The relationship between school science and mathematics education


Science is dependent on mathematical thinking and mathematical tools but this close and dependent relationship is frequently not reflected in schools or education policy. There have been calls in the literature for school science and mathematics departments to work together more closely for reasons including a perceived overlap of content and to improve students’ use of mathematics in science. This thesis critiques these calls and questions the plausibility of such proposals. In particular, it asks:

1. How and to what extent can mathematics and science educators work together?

2. What are the barriers to effective, mutually beneficial, collaborations between mathematics and science teachers?

3. How might these barriers be addressed?

A two-phase qualitative approach was undertaken to explore participants’ experiences and views of the relationship between mathematics and science education. Two distinct groups were approached and interviewed to gain insights into both the policy-making process at a national level and the realities of working in school: those influential in science and mathematics policy-making; and science and mathematics teachers collaborating in schools. The interview data were coded and analysed using thematic analysis. Different theoretical lenses were used to interrogate the data, each providing unique perspectives. They included: power and boundaries, based particularly on the writing of Bernstein; policy, using Bernstein and Ball; the notion of transfer; and the impact of beliefs and identity on curriculum decision making. The findings demonstrate that the dependency in the relationship is asymmetrical: science is dependent on mathematics, but the reverse is not true making it difficult for a truly mutually beneficial relationship to be developed as science will always tend to gain more from any collaboration. This asymmetric dependency is not discussed in other authors’ work on science-mathematics collaboration but would appear to be critical in understanding why collaboration in school is rare and often short-lived.

Thesis full reference:

Wong, V. (2018). The relationship between school mathematics and science education. PhD Thesis, King’s College London, UK. URL:

Related Main Publications:

Wong, V. (2017). Variation in graphing practices between mathematics and science: implications for science teaching. School Science Review, 98(365), 109-115.

Wong, V., Dillon, J., & King, H. (2016). STEM in England: meanings and motivations in the policy arena. International Journal of Science Education, 38(15), 2346-2366.


Dr Vicky Wong

Department of Education

University of Oxford

15 Norham Gardens, OX2 6PY