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Mark Ellse: Maths A level should be essential for university entrance


Maths maketh the educated man.

“German universities usually insist on seeing a grade for maths at either A or AS level. Without this, many German universities will regard a British student’s education to be incomplete.”

Just think about that. If you want to get into a German university, you simply have to be very good at maths.
Imagine if the same were true in England. No getting round it. In order to get into an English university, one had to demonstrate fluency in algebra, trigonometry, calculus and statistics. Without advanced maths, one would be regarded as uneducated and unworthy of higher education. Think what the consequences would be.

Within a year, a huge amount of public money would be saved. No longer would far too many drift into mediocre university courses with A levels in media studies, theatre studies and sociology, to enjoy public subsidy for a three-year boozing holiday before permanent employment at McDonald’s.

The employment market would enjoy a greater supply of labour as fewer became students. Redundant university film studies staff would also be available to contribute their skills to employers. Tax revenues would rise as many would spend more years of their life employed.

With maths being the gateway to higher education, it would be taken seriously by more students. As students became more skilled at maths, some would revise their higher education choices towards science and maths subjects, shifting the balance of education in the direction it needs to go, away from the arts.

No longer would it be fashionable to say, ‘I could never do maths’; rather a normal part of the conversation of graduates would be mathematical. A stigma would develop towards the mathematically illiterate.

Newspapers that bleated about half the children leaving school being below average would be universally ridiculed by the university educated. They would refrain from writing mathematical nonsense as they become embarrassed by their mathematical ignorance.

Politics would be revolutionised. One would have an Education Secretary who knew the cube root of 125, a Chancellor who could calculate 7 x 8 in a flash and a Prime Minister unfazed by being asked to multiply 9 x 8.

Political decision-making would transformed because the urgent decisions of our time are essentially mathematical. Everyone knows that the National Living Wage will cause unemployment. The question is will there be more losers than winners?

The educated, even the Corbyns and Cleggs, would understand the Laffer curve and know why raising personal or business tax now brings in no more money. The glib ‘Raise taxes on the rich,’ would be seen to be empty rhetoric.

And, when civil servants forecast two trillion pounds of debt at the end of this parliament, ministers would actually understand what the word ‘trillion’ meant and so realise the magnitude and urgency of the budget balancing task before them.

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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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