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Reconsidering the rise in A-Level Mathematics participation

Noyes, Andrew; Adkins, Michael

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Professor of Education


There is growing support for making the study of mathematics to age 18 compulsory for all young people in England. This paper aims to inform this debate through new insights into historic A-level Mathematics participation trends. We analyse full-year cohorts from the Department for Education’s National Pupil Database for age-16 students from 2004-2010, a total of just over 4.5 million young people. Using a cohort-tracking approach we aim to better understand the flow of young people through upper secondary mathematics education. Earlier work identified GCSE attainment as the strongest predictor of A-Level Mathematics participation. In this paper we show that the percentage of students progressing to A-Level by GCSE grade has not changed significantly over the period in question, with some exceptions. This implies that the increase in A-level Mathematics numbers is largely explained by the growing proportion of higher GCSE grades. We discuss the implications for policy that this raises, e.g. the possible impact of making GCSE mathematics more demanding.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 1, 2015
Online Publication Date Jan 7, 2016
Publication Date Mar 1, 2016
Deposit Date Jan 11, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jan 11, 2016
Journal Teaching Mathematics and its Applications
Print ISSN 0268-3679
Electronic ISSN 1471-6976
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Issue 1
Pages 1-13
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Teaching Mathematics and its Applications following peer review. The version of record Andrew Noyes and Michael Adkins: Reconsidering the rise in A-Level Mathematics participation Teaching Mathematics Applications first published online January 7, 2016 is available online at:


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