Education leaders have welcomed the government’s plans to make maths compulsory up to the age of 18 in England, while warning that significant investment will be needed to drive a “culture change” around numeracy.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday set a goal to extend compulsory math studies after 16 years to equip young people with vital skills needed for future jobs.
But critics have warned that the proposal overlooked other priorities as English schools face a funding crisis, adding that the plan would struggle to get off the ground without additional funding.
In a speech on Wednesday, Sunak said the country must make numerical skills a core educational goal. “We will work with the sector to work towards ensuring that all children aged 18 and under learn some form of math. . . Just imagine what greater numeracy will be unleashed on humans.”
“In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our kids’ jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before.” If they weren’t properly equipped, they “would fail our kids,” Sunak said.
Amanda Spielman, chief inspector at Ofsted Education, said expanding the teaching of mathematics in schools could be beneficial and forcing a “culture shift” that would make numeracy an accessible skill.
She added that the proposal would require sustained investment in well-trained teachers and a coherent curriculum. “It’s very clearly something that can only be done if the government realizes it needs to be fully funded.”
According to the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), mathematics teacher recruitment is consistently below target for most years, and vacancy rates are among the highest of any subject.
David Robinson, director of post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute think-tank, said the government has “broadly the right ambitions” but faces major resource challenges. “The most important thing is the teachers,” he added.
According to NFER, 45 percent of schools reported using non-specialist teachers to teach math.
Jonathan Simons, head of education practice at consultancy Public First, acknowledged that the lack of trained staff would make it almost impossible to implement the plan through classroom instruction alone. “This is where technology comes in,” he says. “There are a lot of edtech products that focus on math.”
Mathematics education up to age 18 is compulsory in most OECD countries. But in the UK, according to the government, only about half of 16-19 year olds study this subject.
However, mathematics is the most popular A-level subject in the UK, taken by 11 per cent of the 47 per cent of students taking the academic qualification.
Catherine Sezen, director of education policy at the Association of Colleges, an industry body, said resources could be better targeted towards students who need to repeat their GCSE in mathematics after failing it the first time. GCSEs are an academic examination taken at age 16 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“Universities have to set priorities,” she said. “In reality, there are so many other things that we need to get right.”
The government said it would not make maths compulsory at A-levels but was exploring ideas such as core qualifications and career subjects that include numeracy, among other “innovative options”.
Sunak emphasized education as a key priority in his leadership campaign, and floated the idea of an ‘English Baccalaureate’, reflecting the International Baccalaureate and other European systems and encompassing a broader range of subjects.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, the school leaders’ union, said the plan was “unachievable” given the current teacher shortage.
https://www.ft.com/content/c4da5db4-82d0-46a0-bf6e-52739cf84287 England’s teachers warn extra funding will be needed to make math compulsory up to 18