MEI and Curriculum Development
Stella Dudzic & Roger Porkess


This discussion paper accompanies a presentation at the ISDDE conference hosted by the Nuffield Foundation on May 26th and 27th 2009. It begins with a summary of the experience of Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) and then widens out to provide a more general view of curriculum development in mathematics.


The origins of MEI lie in the early 1960s. The successful launch of Sputnik in 1957 had traumatised the Americans; how was it possible that the Russians had beaten them in the space race ? This caused them to look critically at the education they were giving their young people and to ask how it could be improved. A surge in curriculum development followed as new ideas were tried out. This spirit of liberation crossed the Atlantic and a large number of projects were set up in the early 1960s, mostly in science, technology and mathematics. Few of these now survive but those that do have mostly grown and become influential; MEI is among them.

Development phases

All successful curriculum development is based on ideas. A common pattern is for a project to be set up and to attract a following of teachers who believe in its ideas and are comfortable in the way they are put into practice. Over time, however, a project’s adherents tend to dwindle in number. There are several possible reasons for this.

Consequently a lot of curriculum development bodies are relatively short lived. To be successful in the long term, such a body must rejuvenate itself, finding new ways to express its underlying core values, new leaders and new supporters.

MEI has now gone through three such development cycles.

It is hoped that the next cycle will be about introducing Realistic Mathematics Education into schools in the UK.


MEI is a registered charity and an independent body.

New projects

A number of factors influence whether MEI should undertake a substantial new project.

Two other areas MEI would like to be involved in the mathematics learnt in are:

However, so far in neither case has a way been found in which any work would have a reasonable prospect of significant uptake.

The future of curriculum development in mathematics

There are a number of reasons to be worried about the future of curriculum development in mathematics.

If this list looks rather long, it should be seen as a challenge.

Mathematics is an evolving subject and not just at research level. The ongoing development of new software means that what is regarded as important at school level has changed and will rightly continue to do so, as will the most appropriate ways of teaching it. Without suitable curriculum development the version of the subject taught in our schools and colleges will become fossilised.

The challenge is to create an environment in which curriculum development is not only possible but valued and encouraged. This conference could be an important starting point in achieving this.

Roger Porkess, MEI Chief Executive