Exploring mathematics teacher leaders’ attributions and actions in influencing senior secondary students’ mathematics subject enrolments


School leaders employ various school-based actions to influence students’ subject enrolments at senior secondary levels (Years 11 and 12), which in turn affect students’ entrance into tertiary courses and career choices. In the context of reported declines in the proportion of students opting to study higher-level mathematics, this qualitative study sought insights into seven Australian mathematics teacher leaders’ decision-making processes and actions in their particular school contexts. It aimed to relate their actions to particular attributions for enrolment declines and their goals for students’ learning and achievement. The leaders’ attributions included students’ lack of ability, changes in university courses’ pre-requisites, students’ lack of effort or persistence, and negative attitudes towards mathematics. The leaders described a variety of school-based actions; some school leaders had actually chosen opposing actions but expressed similar reasons for implementing them, and vice versa. Tensions among external pragmatic constraints, the actions of other school staff, and the teacher leaders’ own goals for student learning in mathematics framed the findings of this study.

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The authors would like to acknowledge with appreciation the teacher leader participants. Special thanks to Professor **** for her contribution to the data analysis.

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Correspondence to Karina J. Wilkie.

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Mathematics leaders: interview schedule

  1. 1.

    Number of years teaching mathematics:

    Number of years in leadership role (Head of Maths, Maths coordinator):

    Have taught in: state government sector/independent sector/Catholic sector/other.

    Role is: Years 7–12/Years 5–8/Years K–12/other

  2. 2.

    What is the current status of your school’s enrolments in Years 11 and 12 Mathematical Methods (MM) and Specialist Mathematics (SM)? How many students and classes do you have?

  3. 3.

    Who are the teachers teaching these students; what are their profiles? Are they experienced maths teachers with many years of experience, were they mathematics trained and/or majored in mathematics at tertiary level?

  4. 4.

    What have you noticed about your school’s enrolments in Years 11 and 12 Mathematical Methods (MM) and Specialist Mathematics (SM) over the past decade? Have they been decreasing/increasing/steady?

What reasons do you think are likely for this in your school?

  1. 5.

    Does your school have any school/department-based strategies for influencing students’ subject choices in mathematics at senior secondary level?

    If yes, what are they? If not, can you please explain/say more about why not?

  2. 6.

    Do your mathematics teachers offer any career advice to students at Year 10 or earlier relating to careers requiring or using mathematics? Is it up to the individual teacher or is it part of the whole school/department approach?

  3. 7.

    Have there been any discussions of this issue of students’ enrolment of MM and SM in your school or department meetings? If yes, can you tell us more about the discussions?

  4. 8.

    If you could be granted three wishes for your school mathematics program relating to the students’ enrolment of mathematics at senior secondary level, what would they be?

  5. 9.

    Apparently over the past decade, there has been a significant decrease in the proportion of Victorian VCE students electing to study MM and SM. A similar national trend has been highlighted. What reasons do you think are likely for this trend? What do you think is the main reason?

  6. 10.

    a) From the literature, it was suggested that students’ mathematics experiences at junior secondary level played a part in their taking up mathematics at senior secondary levels. What do you think?

    b) It was also suggested that due to the shortages of maths teachers, teachers who were not trained in mathematics had to teach junior secondary maths, and that might affect the students’ experiences with mathematics. What do you think?

    c) Another factor highlighted in the literature is students’ attitudes and perceptions towards mathematics and its use in careers. What do you think? What do you think are the attitudes and perceptions of your students (for example Year 10 students) towards mathematics? Have you or your school looked at this affective aspect, such as promoting interest in mathematics in some way? If yes, please tell us more.

  7. 11.

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Wilkie, K.J., Tan, H. Exploring mathematics teacher leaders’ attributions and actions in influencing senior secondary students’ mathematics subject enrolments. Math Ed Res J 31, 441–464 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13394-019-00264-3

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  • Mathematics teacher leaders
  • Senior secondary mathematics
  • Subject selection
  • Decision making
  • Attributions