Public Sector News


New specialist maths Free School to be regional centre of excellence

- A fifth of pupils will board so pupils from across the region benefit -

A new specialist maths Free School approved by Education Secretary Michael Gove will be a regional centre of excellence preparing students for rigorous degrees.

The Free School, to be run by Exeter University and Exeter College, will attract 16- to 19-year-old mathematicians and will be based in Exeter.

The ultimate aim is to create a network of schools that operate across England which identify and nurture mathematical and scientific talent. This is similar to the Russian model, which includes the renowned Kolmogorov School in Moscow, established by Andrei Kolmogorov – one of the 20th century’s most respected mathematicians.

The Government is committed to raising standards in maths to create the next generation of designers, scientists and engineers who will contribute to driving the economy forward. Students will take maths A level, as well as the STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper) advanced maths exam, a pre-requisite for undergraduate entry to some of the leading university maths departments.

The Free School will cater for 120 pupils, a fifth of whom will be able to board at the university from Mondays to Thursdays. This will allow the school to attract pupils from across the South West (Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset).

The school’s aim is to create a regional centre of excellence for the South West, combining the mathematical expertise of university academics and the curricular and pastoral support of the college.

The Free School has been awarded a development grant and is scheduled to open in September 2014, subject to receiving funding agreement. It would be the second planned specialist maths Free School, following King’s College London proposal to open a 16-19 school in London, announced last month.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said:

I am delighted that a new specialist maths Free School is being opened by Exeter University and Exeter College. If we want our mathematicians to prosper, we must encourage innovative approaches to maths teaching and create an environment that allows them to flourish.

I am particularly pleased that the goal is to educate pupils to take the STEP paper – arguably the most respected exam in England. We need many more pupils educated to this level of maths.

This is an excellent proposal and I look forward to it becoming one of the premier institutions for maths teaching in England.

The group has joined King’s College London in seeking to open a specialist maths Free School. I look forward to more world-class institutions being inspired to do the same.

The announcement forms part of the Government’s strategy to increase universities’ involvement in what pupils learn before applying for a university place.

The university, a member of the Russell Group of leading universities, will provide students with at least 13 hours of maths, physics and computer science teaching a week.

The college, rated outstanding by Ofsted and awarded the Times Education Supplement’s ‘Outstanding Provider of the Year’ in 2012, will provide students with access to a wider curriculum, extra-curricular activities and pastoral support.

Janice Kay, deputy vice-chancellor of Exeter University, said:

This partnership will bring together two institutions which have both won prestigious national accolades this year, to create a hub of educational excellence in the South West. Students will be exposed to mathematical problem-solving which will contribute to the economic development of industry and the digital economy, and build crucial employability skills. The school will raise aspirations amongst talented young mathematicians and help enhance the supply of capable undergraduates, whose work will underpin the technological innovation of tomorrow.

Richard Atkins, principal of Exeter College, said:

Exeter College is a large and highly successful A level centre with extensive experience of providing enrichment and support to 16- to 19-year-old students. We are delighted to be working in partnership with our neighbouring Russell Group university to provide a regional centre for the most able young mathematicians so they can develop their knowledge and skills and study maths and related subjects at top universities in the future. 

In today’s global economy it is essential that the UK develops the potential of our most able maths students and this initiative is a much needed response to that challenge.

Academics from the university will provide an enrichment and critical thinking programme. The emphasis will be on applied maths, with students given the opportunity to work with academics to apply mathematical concepts to scientific research on subjects like advanced engineering. Each pupil will also have access to one-to-one “maths mentoring”.

The Met Office, the UK’s national weather service, works closely with Exeter University to advance the science and skill of weather and climate prediction. It hopes to involve the Free School students in its work.

Rob Varley, operations and services director at the Met Office, said:

The subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are vitally important to the work we do at the Met Office and our staff are passionate about encouraging the next generation in these areas. We currently have around 100 STEM ambassadors doing just that in schools all over the country.

We welcome the establishment of this specialist maths college in Exeter and look forward to it producing some first-rate future staff for the Met Office and other local employers in Devon.

The Education Secretary has also agreed in principle to give the team from Exeter an outreach grant to support the teaching of maths in schools in the region, running maths workshops and to identify potential applicants.

The Department for Education has already announced plans to boost maths education including:


  • Overhauling the primary and secondary mathematics curriculum to be much more rigorous and in line with the best countries internationally. The new Programmes of Study will be out for formal consultation in due course, for first teaching from September 2014.
  • Funding good quality mathematics professional development for primary, secondary and post-16 teachers, through the National Centre for the Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM).
  • Giving primary schools the opportunity to employ teachers who have been trained as specialist mathematics teachers. We have launched a primary mathematics specialist programme, on which the first trainees start in September 2013. Primary mathematics specialist trainees with at least a grade B at A level receive an extra £2,000 bursary.
  • Working with the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) to offer around 150 scholarships, worth £20,000 each, to graduates with a 2:1 or a first-class degree wanting to train as a mathematics teacher.