist sixth forms were able to routinely attract teachers of the same academic calibre as the ones at Kings Maths School, and enrich their curriculum with the sort of academic input the school gets from KCL sponsorship, then they might become comparable – but unfortunately that is unlikely to happen across the board. Kings School prioritises applicants from schools that don’t already offer what they provide.