A-level Mathematics Options – Views of Secondary-level Teachers

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The A-level Mathematics qualification is based on a compulsory set of pure maths modules and a selection of applied maths modules with the pure maths representing two thirds of the assessment. The applied maths section includes mechanics, statistics and (sometimes) decision maths. A combination of mechanics and statistics tends to be the most popular choice by far. The current study aims to understand how maths teachers in secondary education make decisions regarding the curriculum options and offers useful insight to those currently designing the new A-level specifications.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with A-level maths teachers representing 27 grammar schools across Northern Ireland. Teachers were generally in agreement regarding the importance of pure maths and the balance between pure and applied within the A-level maths curriculum. A wide variety of opinions existed concerning the applied options. While many believe that the basic mechanics-statistics (M1-S1) combination is most accessible, it was also noted that the M1-M2 combination fits neatly alongside A-level physics. Lack of resources, timetabling constraints and competition with other subjects in the curriculum hinder uptake of A-level Further Maths.

Teachers are very conscious of the need to obtain high grades to benefit both their pupils and the school’s reputation. The move to a linear assessment system in England while Northern Ireland retains the modular system is likely to cause some schools to review their choice of exam board although there is disagreement as to whether a modular or linear system is more advantageous for pupils. The upcoming change in the specification offers an opportunity to refresh the assessment also and reduce the number of leading questions. However, teachers note that there are serious issues with GCSE maths and these have implications for A-level.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015
Event8th IMA Conference on Mathematical Education of Engineers - Loughborough University, Loughborough, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Apr 201520 Apr 2015


Conference8th IMA Conference on Mathematical Education of Engineers
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • mathematics
  • A-level
  • mechanics
  • module choice
  • secondary-level education
  • teachers


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