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Mathematics curriculum waves within vocational education

Dalby, Diane; Noyes, Andrew

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Assistant Professor

Professor of Education


Links between mathematical attainment and economic performance, coupled with England’s poor showing in international comparisons of skills, have focused attention on post-16 mathematics education, for example in the UK Government’s 2017 Industrial Strategy. Whilst high-stakes academic qualifications at 16 (GCSE) and 18 (A-level) have stood the test of time, the ‘forgotten third’ of students in England’s Further Education colleges have fared less well. Over the last 30 years a series of mathematics qualifications for vocational students have been established and then discarded. This paper utilises a theory of change approach to understand this repeating pattern for three successive curricula: core, key and functional mathematics. Waves of rise and decline include critical moments of reinforcement, or synergy with wider reforms, but trajectories are also affected by shifting policy visions for Further Education and entrenched knowledge hierarchies that value academic mathematics qualifications over vocational ones. Whether ‘alternative’ mathematics curricula for FE students can achieve longevity and widespread recognition remains to be seen. The implications from this analysis of historical trajectories are that changes to established attitudes and educational values are needed to halt this repeated cycle of short-lived alternatives to GCSE mathematics.


Dalby, D., & Noyes, A. (2022). Mathematics curriculum waves within vocational education. Oxford Review of Education, 48(2), 166-183.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 17, 2021
Online Publication Date Jun 21, 2021
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date May 19, 2021
Publicly Available Date Dec 22, 2022
Journal Oxford Review of Education
Print ISSN 0305-4985
Electronic ISSN 1465-3915
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 48
Issue 2
Pages 166-183
Keywords Education
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Oxford Review of Education on 21/06/2021, available online:


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