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Mathematics Education in the United Kingdom

Abstract

Each of the four constituents of the United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has its own educational system. However, it is the educational systems of England and Scotland that have historically displayed the greatest differences, and it is on those two countries that this chapter concentrates.

Not until the second half of the nineteenth century did the State begin to play a great role within English education: only in 1880 did primary education become compulsory. By then the United Kingdom’s dominance in industry was being challenged by countries with better-established educational systems. This led to greater state intervention including increased provision for secondary education. Schools, however, retained considerable freedom regarding the curriculum. Only in 1988 was a National Curriculum introduced.

Scotland had free (but not universal) primary and secondary education by the end of the sixteenth century. The following periods saw taxation supporting education and, as business expanded, independent ‘commercial academies’ began to rival the state system. The Scottish Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution had considerable effects on society. Education underwent major changes through the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, thus establishing the framework for the current system.

Keywords

  • Mathematics Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Private Tutor
  • Grammar School
  • Junior Secondary School

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The population sizes of the four countries are given, in millions, in the following table.

      England Wales Scotland Ireland Northern Ireland
    1800  8.3 0.6 1.6 5  
    1901 30.5 2.0 4.5 4.5 (1.2)
    2001 49.1 2.9 5.1   1.7

    These data show the greater proportional population growth in the more prosperous England and, in fact, conceal that in Ireland the population dropped significantly from 1845, when it was in excess of eight millions, because of deaths due to a great food famine between 1845 and 1848 (not eased by its partner countries) and large-scale emigration. The poverty which gave rise to this fall in population was reflected in the educational opportunities offered to the Irish people Thus, in Ireland (and later Northern Ireland) state education, as opposed to that provided by religious bodies, did not really commence until about 20 years after the 1922 partition of Ireland. The provision of education in Wales and Ireland was also complicated by religious issues: in Wales between those belonging to the Church of England and the Nonconformists and in Ireland between the Catholics and the Protestants. Certain differences still exist between the educational systems of England and those of Wales and Northern Ireland, for example, in the national curricula (for provision is made in the latter two countries for the teaching of national languages) and in the way that the system of frequent testing introduced in the Education Act of 1988 operates. The national curricula of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom can be found on the ICMI web site.

  2. 2.

    Sunday schools were first created in the late eighteenth century, but apart from some attempts to teach literacy, usually concentrated on religious ends.

  3. 3.

    London University had, in 1838, shortly after its creation, established a matriculation examination that could be taken by students other than those attending the university or those who did not wish to proceed to a degree. The 1838 syllabus for mathematics and a specimen examination paper set that year can be found in Howson 1982, pp. 214–216.

  4. 4.

    A governmentally financed body, the Schools Council was established in 1964 as a consortium of interested bodies in which school teachers were dominant, mounted for 10 years various projects within the field of mathematics education. It was later reconstituted as a result of financial stringency and criticism before it was replaced in 1982 by separate examination and curriculum councils. These were later amalgamated and have since changed names and exact purposes at regular intervals.

  5. 5.

    The ATM, created in 1962, evolved from the Association for Teaching Aids in Mathematics (ATAM 1952). Its journal Mathematics Teaching first appeared in 1955. The ATM grew rapidly in the 1960s and its appeal to primary and modern-school teachers led to its soon having more members than the older MA. The ATM web site contains a fascinating history of its early years and the mathematical and teaching concerns of its early leaders.

  6. 6.

    The broadening of the curriculum at the loss of gaining technical fluency in a limited number of areas raises interesting questions as to which is easier to gain away from the classroom: knowledge of new areas or technical fluency and confidence?

  7. 7.

    The move to comprehensive schools within the state system has been a long one and is by no means complete. London had 11 by 1957 and there were others in rural areas such as Cumberland. However, in 1965 the new Labour Government circulated all LEAs requiring them to draw up plans to convert to comprehensive education. This circular was rescinded by the Conservative government when it took office in 1970, but by then, the plans were so far advanced that, in fact, more comprehensives were created under that government than under any other. Yet some English (but no Welsh) authorities still retain grammar schools, as does Northern Ireland. Since 1988 various new types of schools have arisen and the situation is now extremely complex, but outside the remit of this chapter.

  8. 8.

    The problems this caused, for it did nothing to solve the great problem of varying mathematical abilities in pupils, and the subsequent claims of a consequent ‘dumbing down’ of the GCE have meant many independent and, more recently, a few state schools opting for other international qualifications.

  9. 9.

    The term Abacus mathematics indicates the traditional European body of mathematics for business and commerce.

  10. 10.

    The Disruption of 1843 was a schism within the established Church of Scotland where 450 ministers broke away over the issue of the relationship with the State to form the Free Church of Scotland. It had a serious effect not only on the Church but also on Scottish civic life.

  11. 11.

    Andrew Bell was one of the founders of the ‘Pupil-Teacher’ or ‘Monitorial’ system which he introduced in the late eighteenth century. The method became very popular and was based on the abler pupils being used as ‘helpers’ to the teacher, passing on the information they had learned to other students.

  12. 12.

    ‘Comprehensive’ in the United Kingdom means that a state school does not select its intake on the basis of academic achievement or aptitude.

  13. 13.

    This term is only very roughly comparable to the ‘New Math’ of the Americas. The United Kingdom was not driven by government bodies and committees of mathematicians but influenced more by European sources and our own laissez faire local and ‘grass roots’ curriculum development.

  14. 14.

    This government initiative contrasted with curriculum development in England where individual local authorities, teachers’ organisations and publishers were encouraged to develop their own schemes.

  15. 15.

    This series ‘For pupils taking the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level, or an equivalent examination’ was also clearly intended for a wider market and was used by some Secondary schools in England and other countries.

  16. 16.

    The County of Fife is a peninsula on the East of Scotland. The county government supported this project. Many other authorities in the United Kingdom supported local curriculum projects at this time.

  17. 17.

    The Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE) was set up by the Scottish Teachers’ union (The Educational Institute of Scotland) in 1928. It was the first institution of its kind in the world. It now forms part of the Faculty of Education at the University of Glasgow. (The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in England was founded in 1946.)

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Howson, G., Rogers, L. (2014). Mathematics Education in the United Kingdom. In: Karp, A., Schubring, G. (eds) Handbook on the History of Mathematics Education. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-9155-2_13

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