From education to employment

Maths to 18 – Who’s going to teach it?

Fleur Sexton

There seems to be a certain level of disconnect for the continuing government plans for mandatory maths to 18, with the greatest obstacle being finding additional teachers to teach it during tumultuous times in the education sector.

In this article, Fleur Sexton discusses the continuing challenges to implementing Maths to 18

The latest Government announcements about the Maths to 18 plans have added a little clarity to its vision, but the elephant in the room is still being ignored – where will the teachers come from? With record numbers considering leaving the profession – 53% of teachers actively seeking to change or leave their job last year, according to the Teacher Wellbeing Index (2022), and salaries and OFSTED under the spotlight – it will be difficult to attract graduates to join the profession. Teacher numbers simply don’t add up.

At a time of such turmoil and strife within the education sector, and ever-decreasing morale in the teaching profession, wouldn’t it be better to steady the boat, rather than rocking it with further demands on already overstretched, undervalued teachers?

A lack of numeracy skills

There is no doubt that the present statistics around adult numeracy do not support a thriving economy or job market. A lack of numeracy skills exacerbates the disadvantage suffered by the most vulnerable in our society. Eight million adults in England have the maths skills of a 9 year old. We are lagging behind other OECD countries in maths attainment levels – 21st place out of the 35 participating countries according to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills, for proficiency in numeracy. So we must consider how to address the problem, and ensure the solutions reach the greatest number of disadvantaged young people.

The adult numeracy Multiply programme

We could consider the flexibility of options offered by the £560 million adult numeracy Multiply programme, being delivered through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. In areas where providers have focussed on heavily contextualised approaches and participants see a clear connection to the maths they are learning, the uptake and success rate is higher. Unemployed participants learn through everyday activities such as cooking classes or family budgeting, and employed participants have materials and resources associated with their work – maths connected to the real world makes a great deal more sense, especially for those who struggle with it.

Flexible framework and a learner based approach

For Maths to 18 to succeed, we need to ensure it has a flexible framework and a learner based approach. Devising an alternative to the A level maths qualification seems to defeat the point – for young people who have struggled through a GCSE, it’s just another hurdle. Making maths beneficial, embedding it in apprenticeships and T Levels – maths for a reason rather than a requirement – seems more logical.

Hopefully, the government’s advisory panel will opt to focus on maths skills and understanding necessary for a particular job, trade or career. If we view learning as ongoing, and employers recognise the positive impact of supporting upskilling and reskilling – maths tuition doesn’t have to happen all at once.

But the burning question still remains – who will teach these additional students? There is an increasing exodus of teachers from the profession and entering teaching is becoming less desirable. It’s not surprising that those who would have previously considered the education sector, are discouraged by reports of unmanageable workload, stress and OFSTED’s unrelenting punitive evaluation process.

The strikes continue

The strikes continue and OFSTED seems unable to accept the stress and misery its inspections bring, exacerbating the challenges schools face. The one word judgement used to encompass the complex nature of a school and its community, continues to make the whole process ridiculous. If an evaluation had a supportive role rather than punitive one, it could be an incredibly effective tool for school development and improved standards.

Additional funding

The recent additional £2 billion funding for schools may go some way to ameliorate the deficit experienced by schools in the past year. But it’s just topping up the tanks – in October last year, the National Association of Head Teachers reported that 50% of their members expected their schools to be in the red by the end of this academic year.

If we are hoping to gain insight by looking at evidence about maths attainment from other countries with higher rates of numeracy, I hope we will also look at their education systems as a whole, and the way they treat their teachers.

By Fleur Sexton – Deputy Lieutenant West Midlands and CEO of PET-Xi

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