Heads of Department of Mathematical Sciences
MINUTES OF A COMMITTEE MEETING HELD ON 2ND APRIL AT SHEFFIELD UNIVERSITY
Prof M Atkinson
Prof D Brannan (Chairman)
Dr J Erdos
Prof M Everett
Dr T Gethins
Prof K Houston (Secretary)
Prof V Isham
Dr A Lepper
Dr S Ryrie
Prof G Wilks
Prof A Zinober
1. APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE.
Apologies for absence were received from Dr E Kopp and Prof D Clegg.
2. MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON 12TH JANUARY AT UCL.
The minutes of the meeting held on12th. January were approved.
3. MATTERS ARISING FROM THE MINUTES NOT OTHERWISE ON THE AGENDA.
There were no matters arising.
4. CHAIRMANbS COMMUNICATIONS
(1) QAA has organised a consultation conference in Glasgow on 20th April
to discuss Developing the Quality Assurance and Standards Framework for UK
(2) JMC has proposed some minor changes to its constitution. HoDoMS, as a
contributing member, agreed that the proposals be supported.
5. QAA SEMINAR ON "SUBJECT BENCHMARKING GROUPS"
KH presented a report on this seminar, which he had attended as HoDoMS
representative on 23rd February in London.. The report is attached as
Appendix 1. It was agreed that KH write to QAA indicating that we thought
HoDoMS committee was the appropriate Subject Association to be asked to
nominate members for the mathematics subject benchmarking group.
6. QCA BRIEFING MEETING ON 26TH FEBRUARY
DB presented a report on this briefing meeting which was attended by DB,
MG, JE, Prof P Saunders (HoDoMS and LMS Education Committee Chair). The QCA
representatives were J Abramsky and M Griffin. The report is attached as
Appendix 2. It was agreed that DB write to QCA indicating that we welcomed
the introduction of the proposed set of free standing mathematics units for
use in post 16+ study of mathematics by school pupils, adult learners, etc.
He was also to enquire about the possible resurrection of the SCAA
consultative committee which, at its demise, contained, after extensive
lobbying, a mathematics representative.
The final report of the MathSkills Project had been drafted and sent to DB
, who was to act as Evaluator for the project. DB reported that he was
going to say that the project had been a great success and had been
exceedingly good value for money. The final report will be published in due
course on the MathSkills web site.. DfEE funding for the project was now at
an end. It was agreed that HoDoMS would continue to support the project
both morally and financially (in a small way) in the future. A continuation
strategy has been outlined. This includes KH taking over as Director from EK.
8. BOOTH REPORT.
There was a good discussion about the proposal to set up a national
Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. The committee
agreed that it was desirable for new lecturers to undergo suitable training
in teaching, which should include training to teach the subject. The ILTHE
should be encouraged to commission the production of resource material for
subject "mentors" and that this concern be conveyed to David Baume (joint
director of the OUbs Centre for Higher Education Practice) when he gives
his lecture to HoDoMS conference on 3rd April.
9. RESPONSE TO QAA CONSULTATIVE PAPER CONTAINED IN "HIGHER QUALITY" 1, 3,
There was a good debate about the many points on which QAA wanted views
expressed. It was agreed that DB would summarise the discussion in a letter
to QAA giving the committeebs views. This is to be circulated to the
committee in late May. It was noted in particular that the proposed subject
benchmarking group for mathematics would include Statistics and OR and so
would need to include representatives of these areas as well as of pure
mathematics and applied mathematics. It was also noted in particular that
we supported the principals behind the proposed scheme for Registered
External Examiners who would carry out inspection duties for QAA,
especially if this removed the necessity for expensive TQA exercises. It
was suggested that subject subsets of REEs should have regular meetings to
discuss the interpretation of standards and quality.
10. TREASURERbS REPORT TO AGM.
The Treasurer presented and explained his report and it was agreed that it
should be tabled at AMG on 3rd April. Because of the change in date of the
AGM in 1997 from Sept to March it was agreed that subscriptions for 1996-97
would not be sought. Subscriptions for 1997-98 have been sought and about
80 have been paid so far; this income will be reported next year. The
principal outgoings are the costs of the conference and committee expenses.
Given that the income usually exceeds expenditure and that there is a
healthy balance, DB suggested that the entire cost (apart from travel) of
next yearbs residential conference be met from funds. This was agreed, but
it was noted that we need a mechanism to ensure that participants both
register and attend otherwise money might be lost.
11. COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP
KH is giving up his job as Vice Chairman but remaining as Secretary. GW
agreed to take over as Vice Chairman. With the resignations of DC and (last
autumn) Chris Wright, there were two vacancies on the committee to fill.
12. 1999 CONFERENCE
It had been previously agreed to hold the 1999 residential conference at
Keele University and GW reported that he had provisionally booked dates -
7th and 8th April 1999 (the Wednesday and Thursday after Easter). These
dates were agreed.
13. UMTC 98.
It was noted that plans for UMTC 98 were well advanced and that details
were available on the UMTC page at the MathSkills website.
14. DATE OF NEXT COMMITTEE MEETING
It was agreed that the Secretary would consult members by e-mail and
arrange a suitable date in September 1998.
SUBJECT BENCHMARKING GROUPS
A seminar was organised by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher
Education (QAA) on the theme - Subject Benchmarking Groups (SBG): Setting
Subject Standards. The seminar was held in London on 23 February 1998 and
representatives of Subject Associations (SA) were invited to attend. Over
50 SAs were represented and there were about 75 people present including
officers of QAA.
The aims of the seminar were
1. to brief representatives of subject bodies on the latest developments on:
(a) Graduate Standards Programme Subject Association Pilot Project Reports
(b) the latest developments on the QAAbs post-Dearing work on subject
2. to give representatives an opportunity to contribute to the
consideration and refinement of the methodology of the Subject Expert Teams
- Dearing recommendation 25 (now called Subject Benchmarking Groups);
3. to offer a forum for the exchange of perspectives across subject
4. to identify ways in which QAA can facilitate subject bodies in taking
forward the assurance of degrees standards in their fields.
There were three Pilot Projects and reports were received from working
groups in Chemistry, History and Law which outlined their thinking on the
Graduate Standards Programme in relation to these subjects.
The Chemistry representative said, inter alia, that "universities contain
free thinking experts who develop the discipline, conduct research, train
researchers and provide education in chemistry for professionals,
technicians and to others who want the intellectual challenge of the
subject and who may not seek employment in the field". He contrasted
"standards" and "quality". Quality is fitness for purpose, but standard is
a description of the level at which an individual is operating. There is a
need for courses of high quality but at a range of standards. Dearing
mentions two levels - threshold for honours degrees and highest level.
There is a need for a greater range.
The History group have published an Interim Report. In it they identify
the higher order skills - analytical thinking and creative thinking - that
are developed through a study of history. They also mention that the
Dearing Key Skills will be automatically enhanced. They believe that the
"qualities of mind vital to the makeup of a good historian are among those
highly valued by employers and the world outside the universities, and are
those which will ultimately determine the effective application of any
The History representative also described how they had set about the
business of selecting the members of the History SBG.
The Law representative described their thinking so far and it was along
similar lines to the others. They had attempted to define standards at
Modal and Threshold levels. For example, under Communication, the levels are
Modal: be able to write fluent and complex prose.
Threshold: be able to read, understand and use.......
Subject Benchmarking Groups
The suggested Job Description for Subject Benchmarking Groups includes the
SBG membership will be seen as challenging and prestigious.
A Subject Benchmarking Groupbs main responsibility is to:
a produce broad statements which represent general expectations about
a identify other relevant benchmark information (ie comparative information)
a develop and test a broadly common approach to generating benchmark
information on standards
Members of SBGs drawn from higher education need to have extensive
knowledge of their subject area and sufficient standing to command the
respect of institutions and their academic and professional peers.
Members drawn from outside higher education need to have appropriate
industrial, commercial, or professional experience in their subject,
coupled with a broad knowledge of contemporary higher education.
It will be important for members to have experience of being an external
examiner, or a member of a professional accreditation or course validation
panel, or member of an external quality audit or assessment team.
Understanding of current good practice in curriculum design and teaching,
learning and assessment methods would be a distinct advantage.
An awareness of the relevant sections of the Dearing report (particularly
chapters 8, 9, 10) will be needed.
Membership of the whole group should achieve a balance to reflect different
institutions and types of programme and the range of institutional location
across the UK. An international perspective would also be valuable.
The rationale for SBGs stems from Recommendation 25 of the Dearing Report.
The QAA should, "work with institutions to establish small, expert teams to
provide benchmark information on standards, in particular threshold
standards, operating within the framework of qualifications, and completing
the task by the year 2000". SBGs are to produce generic descriptors as far
as possible, and to steer away from the idea of a national curriculum.
The standards when written are to be used
a by institutions when they write courses
b by validators when they approve courses
c by external examiners when they examine courses
d by QAA registered external examiners when they inspect courses.
(The current thinking is that the Dearing proposal concerning registered
external examiners (REE) is unworkable and that there should be two systems
of external examining. One will be the present system and the other, new
system will involve REEs working for about 10-15 days in the year in which
their subject is examined nationally. The REE will, essentially, conduct
quinquennial reviews of courses. This system will eventually take over
>from the current TQA.)
Ultimately it is the institutions themselves, working in co-operation with
QAA, who have responsibility for standards. They have to provide and be
seen to provide a quality education at the appropriate standard. So the
SBGs will be proposed by Subject Associations and approved by the
institutions. QAA will facilitate. The standards which are written will
be the outcome of the pooling of the responsibility of institutions.
Employability of graduates should be uppermost in minds.
The work of members of the SBG will be sponsored by their employers, ie
this is to be considered as a professional activity and a part of their
university duties. The work will not be paid for otherwise, except for
expenses. There is to be discussion between QAA and CVCP about support for
individuals who serve on SBGs or Subject Associations.
There was a suggestion at the seminar that there should be a connection
between the outcomes of the TQA and funding, just as there is a connection
between the outcomes of the RAE and Dearing. But there needs to be further
discussion about the relative merits of "absolute excellence" versus "value
Overall it was an interesting and informative seminar and it was useful to
have opportunities to discuss issues with colleagues from other disciplines
in small groups. It is not clear exactly when the mathematics community
will be asked to form a Subject Benchmarking Group. It may not be until
after the 1998-2000 TQA round.
S K Houston
HoDoMS Hon Sec
Meeting of HoDoMS representatives with QCA on 26th February 1998
Present: Jack Abramsky (QCA), Mary Griffin (QCA);
David Brannan (HoDoMS), John Erdos (HoDoMS),Martin Everett (HoDoMS) and Peter
1. QCA structure
QCA succeeded SCAA recently. It has six main divisions:
1 Corporate Policy Division, dealing with National Curriculum Core Subjects,
Research, ICT, EO and access; Jack Abramsky belongs to this Division;
2 National Curriculum & Assessment Division, dealing with KS1-3, national
3 General and GNVQ Division, dealing with 16+ qualifications, including
4 VQ and Occupational Standards Division, covering apprentices, etc.;
5 Communications Division, covering PR, etc.;
6 National Curriculum Review Division.
2. Numeracy matters
Various new numeracy documents will go to schools in September (such as
NNumeracy and Literacyb and NMental Strategies for Calculationb); these are
likely to determine the primary school Maths syllabus.
The National Numeracy Project started in January 1997 and will continue for 5
years. This is run by DfEE and a special Task Force. The success of NNP
should affect teaching in secondary schools.
QCA has no influence on funding to ensure take-up of advice, training,
4. National Curriculum
In future each pupil will have an ID number, so that their progress can be
monitored by an analysis of data from National Curriculum tests -
impossible at present.
DfEE has set 2002 as target date for improvements in National Curriculum
test results, so there will be no significant changes in National
Curriculum before 2002.
Jack Abramsky would like to receive ASAP a page or two of comments on the
mathematics curriculum for the National Curriculum Review. He thinks that
Maths may holdback
changes to 2002 to get it right.
5. The situation abroad
QCA has done a survey of the curriculum and textbooks in 10 countries, and
will consider it internally.
We agreed that a much higher percentage of pupils go onto HE than 10 years
ago - 92% of those with 2 A-levels.
The core of the proposed new mathematics A-levels will be only Pure
Mathematics. It was said by QCA that pupils find Statistics easier than
Mechanics. Problems at A-level include the competence of teachers at
teaching the subject and the overloading of the curriculum. In 1998-2000
there will be a 2-year trial of post-16 framework, getting ready for a 2002
introduction. Current thinking is that all A-levels will be in 6 modules
(1 resit of the first 3 will be allowed), with AS in 3 modules.
HoDoMS representatives emphasised that it wished to be involved in the
A-level revision activity, as A-levels are important to the Universities.
7. New qualifications
QCA is working on a number of free-standing units of GNVQ type for post-16
students; these will have 3 levels: #1 comparable to the lowest GCSE level;
level 2 comparable to the highest GCSE level; and level 3 beyond GCSE and
into AS standard. These will be aimed at GCSE Nrepeatb students, adult
returners, A-level students in other subjects who want particular topics in
mathematics. Each module is equal to 60 hoursb delivery time, 45 hours of
>which will be teacher led. The new units will follow GNVQ assessment
8. Next meeting
There will be another HoDoMS-QCA meeting in September, to be called by QCA.
This will address the A-level revisions, Diagnostic Testing results.