## Introduction

Students and parents are often confused about the difference between National 5 Maths and National 5 Applications of Maths. In this post I’ll make the differences clear to try to make it easier to decide which course is right for you. I’ll also share my experience of the troubling trend of students being misinformed about the necessity to take the National 5 Applications of Mathematics course.

National 5 Mathematics (course code C847 75) and National 5 Applications of Mathematics (course code C844 75) are two distinct courses with different objectives and learning intentions. The University of the Highlands and Islands summed it up quite well when they, until recently, stated on their website, ‘if you require a Mathematics qualification at level 5 but are looking for an alternative to National 5 Mathematics, then National 5 Applications of Mathematics may be for you.’ The key word there is ‘alternative.’ In other words, students should take one or the other, not both. More about this later.

If you’re looking for answers to common questions about the National 5 Applications of Mathematics course see HERE.

## National 5 Maths Lifeskills

National 5 Applications of Mathematics, or Nat 5 Apps as it is commonly referred to, is a rebranding of the legacy course National 5 Lifeskills Mathematics. As the name suggests the laudable intention of that course was to develop learners practical Mathematical skills. The focus was numeracy which could be applied to real-world situations such as finance, travel and everyday geometry. The Apps course has essentially the same content but is assessed by final exam, whereas Lifeskills was assessed continuously at the end of each unit. Lifeskills was considered a ‘school-leavers’ qualification which gave students practical Mathematical skills to take into adult life. This would demonstrate to employers a candidate’s ability to use numerical and basic Mathematical concepts.

## National 5 Applications of Maths

The National 5 Applications of Mathematics course retains this intention but extends the scope beyond just practical numerical skills. For example, the skills developed in the Apps course could be applied to science courses, technology or various others. Recent studies suggest that current school-leavers will, on average, change job role 20 times in their life. Thus, the ability to apply skills – not just Maths – to solve a range of problem types will be key for this group. And this is one of the aims of the Curriculum for Excellence – to prepare learners for the world they’ll actually find themselves in. So, the Apps course is well intentioned and potentially meets the needs of a wide range of candidates. That said, does it really teach students to ‘apply’ Mathematical methods to answer real-world problems? Or does it just teach students to answer questions that have a real world context? i.e. to help Jane figure out the cost of 1 of the 17 watermelons she apparently bought at the supermarket . . .

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## Do Universities & Colleges Accept Nat 5 Maths Apps?

Furthermore, higher education institutions are starting to recognise Apps as evidence of numerical / Mathematical skill. Some courses, such as primary teaching, nursing and certain undergraduate programs, are starting to use Apps in their entry requirements. The University of Edinburgh state that ‘if National 5 Applications of Mathematics is accepted this will be stated in our entry requirements in the degree finder.’ (https://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/undergraduate/entry-requirements/scottish-qualifications/national-5) This implies that some courses accept National 5 Applications of Maths and others require National 5 Maths. This is understandable since the full National 5 Mathematics course does not contain much numeracy or practical skills. Rather, it’s more focused on ‘pure’ Mathematical content such as algebra which lays the foundation for students going onto Higher Mathematics and associated disciplines. Most degree courses which require a Maths qualification still have full National 5 Maths as the minimum requirement. However, this is changing as there is clearly a disconnect between what’s taught in National 5 Maths (i.e. mostly algebra) and the types of Maths used in many higher education courses (i.e. practical Maths, numeracy etc, not algebra).

## Should Students Take Both?

Through my experience as a private tutor it has become clear that some schools are not always pitching the Apps course to their students as an *alternative* to National 5 Mathematics. Rather, they’re slipping it into the National 5 Mathematics course – somewhat under the radar – as though the two are necessarily taught together. Increasingly students are being signed up for the Apps course not realising that it’s a separate qualification requiring __additional__ class time and __additional__ preparation for the __additional__ final exams. In my experience of working with hundreds of students and parents, many are unaware that this is a separate course and just accept it as part of ‘Maths’. At exam time students are under pressure. If exams are close together they may be under significant time pressure to prepare for exams in a range of subjects. Adding two additional exam papers – Apps is assessed by two final exam papers, one calculator and one non-calculator – just adds further stress.

## Who Is National 5 Applications of Maths Actually For?

For some students Nat 5 Maths Apps is absolutely the appropriate course choice. The skills taught in full National 5 Maths may be less relevant to their future plans or the content may be beyond their ability. However, for many students taking National 5 Maths, the Apps course is not particularly relevant. It simply detracts from class time and adds more stress when preparing for the exams that are actually appropriate for them. It should also be noted that there is significant cross-over between National 5 Mathematics and Apps. Students taking both will inevitably answer some questions on the same, or very similar, topics. This seems illogical but then the two courses were never designed to be taken together! Schools often argue that taking both courses gives students a more rounded Mathematical education. While I would agree with that in principle such experience should be designed into the course curriculums. Students shouldn’t be penalised by having to take both and have an extra exam to prepare for . . . but also, if it gives a more rounded Maths education, why doens’t every student take it (more on that later).

**Need Help with Full National 5 Maths?**

We have the solution with our National 5 Maths Online Course. Featuring 85 step by step instructional videos, more than 500 exam relevant practice questions with full solutions and comprehensive course notes. Ideal to support your classroom work, help with homework or tests, and prepare for final exams. Learn more and start your course access HERE.

## Back to the Drawing Board?

The very existence of these two courses speaks to the age-old frustration of most Maths students; ‘when am I ever going to use this?’ That’s a question for another time. But it does point to a need to radically update the content of Maths courses taught in high schools in Scotland. The National 5 and Higher courses are identical to when I took them 25 years ago (Nat 5 was called Standard Grade back then), yet the world has changed significantly in that time. Blurring the lines between National 5 Maths and National 5 Maths apps is indicative of a system that needs overhauled and made clearer for learners, parents and, indeed, teachers. Maths standards have, according to formal and international measures, plummeted in Scotland in recent times. From the conversations I have with students, parents, teachers and others in education, one primary factor seems to be lacking – ambition! Not ambivalence about outcomes, but the ambition to take a bold step into the modern world of education.

## Conclusions

Students and parents must decide whether National 5 Mathematics, National 5 Applications of Mathematics (or potentially both if they feel strongly) is right for them. But they should realise it’s their choice and this increasingly ‘standard’ practice of enrolling students in both is bizarre and underhand. It is clearly employed in the interest of schools stats as much as it is for the benefit of the student. That said, it’s not always easy for teachers to identify, at the start of a new school year, students who are likely to succeed or struggle in National 5 Maths. So, they hedge their bets and decide after the prelim which final exams students will take. Moving forward there needs to be a clearer pathway for everyone involved.

## An Update . . . February 2024

When I wrote the first draft of this post in 2021 it was a lot stronger in its criticism of how National 5 Apps is being deployed as, essentially, a political tool (i.e. to try to draw attention away from plummeting educational attainment in Scotland under the current leadership). I decided to temper it to give a more balanced account. However, my experiences since then have made it crystal clear that Nat 5 Maths Apps is unquestionably being used in an underhand way to try to improve school attainment. As I write this students have recently taken their Maths prelims. Based on those scores students are being advised by schools to either continue with full Nat 5 Maths, Nat 5 Maths Apps or both. The students being asked to do both are the most able Maths students – the top set students. Even though these students are in almost all cases going to make a good grade for full Nat 5 Maths, they’re being asked to now (60 days before exams start) start learning a new Maths course and take an extra final exam. If the content they’re going to learn in this course is so important to throw in last minute it stands to reason that it should be in the curriculum proper and available to all students. But it’s not, because schools don’t care about the students learning this stuff – they care that these gifted students will almost certainly make high grades in the Apps final exam. The other group of students that will take the Apps final exam are those in the lowest sets for Maths. For these students full Nat 5 Maths is likely a stretch too far (or not relevant to their future plans) so they’re asked to take the significantly less demanding Apps course. So who’s not taking Apps? The students in the middle – the ‘average’ student. Again, if the content in Apps is important why aren’t these students taking it? Why will they leave school never having learned those techniques which are deemed important for the Maths high flyers and those who struggle in Maths?! Hmm, seems suspicious to me! Still not convinced? Well in the last week or so students in some schools have been asked to sit an Apps assessment (probably an old exam paper). If they did well on that assessment, regardless of which class they’re in i.e. top set or otherwise, they’re being asked to take Apps in addition to Nat 5 Maths. If they didn’t do well they’re asked to not sit the Apps final exam. Schools will say that if a student is doing well in Maths, and showed aptitude for Apps based on that assessment, they can take both and get an extra Maths qualification; this is, of course, code for ‘get us another high grade!’ It’s all very underhand and highly suspicious – students are being academically used and experimented with. One of my 1-1 tutees told me recently that her teacher had offered her to take both Nat 5 and Apps. She said she was happy to just take Nat 5 but later discovered her teacher had ignored that and also enrolled in her Apps, saying something along the lines of ‘oh don’t worry, it’s quite easy, you’ll be fine with it!. If schools want to raise their attainment they should look at the bizarre ways they teach the Nat 5 Maths course – the order of topics, the resources they provide, the manner of assessments (especially the farce that is the prelims) – not try to cheat the system.