Discussion: VCAA’s Blunt Implement

This is not one we’ve had time to look at but it seems important. We don’t intend to comment but we’re providing this post as a forum for discussion.

In November last year, VCAA released its draft of the new mathematics study design, to begin in 2023.  The draft is no longer linked on VCAA’s website, but we wrote about the draft here, here and here. The current study design, ostensibly in operation until the end of 2022, is here.

Given Covid, and anyway, more than a few teachers have expressed concern at the timing and the speed of the implementation of the new study design. In particular, it seems that many teachers consider the simultaneous implementation of the new Year 11 and Year 12 syllabi to be unnecessary and unwise. In early August, a network of Heads of maths submitted a joint letter to the VCAA expressing such concerns. VCAA responded to that letter a couple weeks later. At the time, we publicly stated our view of VCAA’s response, but we’ll hold off for now. Both letters are embedded below.

It has now been brought to our attention that, as flagged in the VCAA response to the Heads, VCAA has issued “advice” on the implementation of changes for Year 11 in 2022, in preparation for the not-yet-existent 2023 study design. That advice can be viewed here (Word) on this page, and the advice is embedded below.

That’s it. We’ll be interested to read what people think. Standard rules apply: play the ball, not the man.

VCAA’s Implementation Advice for 2022 (original here)

Letter From Heads of Maths Network to VCAA (early August)

UPDATE (23/11/21) Angela Kotsiras, who coordinates the HoMN, has requested I take down this letter. She gave no reason for wanting the letter to be removed, simply noting that I had not been “given approval to do this”. This makes absolutely no sense to me, on any level, but I have obliged.

Reply From VCAA to Heads of Maths Network (late August)

61 Replies to “Discussion: VCAA’s Blunt Implement”

  1. Let me see if I’ve got this right.

    Teachers at the coalface: “students have had lengthy and severe disruptions to their learning, and are not nearly as prepared as they normally would be for VCE maths, and it is not feasible to catch them up in one year. This creates additional pressure / burdens on teachers to support these students, and it’s not feasible for teachers to do this in addition to doing the curriculum and professional development required to running the new courses effectively.”

    VCAA: “Nah she’ll be right. PS here’s three sentences on how you can adjust the current study design to prepare for the new one”.

  2. I just had a very superficial skim, and I might be reading this wrong, but (in addition to what SRK’s objected to) are they cutting out differentiation from first principles in Methods???

    And restricting differentiation to just polynomials in Methods 1&2??

    1. That is my reading of the “advice to teachers”.

      Whether that is 2022-specific advice is not something we can know for sure.

      I wonder if they will next declare we don’t need to teach the concept of a limit… if so, can they test “smooth join” of hybrid functions, as has been quite commonplace…?

      Time, one hopes, will tell.

    2. “And restricting differentiation to just polynomials in Methods 1&2??”

      I believe this is how most schools already teach, as the Cambridge textbook only has calculus on polynomials in methods 1 & 2.

      1. Ah ok! I must’ve been misremembering from my own experience, or maybe my teacher introduced more functions earlier.

        From a student’s perspective I just think it’s better to introduce some more elementary function’s derivatives earlier on so students have more familiarity come 3&4.

  3. Interesting…

    I wonder if the use of matrices for transformations will be ommited for the entirety of the Mathematical Methods course, or just unit 1?

    1. Hopefully. At this point having matrices in Mathematical Methods is pretty useless, as they’ve gotten rid of stochastic matrices and the only matrices used for transformations are “translation matrices” (basically equivalent to the adding of a vector, not the actual matrix used for translation), and dilation matrices, which don’t serve any real purpose in the course other than as an extra meaningless trick.

      1. True.

        What’s more interesting is the decision to omit first principles but add numerical approximations? 😅

        I don’t understand why they would remove the concept that kinda serves the best way to introduce calculus to students.

        1. Agreed! Learning about limits and continuity and understanding differentiation from first principles was a highlight of learning calculus for me.

          I struggle to see how you could possibly motivate an actual understanding of differentiation without utilising limits and first principles. Otherwise it just becomes (even more so than currently) a bunch of meaningless rules and algebra.

          I mean, you’d think the name “First principles” would’ve, you know, been suggestive of something…

  4. Here’s how I see it:

    1) VCAA has pig-headedly refused to say that implementing the new Stupid Design for all four units in the same year is a bad decision.

    2) Not withstanding 1), VCAA DOES know that common sense demands a formal staged implementation. But it refuses to admit it. Instead, it IS implementing the new Stupid Design in stages BY STEALTH AND DECEIT. The advice VCAA has given is advice on implementing Units 1 – 2 in 2022.

    3) The new Stupid Design IS being implemented in stages, by stealth and deceit.
    AND without the benefit of teachers actually seeing the new Stupid Design. Teachers must take VCAA’s word on what changes to make to Units 1-2 in 2022. Teachers would be idiots to believe what VCAA says. The things that VCAA is telling schools to omit are things that will probably be in Units 3-4. Does anyone believe, for example, that, under the new Stupid Design, the following will NOT be in the Units 3-4 Maths Methods sillibus:
    a) Using matrices for transformations.
    b) Differentiation from first principles.
    Does anyone want to teach these things FOR THE FIRST TIME in Units 3-4 Methods?

    Take a leap of faith with VCAA? I don’t think so.

    VCAA has been dishonest, deceitful, hard-headed and incompetent. It is more interested in saving face by sticking with a poor plan than doing the right thing. It is treating teachers with contempt. It has treated the Head of Maths Network (HoMN) with total contempt (unfortunately the obsequious tone of the HoMN letter all but ensured this). The Maths Mangler is dead, long live the Maths Mangler.

    I don’t know what can be done. Maybe an open letter calling out VCAA on its reprehensible attitude. A bit of media attention won’t hurt either. The MAV should be a focal point for all maths teachers and condemn the current implementation plan. It should strongly support the HoMN letter. But this won’t happen because the MAV is a lapdog for the VCAA. Maybe the HoMN can put on its bovver boy boots (if they fit) and be a lightening rod for all VCE teachers.

    The only reasonable action VCAA can take is to admit that its current implementation plan of the new Stupid Design is NOT in the best interests of students and teachers, and to change it to a staged implementation: Units 1-2 in 2023 and Units 3-4 in 2024. This can easily be done without losing face, and in fact, I think VCAA would gain a lot of respect from teachers for doing this.

    PS – I found the VCAA’s response to the letter from the HoMN patronising, arrogant and contemptible. The statement
    “Stakeholders have been consulted extensively throughout the process and have provided overwhelmingly positive feedback through the public consultation process for its 2023 implementation.”

    is laughable. VCAA is clearly either deluding itself or is trying to stooge teachers into thinking that support for the new Foundation Maths subject means support for all of the Stupid Design. And as for the statement
    “Figures for Mathematics studies in 2021, including the ‘more demanding’ studies, do not support the thinking that ‘a higher proportion of students are opting out of the more challenging Maths studies’.

    Perhaps VCAA can release the enrolment figures over the last 15 years for Specialist Maths and Maths Methods to prove how woefully wrong we all are in thinking otherwise. Here is some recent enrolment data (courtesy of VCAA) for enrolments in Specialist Mathematics:
    2022: ?
    2021: ?
    2020: 4,128
    2019: 4,232
    2018: 4, 389
    2017: 4, 532

    1. I asked them if, out of curiousity, is the content omited from unit 1 and 2 omited from methods or just rearranged and he replied:

      My apologies, but any other specific information linked to Unit 3 and 4 must wait until the Study design is published in early 2022.

      Is it really that confidential and hard to release the unit 3 and 4 study design, they had ages to publish it. they want to publish it in late feb.

          1. Of course. The Acting Mathematics Mangler.
            The position of Mathematics Mangler is being RE-advertised:

            https://careers.vic.gov.au/job/mathematics-manager-570165

            RE-advertised … Either no-one competent and honest was interested first time around (and why would they), or such people DID apply but VCAA does not want people with such attributes.

            Interestingly, it includes the following statement:
            “The Ongoing Mathematics Curriculum Manager role provides the incumbent with exciting opportunities to proactively provide support to teachers across the three schooling sectors and to stakeholders on a statewide basis.”

            More VCAA lies. Because I would have thought an answer to Allan’s question was of vital importance in supporting teachers.

      1. It was approved by the VRQA at least 3 weeks ago (from 16/11/2021). So I don’t see any impediment to it being published now. It’s just another power trip by VCAA.

    2. The number of students enrolled in SM4 is decreasing; the number of students enrolled in MM4 appears to be on a downward trend since 2018; the number of students enrolled in FM4 is increasing steadily, as is the number of students enrolled in FDN2.

        1. Just adding some information about enrolments because both letters raised this matter, although I thought that they could have been more specific.

    3. Additional data:
      2006: 5300
      2000: 5856

      Enrolments in Specialist Mathematics over the last 20 years have steadily declined from 5,856 in 2000 to to 4,128 in 2020. A 30% decrease by my calculations. But according to VCAA
      “Figures for Mathematics studies in 2021, including the ‘more demanding’ studies, do not support the thinking that ‘a higher proportion of students are opting out of the more challenging Maths studies’.

      Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!

      And if VCAA lies about things that are very easily checked, I can only imagine the lies it’s told and telling about things that are less easily checked.

      1. To be fair, this trend is likely because universities stopped requiring specialist maths as a prerequisite for engineering and other courses. The 2010 figures are not too dissimilar to the 2019 figures.

        1. I expect that the trends will be exacerbated by some universities no longer requiring Methods for engineering; e.g. “Units 3 and 4: a study score of at least 20 in any Mathematics”.

          1. I don’t know if you’re being serious or not with that remark.

            So, I will pretend you are.

            Universities will not accept a student into Engineering with a study score of 20 in Foundation Mathematics.

            They may well accept them into a bridging course during which they teach some rigorous applied Mathematics and decide for themselves if a student can progress to an Engineering degree, but beyond that…

            The scores they allow for entry into teaching degrees (undergraduate, not postgraduate) are perhaps more telling. You want students to graduate primary school knowing times-tables? Make sure the teachers leaving university as primary teachers know them first.

            1. Foundation Mathematics is not a Unit 3 or 4 subject – yet. The quote – and it is a quote from a university website – “Units 3 and 4: a study score of at least 20 in any Mathematics” is referring to SM, MM, and FM. It will be interesting to see what happens when Foundation Mathematics 3 and 4 come on board in 2022.

              The position gets more confusing as the University of Melbourne seems to offer engineering only as a post-graduate degree.

              As for u/g teaching degrees, one university website describes the prerequisites as “Units 1 and 2: satisfactory completion in one of Maths: General Mathematics, Maths: Mathematical Methods or Maths: Specialist Mathematics or Units 3 and 4: any Mathematics” – and we all know what “satisfactory completion” means.

            2. I think it’s serious. I think they are pre-requisites for engineering at RMIT. But it looks like it depends on the type of engineering.
              I can see that the Bachelor of Science (Applied Mathematics and Statistics) at RMIT requires a study score of at least 20 in one of Maths: Mathematical Methods or Maths: Specialist Mathematics.
              It’s hard to see for sure, but it seems genuine. Maybe Terry can post a link.

              However, although I usually like a rambling blog that goes where the wind blows, I think what this blog has alerted us to is too important to get distracted by side issues like university entry requirements. What the universities have done with regards to entry requirements – in the pursuit of money – is a disgrace and worthy of its own separate blog.

              1. Perhaps it is relevant, perhaps it isn’t, but I’ve been busy lately looking at UK A-Level Mathematics exams from the various examination boards as well as different states here in Oz.

                Whilst the top level Mathematics subject seems to have a lot of common areas, the way in which things are examined is really, really different.

                I wonder if the decline in enrolments is Australia-wide, or perhaps VCE and its way of examining is part of the issue.

                  1. I don’t know what happened to the link, so I will try a different approach:

                    Wienk, M., & O’Connor, M. (2020). Year 12 participation in intermediate and higher mathematics remains stubbornly low. AMSI

                    I have worked in statistical forecasting for many years, and it is pretty clear which way the wind is blowing. There are issues with comparing states. We can’t even agree on the railway gauge.

                    1. Huh … The same Michael O’Connor as the President of the MAV.

                      Anyway, I find it the height of either arrogance, stupidity or both that VCAA’s response to the HoMN letter would contain such an obvious falsehood.

                      As I wondered earlier, I wonder how many \displaystyle less-than-obvious falsehoods VCAA say.

  5. I’m curious about the ‘Stakeholders have been consulted extensively throughout the process and have provided overwhelmingly positive feedback’. Where is this positive feedback coming from? In the MAV session I went to Specialist Maths teachers were universally opposed to the changes to the study design with the removal of dynamics and introduction of proof. I’m genuinely curious – is this a change endorsed by the tertiary sector? industry? Where is the push for change coming from and why? I love dynamics – the way it brings together vectors, kinematics and calculus so that’s just personal preference.

    I was temporarily happy that matrices had gone from Methods until I realised they’ve moved to Specialist 1/2. I’m really apprehensive about the Proof in Units 3/4 since apparently students can be asked for proof across any topic from Units 1-4 – so Combinatorics, Sequences and Series, Networks, Matrices etc – none of this is in Unit 3/4 so we wont have time to teach it but students need to remember if from Yr 11 to the extent that they can complete proofs in these areas. I think that’s a pretty big ask.

    They also have not fixed the perennial problem that if you teach 3/4 Specialist in a school that does not have the timetable structure to offer advanced Methods, all our students are doing 3/4 Methods and Specialist in the same year and we need our students to have working knowledge of Methods calculus before they get to it in Methods. We have always done a calculus unit in 1/2 Spec even though it is not in the study design because we can’t function without it. I don’t understand why the Unit 1/2 preparation for what is (or was) largely a calculus course contains no calculus.

    1. From what I understand, Specialist 1&2 is a subject struggling for identity. I love to teach it because of the flexibility, but in a number of schools it is (again, to my knowledge) often combined either with Year 11 Further (General) Mathematics (in which calculus is just not going to happen) or (much, much worse in my opinion) Specialist 3&4 in which case calculus will be taught whether it is in the course or not.

      I’ve always put a calculus topic in Specialist 1&2 for what it is worth.

      I will admit that I like Boolean algebra as a topic for students to explore, perhaps in an investigation task. To make it an examinable topic though…? Similar feelings about examining proof. I can’t see it being done on Paper 2 exams which means it will either be trivial or rushed.

      1. Your last comment is key. It simply doesn’t matter what the new study design if the consequent exams are implemented in the same incompetent and anti-mathematical manner that is currently practised. As they will be.

        Nothing matters until the culture and the (lack of) competence of VCAA changes. That will not happen until sufficiently many knowledgable and intelligent teachers complain sufficiently loudly. And that will happen never. Teachers either do not know about or do not care about the current awfulness. Mostly both. Teachers are the victims but they are also the insurmountable problem.

        1. Wild guess: how many is “sufficiently many”?

          I sense that after the most recent exam period, the ground may be fertile for recruiting to your cause.

          1. Your sense is wrong. (Which doesn’t mean I don’t think any and all teachers should be complaining, high up, at the top of their voices.)

            1. VCAA’s letter to the heads was perhaps a bit of a dampener on the enthusiasm of many to complain. It took a fair bit of negotiating and agreeing on wording (from what I am told) and for it all to be so casually brushed aside is…

              …disheartening?

              …unnerving?

              …soul crushing?

              (This isn’t multiple choice)

              1. I have never needed a group with which to complain, and I have never paid attention to being brushed off. But of course, I’m Marty. I can do these things because … why, exactly? Why is it any different for me?

                Every teacher has every right to yell at McMenamin and/or Chandler and/or their superiors. If they do not, that is their choice, but they then have no right to whine.

              2. If I had to guess, group 1 would be the majority.

                Group 2 is an interesting one. Scared of whom? Sometimes it is their HoD, sometimes it is school management and, often enough (I have limited experience, but more than zero) the fear is warranted. Teacher makes noise, teacher loses Year 12 class mid-way through the year.

                Group 3 can deal with themselves.

                1. I know that VCAA dislikes teachers who rock the boat. I know of teachers that have complained to VCAA and where VCAA has subsequently sent a letter to that teachers Principal, objecting to the complaints.

                  So it’s a legitimate fear. Even when your Principal is a good guy who supports you and will stand up for what’s right. And certainly when you know your Principal won’t support you. It will be a sufficient deterrent to most young teachers. And teachers who are on fixed term contracts. VCAA counts on this. Like any dictator, VCAA is a bully that’s long overdue for getting a (metaphoric) blood nose.

                  1. I’ve heard the same. But I’ve also heard that it doesn’t always work. For example, the previous Mathematics Mangler always turned a deaf ear, pretended to misunderstand the complaint, treated the complainent like a fool.
                    I’ve heard that complaints made higher up the food chain often work. But I get the feeling – from what I’ve heard – that VCAA unofficially gives each teacher a quota (Q) of complaints. Once Q is exceeded, things become a bit … testy. Frosty. Which is a problem, because VCAA make a huge number of mistakes (X) and there are only a small number of teachers (Y) who are willing to complain about those mistakes. And X/Y >> Q.

                    I’m sure maths teachers can figure out what needs to happen. (IF they want a positive change in the culture at VCAA).

      2. RF, I think you are correct, and I think it is why, in the right hands, S12 has been a (uniquely) good subject. Teachers with the mathematical sense to do the topics well, and the courage to ignore the nonsense of S34 to come, can do great stuff there. The VCAA changes will kill that.

        1. Maybe not. Unless VCAA starts actively auditing unit 1&2 studies the way they do Unit 3&4 SACs, there will hopefully remain enough wriggle room for careful and forward-thinking teachers to make the following argument within their own schools:

          1. Find what is essential for Units 3&4 and plan that into our Units 1&2 course.
          2. Ignore for now everything else in the Units 1&2 course description.
          3. Find ideas from around the world that fit nicely enough into part (1) to make a decent course in Mathematics: reasoning, abstraction, generalisation (proof, of course).
          4. Repeat as steps 1 – 3 if and when anything significant changes at Units 3&4 level.

          1. It wouldn’t surprise me if VCAA did \displaystyle try to audit Units 1 – 2 studies. Under the euphemism of ‘providing support to teachers’.

          2. My interpretation of the vague threat that any topic from Unit 1&2 can turn up on the 3&4 exam under the topic of proof is that that is the stick to make us actually follow the Unit 1&2 study design….

    2. Hi Amber.

      Re: “‘Stakeholders have been consulted extensively throughout the process and have provided overwhelmingly positive feedback’. Where is this positive feedback coming from?”

      It has come from nowhere because it is a LIE.
      VCAA’s response to the HoMN letter contains many lies and empty rhetoric. The response is dishonest and patronising. It treats us all like idiots. It is a total disgrace. As Marty said below:

      “Nothing matters until the culture and the (lack of) competence of VCAA changes. That will not happen until sufficiently many knowledgable and intelligent teachers complain sufficiently loudly.”

      What is needed is for teachers to deluge VCAA with emails and phone calls of complaint.

      1. I’m sure there’s some apt Chinese proverb, about a mathematician carrying a scorpion across the river, or something like that.

    1. Interesting. Adam Carey is not a lightweight. I’m not sure how much faith I’d be putting in The Age’s Education wing.

      1. Faith is not required. Media attention is.

        What I found most interesting were the responses from the MAV and the Govt spokesperson. Both used strawman ‘arguments’ against the Heads of Maths network. Who would you believe: 260 Heads of Departments plus hundreds of teachers or the MAV and the VCAA trying to suggest otherwise.

          1. Yes, you can depend on the MAV, under its current leadership, to be a VCAA mouthpiece.

            Perish the thought that it would provide unequivocal support for 260 Heads of Mathematics plus hundreds of classroom teachers. It’s a shame that comments on the article are not enabled – I’m sure the comments from the MAV and the Govt spokesperson would soon be exposed as spurious.

  6. At the request of the HoMN coordinator, I have removed the letter from HoMN to the VCAA. As I wrote in the update, nothing about this makes any sense to me whatsoever.

    1. By my estimation, all 260 Heads of Maths will/should have a copy of that letter. And most Heads of Maths will have consulted with the VCE teachers of their department. And many Heads will have made the letter available to those teachers for comment etc. So I’d estimate that thousands of teachers have a copy of this letter. I’m not aware of any particular secrecy or confidentiality surrounding the letter. It may as well be an open letter to VCAA. So any efforts to keep the letter secret, or to claim retrospectively that the letter was secret, should be greeted with an eye roll and a snort of derision.
      Question: What’s the best way of ensuring that something is made public.
      Answer: Publicly attempt to prevent it being made public.

      This letter is everywhere!

      On another note, people wonder how and why VCAA gets away with all its mistakes … Look inwards, folks.

      And for the record … I retract my congratulations Re:
      “Well done to the Head of Maths Network for trying to get some media attention on this issue. Now put on the other boot and start rattling the cage.”
      I thought it seemed strangely out of character that the HoMN would take some initiative and make the issue known to the wider community. But the issue was important … Sadly, no boots after all, just soft fluffy slippers.

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