On Tuesday 17 July 2018, over 140 delegates came together at the Royal Society to discuss policy changes and priorities across phases of mathematics education. Professor Frank Kelly CBE FRS, welcomed delegates to the conference and gave an overview of the Royal Society ACME’s current and ongoing work. This included high level policy influencing on areas such as mathematical signalling, as well as the setting up of four curriculum Contact Groups designed to feed into the policy work of the Committee.
The morning keynote was given by the Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury. During her time in Government the Minister has been an active participant within the mathematics education policy sphere, particularly during her time at the Department for Education. She spoke of the importance of being able to use mathematics within the workplace and drew attention to her own use of the subject in her work at the Treasury. The Minister highlighted some of the Government funded schemes in mathematics education including Teaching for Mastery and the Advanced Maths Premium. She referred to the setting up a new specialist maths school in Liverpool, following on from those already well-established at King’s College London and Exeter.
In his afternoon keynote, Paul Kett, Director General for Education Standards at the Department for Education, picked up many of the themes introduced by the Minister. He spoke of the need for widening levels of participation in mathematics, and linked this closely with the workforce needs identified in the Government’s Industrial Strategy. In addition, he also drew attention to the forthcoming pilot of Early Learning Goals, and the long-standing issue of teachers’ workloads.
The conference was not just about keynotes. Delegates had the opportunity to take part in four discussion workshops spanning phases of mathematics education from early years and primary, through to post-16 study. One workshop explored the challenges associated with delivering suitable mathematics pathways for all young people post-16, while another focussed on data science within the new A level Mathematics. The latter coincided with the publication of the Royal Society ACME’s recently commissioned report: The Integration of Data Science in the Primary and Secondary Curriculum.
Another of the workshops was specifically devoted to the professional learner journeys of secondary teachers of mathematics, although teachers’ professional development needs arose widely in other workshops, and indeed throughout the conference as a whole. The morning sessions closed with a plenary panel session during which brief synoptic summarises of the four workshops were given by panellists who had been involved in leading the workshops. Questions to the panellists spanned all the workshop areas and covered topics such as achieving cohesion in mathematics education and technology in teaching.
Since the publication of Sir Adrian Smith’s review of post-16 mathematics in 2017, a key priority of the Royal Society ACME has been improving the signalling of Level 3 mathematics study. In keeping with this work, the more general area of signalling the value of mathematics across all phases of education formed the theme for the afternoon panel session. Dame Jil Matheson (Royal Society ACME Member), chaired the session which had contributions from four distinguished speakers. Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, gave an introductory overview of research data, which included international comparisons showing low levels of participation in post-16 mathematics in England. Drawing on her work in the sciences, Professor Louise Archer from University College London spoke about the subject from a social justice and economic perspective. Professor Mark Smith gave a university view point while Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, focussed more closely on schools. Gender imbalance, and in particular lower levels of participation by girls in mathematical study, was a topic of discussion which arose frequently during the panel session, and indeed in other sessions throughout the conference.
Overall the conference offered delegates an opportunity to learn more about the Royal Society ACME’s work and to input their thoughts, ideas and suggestions into this. The event proved to be an excellent forum for diverse and lively discussion about policy issues that really matter to teachers, learners, researchers and those involved in influencing and making policy decisions.
We hope that all conference delegates found the conference both enjoyable and informative. We recognise that there are some very real and challenging policy issues within mathematics education today. In line with our conference theme, we hope that collectively the mathematics community will continue to work together and in collaboration with the Royal Society ACME in an effort to bring about sustained, positive change in the mathematics education landscape for the future.