News from the world of maths: Plus's sister project boosts Maths in London's toughest schools

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Plus's sister project boosts Maths in London's toughest schools

The NRICH project, a sister project of Plus, will be running a $1.2 million initiative to boost the teaching of maths for thousands of school students in London's most deprived areas. Over a hundred of the4se students will be given the chance to study on residential courses at the University of Cambridge.

The Goldman Sachs Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the global investment bank Goldman Sachs, has awarded the University of Cambridge a grant of $1.2 million. It will enable the University to develop and to deliver training to hundreds of maths teachers working in some of the UK's most disadvantaged schools. Through the resources provided to support teachers' classroom practice, this partnership could benefit up to 15,000 London school students annually.

The funding will also give 120 GCSE-age school pupils the chance to study maths in Cambridge through intensive residential courses. Each student will attend three residential workshops, running for a week each, over a one year period. These students will also undertake on-line courses supported by Cambridge staff and undergraduate mentors.

Lesley Gannon, Head of Widening Participation at the University of Cambridge, said, "This is the first time that the University of Cambridge has been funded to run subject-specific residential courses over such a lengthy period. This will allow us to work intensively with hundreds of disadvantaged students to develop their mathematical and problem solving skills and to raise aspirations."

The new programme will launch in September 2008, and will be run by two award-winning divisions of the University of Cambridge: NRICH, which is part of the Millennium Mathematics Project and a sister project of Plus, and the Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications (GEEMA), which is part of the Widening Participation Team in the Cambridge Admissions Office.

The NRICH website has been providing free on-line resources as part of the Millennium Mathematics Project for almost a decade. The aim of Millennium Mathematics is to provide top-quality enrichment activities for maths students nationally and internationally.

The new programme is aimed at GCSE-age students from groups and communities currently under-represented in higher education in general and in research-led institutions in particular.

The programme will be aimed at students from disadvantaged areas in inner-city London, and teachers from the same areas. Many London boroughs are among the most deprived socio-economic areas in the UK, with school students in these areas facing enormous hurdles.

Priority will be given to students who:
  • Are the first generation in their family to attend university
  • Have parents in non-professional occupations
  • Are from minority ethnic backgrounds currently under-represented in HE
  • Attend a school with a low overall GCSE A*-C average and/or with a low overall A-level point score
  • Attend a school with a high proportion of free school meals
  • Attend a school with a low proportion of students going on to higher education

Nationally, mathematics faces severe challenges, which the Government commissioned 2004 Smith Inquiry into 14-19 Mathematics Education described as a "crisis in the teaching and learning of mathematics in England". The inquiry identified "deep concern about the supply of appropriately qualified mathematics teachers in secondary schools and colleges”. It also expressed concern that many young people perceived maths as “boring and irrelevant” and “too difficult, compared with other subjects".

Dr Jennifer Piggott, Director of NRICH: "This is an exciting opportunity to share some of our enjoyment of mathematics with communities such as the one I grew up in myself in Hackney, and we're very grateful to the Goldman Sachs Foundation for their generous grant. For us on the NRICH team, the evaluation component of the programme funding will also allow us to assess the impact and effect of working with students and teachers in this way, and we're therefore also looking forward to learning from the programme ourselves."

Stephanie Bell-Rose, President of The Goldman Sachs Foundation, said, "The Goldman Sachs Foundation supports initiatives that give promising young people from underserved backgrounds access to programs that will help them develop the academic and leadership skills needed to succeed in leading universities and, ultimately, in their careers. Quantitative skills are critical to their educational and professional success, and we are pleased to support this effort to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics in the United Kingdom."