Post-16 maths cash ‘lopsided’ towards schools

AoC analysis finds providers with consistently high numbers of maths students are not being rewarded

AoC analysis finds providers with consistently high numbers of maths students are not being rewarded

13 Jan 2023, 12:00

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Colleges are missing out on government cash aimed at bolstering the number of students studying maths after 16, analysis shared exclusively with FE Week has found.

Beneficiaries of the advanced maths premium scheme say the cash boost has been instrumental in driving up participation, particularly on core maths courses.

But those providers have hit back at changes to the baseline funding planned for August 2023 which will see their premium grant slashed.

The advanced maths premium is paid to providers for numbers of students studying level 3 maths courses – AS levels, A-levels or core maths – above a baseline figure.

To date, the baseline has been calculated as an average of level 3 maths learners in 2015/16 and 2017/18 academic years, with the payment made to institutions at £600 per student above that figure.

But analysis by the Association of Colleges has warned that the funding has not necessarily had the desired impact.

It has found that of the £56.7 million paid out in the last four years, 86 per cent has gone to schools and just 14 per cent paid to colleges, despite around 25 per cent of level 3 maths entries being in colleges.

The analysis, carried out by the AoC’s senior policy manager Eddie Playfair, found that the biggest beneficiaries of the scheme were Brampton Manor Academy with £280,800 allocated for 2023/23 and Hereford Sixth Form College with just over £250,000.

However some FE colleges and sixth form colleges with high numbers of maths students in excess of 350 failed to get a penny. They included Peter Symonds College, with more than 600 maths entries, as well as Runshaw College and Exeter College which both had about 500.

FE Week approached all three for comment, as well as the top three beneficiaries – Brampton Manor Academy, Hereford Sixth Form College and Worcester Sixth Form College.

The premium rules mean funding rewarded those which had escalated their maths students numbers on the baseline, rather than those with consistently high numbers of level 3 maths learners.

Playfair said: “The AMP has played out in a very lopsided way and probably hasn’t done what it set out to do, which was to incentivise growth. It’s a bit of a paradox to be incentivising something that is already very popular – A-level maths is the most popular A-level.

“Colleges have told us it hasn’t changed their behaviours, so the fact there is an advanced maths premium hasn’t made them promote maths any more than they already do.”

But those which have benefited from the scheme disagreed, explaining that it had been vital in boosting numbers.

Ed Senior, principal at Worcester Sixth Form College which received more than £178,000 for 2022/23, said its growth would not have happened without the premium.

“It’s been instrumental getting lots more students into level 3 maths,” he said. “The growth in A-level maths and further maths is not very big but the reason there are 300 students is it led us to introduce core maths.”

Peter Cooper, chief executive of the Heart of Mercia Trust which runs Hereford and Worcester sixth form colleges, said they deliberately encouraged the take-up of core maths because the funding incentive could facilitate it, believing it had also helped achievement in other subjects.

But from 2023/24, the baseline funding will be calculated on an average of the 2019/20 and 2020/21 data, which means the pay-outs will likely be smaller.

Cooper added: “The adjustment to a new baseline means we will get no money at all for doing the course in the future.

This now perversely forces us to do less of it as we would have to take the money from other areas. A prime example of central bureaucratic incompetence in implementing a worthy aim.”

The DfE’s advanced maths premium guidance says that its processes will ensure “only genuine increases in level 3 maths participation attract the premium,” saying it will “monitor behaviour at institution level to indicate adverse behaviour and may follow up where data gives us cause for concern”.

According to DfE data for summer 2022 exams, there were more than 89,000 A-level maths entries.

Core maths qualifications were announced in December 2014 as a means of aiding progression in maths post-16 for those not wishing to study maths at A-level. In 2022 there were 12,311 entries – the highest number since the first exams in 2016 when just under 3,000 entries were reported.

When the DfE and Treasury announced the premium in February 2018, schools minister Nick Gibb said that “this premium will open up the opportunity for even more young people to study advanced maths qualifications”.

Playfair said that “at the very least it would have been better to spend this money on volumes,” as it would reward providers for consistently delivering A-level maths. He has called for the DfE to review the allocations.

The DfE has been approached for comment.

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