On 11 January, a presentation was given at Staple Inn by Dr Matthew Inglis on the extent to which studying advanced mathematics develops general thinking abilities. Dr Inglis is a Royal Society Research Fellow coming to the end of a five-year research project into this topic, which has been sponsored by the Actuaries Livery Company.
Some 70 actuaries were present at Staple Inn to enjoy a presentation on the results of the research, which provides pretty conclusive evidence that continuing mathematics education beyond age 16 is of benefit to all students, not just those specialising in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In his recent Budget speech, chancellor George Osborne said that a review would be carried out by Professor Sir Adrian Smith on the merits of compulsory maths in schools until age 18. It would seem he only has to talk to Inglis to reach a foregone conclusion!
In the second half of his presentation, Inglis went on to consider how maths teaching and assessment can be structured to maximise the development of thinking skills. In particular, he explained how comparative judgment (CJ) techniques can be used to assess students' work more quickly, more consistently and more constructively than traditional mark schemes. Several of the actuaries present tried out the CJ software on some pre-loaded student scripts, before a lively reception.
Through its charitable trust, the Worshipful Company of Actuaries has committed more funds to this project than any previous venture. Much has been said recently about the dire state that mathematical education in the UK has reached compared with that in many other developed countries. It seems that, at last, some people in positions of influence are listening and that there could be policy changes for the better. Several experts deserve credit for this shift in thinking. Inglis is one of them.