Colleges recognise problems associated with mathematics in transition and have adopted several transition practices that seek to address the problem. Some have adopted admission policies where only students with a grade B or above at GCSE mathematics are allowed to progress to mathematics at A-level. Other, more inclusive institutions, accept students with a grade C with the provision of compulsory extra mathematics lessons. Some colleges have ‘mathematics zones” where students have easy access to members of staff if they need help.

In spite of these provisions, we found that for many students the transition still signifies a big “gap”, both in terms of knowledge (Algebra being the main “transfer” problem reported by teachers) and skills (e.g. lack of self-directing study skills with students often unable or unwilling to access appropriate support even when this is readily available).

We suggest that this “gap” is the result of different conceptions of the value of mathematics at either side of the transition: qualifications such as GCSE provide “exchange” value for access to further study rather than provide learning that is mathematically useful (“use” value) after transition. This problem is manifested in teacher-centred and transmissionist pedagogical practices and in cultural models of mathematics as being a “hard” and “unsociable” subject.