A calculating charm

New maths champion Julia Higgins wants to ensure teachers have time to stop and play

Testing times for maths teachers: they face a bombardment of government initiatives and Conservative challenges over where exactly Britain’s pupils stand in international maths tables. Coming up are a new GCSE to start in September, a new double GCSE in 2010, new maths components for 14-19 diplomas, and a maths specialist in every primary school within 10 years. Just the moment for the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (Acme) to bring on a big hitter.

Dame Julia Higgins smiles with a hint of mischief. “It’s been an extremely steep learning curve,” she says. “But everyone said, ‘Julia will be very good at that’. And I use a lot of mathematics in my work, so I thought I would take it on.”

Despite retiring as principal of the faculty of engineering at Imperial College London, Higgins shows no sign of slowing down. To her illustrious career – scientific research in polymer (plastics) chemistry; fellow and vice-president of the Royal Society; president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and of the British Association for the Advancement of Science – she now adds the chair of Acme, with a remit to boost maths teaching.

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