Posted by: Administrator | 05/10/2010

Tony Gardiner: Electoral statement

I am standing against the incumbent Education Secretary.  I would not be doing so if the current situation were more-or-less satisfactory.  However, it is not easy to explain in a delicate way why a change is needed.

My own credentials are unusual.  Throughout my career I have struggled to bridge the divide between school mathematics, undergraduate mathematics, and research mathematics – to blend the insights of a mathematician with those of a classroom teacher, a curriculum developer, a textbook author, an examiner, etc.

Over the years I have taken every opportunity to work with children – mostly, but by no means exclusively, at secondary level.  I have also worked closely with teachers on curriculum development projects, in providing for able pupils, and in setting up and running the national pyramid of challenges, olympiads and summer schools.  This has been a humbling, but enriching experience.

At the same time I have sought to challenge Ministers, officials, and the mathematics education establishment – nationally and internationally.  This has naturally caused some to keep their distance.  But mathematicians who spend significant time on educational matters are sufficiently rare that the community should be concerned at the consistent failure to make good use of available expertise.

The membership needs to be aware how much lobbying is done in its name even when the majority view would probably contradict the claims being made on their behalf.  One blatant example arose last summer, when a significant group of academics saw clear dangers in the proposal to introduce an “non-academic” A level called “Use of mathematics”.  The objectors may have understood only part of the problem, but their instinctive nervousness was entirely warranted. Instead of engaging with their objections, a statement seeking to salvage the proposal was issued the very next day in the name of the LMS!  Similar examples have occurred this year, and continue to occur.

Issues which will affect us all are currently being wrangled over behind closed doors.  The government are considering how to restructure A levels and 16-19 provision; they are reviewing the national curriculum; they are reconsidering assessment and league tables; they are reviewing the (corrupt) English practice of linking texts and examination syllabuses; they are looking for ways of reducing the cost of undergraduate instruction; and so on.  And all this seems to be happening without *official* input from mathematicians – who are too often represented indirectly by those with quite different priorities.

I understand the natural inclination to support the status quo.  But there are times when this inclination needs to be challenged.  Now is precisely such a time.

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