Understanding Participation in post-16 Mathematics And Physics (UPMAP)

Lead Research Organisation: Institute of Education
Department Name: Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment


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Melissa Rodd (Author) (2010) Participation in mathematics post-18 : undergraduates' stories in Proceedings of the British Congress for Mathematics Education

Description Understanding Participation rates in post-16 Mathematics And Physics (UPMAP) studied the reasons for the take up or non take up of mathematics and physics once these subjects become optional.

We employed a mixed methods approach that used: longitudinal surveys - where 23,000 year 8 or year 10 students filled out detailed questionnaires and then 7,000 of these individuals filled out a related survey two years later; longitudinal semi-structured interviews with a sample of 70 students when they were aged 14, 15 and 16; narrative interviews with 50 first year undergraduates, all of whom had the qualifications that would have allowed them to study either mathematics or physics at university but only half of whom were studying these or related (eg accountancy, engineering) subjects.

Our key contributions to knowledge are as follows. The best predictor that students will continue with either physics or mathematics after the age of 16 is if they find the subject to be one that provides them with extrinsic material gain motivation, eg if they strongly agree with the item 'I think physics will help me in the job I want to do in the future'.

Other key factors are home support in the subject, good teaching and a long-term relationship with an adult (often a teacher or family member) who believes that mathematics/physics is of value and that the student can succeed in the subject.

Girls who intend at age 14 to continue with physics post-16 are as positive about physics as are boys with similar intentions. However, they have lower confidence in their conceptual ability and lower physics self-concept than such boys even though there was no difference in their conceptual ability; they are less likely than boys who intend to study physics post-16 to receive advice and pressure to study physics post-16; and are more competitive than such boys. Teachers are less likely to encourage girls than boys to continue with physics/mathematics regardless of girls' aspirations.
Exploitation Route Since the start of the UPMAP project, and partly as a result of it, there has been a shift in the discourse about school STEM. Whereas once the emphasis was almost entirely on attainment, now there is increasing recognition among policy makers in government and professional organisations of the importance of students' attitudes towards STEM subjects and a more nuanced understanding of what causes students to continue or not continue with such subjects once they are no longer compulsory.

We have had a number of meetings and made presentations to the Institute of Physics and Michael Reiss is now a member of its Girls in Physics Advisory Group, while Tamjid Mujtaba is advising them on matters to do with ethnicity. Michael Reiss has also been advising the Science Council on its Careers from Science futuremorph campaign. UPMAP has also had social and economic impact on the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, the Association for Science Education, BIS, the DfE, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Nuffield Foundation.

We are continuing to work with a range of professional organisations and national bodies on issues to do with the uptake of STEM subjects and we are continuing to feed into the current reviews of the mathematics and science national curricula. In addition, we are involved with the development of new GCSEs in the sciences (now that EBCs have been abandoned). We have been working with other members of the Targeted Initiative on Science and Mathematics Education (TISME) Programme of five ESRC-funded projects: UPMAP, Effecting Principled Improvement in STEM Education (epiSTEMe) at Cambridge, Science Aspirations and Career Choice (ASPIRES) and Increasing Competence and Confidence in Algebra and Multiplicative Structures (ICCAMS) at King's London and Enactment and Impact of Science Education Reform (EISER) at Leeds. The five projects have undoubtedly influenced one another and UMPAP has the advantage, along with epiSTEMe of being of interest to academics in both the mathematics and science education communities.

Our presentations at academic conferences have gone well and have typically resulted in extensive discussions and sometimes requests for our presentations (nearly all of which are available from our project website http://www.ioe.ac.uk/study/departments/cpat/4814.html, along with our research instruments) and preprints. We are beginning to see citations to our outputs in the academic literature.
URL http://www.ioe.ac.uk/study/departments/cpat/4814.html