Volunteers or conscripts? Investigating the impact of compulsory mathematics on students’ mathematics choices, motivation and attainment in a Further Education college

  • Jennifer J Norris

    Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science (MSc)


    16 to 18 year olds continuing in Further Education without a grade 4 at GCSE are now required to continue studying mathematics in some form. This group of previously 'failed' students are widely regarded as demotivated, and pass rates for GCSE retakes remain consistently low. This mixed methods study investigates student responses to enforced mathematics study, comparing volunteers who willingly engage in mathematics courses with conscripts who feel coerced into taking the subject. A questionnaire was used to gather students' opinions and attitudes, linking their responses to end of year examination results and following up with one in-depth interview to add further insight into the complexity of students' motivations. The findings are both surprising and challenging, suggesting that there are many more volunteers than might be expected and that students are often more ambitious then we give them credit for. Perceived difficulty appeared to be the critical factor when choosing between qualifications, although thematic analysis provided a more nuanced picture of students’ decision-making process: weighing up the difficulty of obtaining a qualification against its perceived value. Drawing on self-determination theory, students were found to experience controlled rather autonomous forms of motivation. Pass rates varied more by qualification than by volunteer status, meaning that the choice of post-16 mathematics qualification is a crucial one. Even in a college with above-average pass rates, most students taking level 2 qualifications failed, raising questions about the extent to which the compulsory mathematics policy is achieving what it set out to do.
    Date of Award21 Nov 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Bristol
    SupervisorWilliam J Browne (Supervisor)

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