Heads of Department of Mathematical Sciences


Present: 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


Apologies for absence were received from Dr E Kopp and Prof D Clegg.


The minutes of the meeting held on12th. January were approved.


There were no matters arising.


(1) QAA has organised a consultation conference in Glasgow on 20th April to discuss Developing the Quality Assurance and Standards Framework for UK Higher Education

(2) JMC has proposed some minor changes to its constitution. HoDoMS, as a contributing member, agreed that the proposals be supported.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


It was agreed that the Secretary would consult members by e-mail and arrange a suitable date in September 1998.

SK Houston Hon Secretary
April 1998.




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 standards;

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 boundaries;

4. to identify ways in which QAA can facilitate subject bodies in taking forward the assurance of degrees standards in their fields.

Pilot Projects

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 transferable skills".

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 following:

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 standards

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 added".

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 Saunders (HoDoMS/LMS).

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 testing;
3 General and GNVQ Division, dealing with 16+ qualifications, including A-levels;
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.

3. Influence

QCA has no influence on funding to ensure take-up of advice, training, INSET, etc.

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.

6. A-levels

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 criteria.

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.

DA Brannan
HoDoMS Chairman