From education to employment

Prime Minister reaffirms his ambition on teaching mathematics with Maths to 18

maths symbols

The Prime Minister’s reaffirmed his ambition to ensure every young person studies some form of maths up to the age of 18. Rishi Sunak confirmed that this would be not just Maths A-Levels, but they will explore new models of delivering real world and relevant Maths to learners.

The PM re-affirmed the importance of teaching Maths to 18, taking examples from Australia, Canada and Finland where every young person is taught Maths up until the age of 18. Rishi also explained about trying to change the ‘anti -Maths’ culture with the new programme.

Sector Response

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: 

“Once again, the Prime Minister needs to show his working: he cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers. But after thirteen years of failing our children, the Tory government repeatedly misses their target for new maths teachers, with maths attainment gaps widening and existing teachers leaving in their droves. 

“Labour does not need a new advisory group to make the right choices for our children. We will drive up standards in every corner of our country by investing in thousands more teachers, including maths teachers, by ending tax breaks for private schools.”

Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Munira Wilson MP said: 

“Gillian Keegan’s empty words are an insult to millions of people who are looking to the Government for real solutions. You don’t need a maths A-level to see that these plans don’t add up. 

“How many more rehashed policies will this Conservative government come up with before addressing the recruitment and retention of teachers? 

“Parents and children deserve a proper plan to recruit the extra teachers we need, not more empty promises.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“It is hard to understand why the Prime Minister is rehashing his ambition of maths to 18 having only announced this policy in January and with no further detail of what it will entail or how it will be delivered. It seems like an attempt to divert attention away from the most pressing matter in education in England which is the industrial dispute triggered by the erosion of teacher pay and conditions and resulting crisis in recruiting and retaining enough staff.

“These severe shortages directly undermine the Prime Minister’s ambition because it means there are not enough maths teachers to deliver even the existing requirements let alone extend maths to every pupil to the age of 18. The purpose of the policy is puzzling as maths is already the most popular A-level subject and pupils who do not pass GCSE maths with at least a Grade 4 are already required to continue to study the subject in post-16 education. This policy then would apply to pupils who are already sufficiently numerate to pass GCSE maths at Grade 4 or better but do not continue with the subject to A-level. Does the Prime Minister think the existing GCSE is not good enough despite it recently being reformed by the government?

“Instead of re-announcing a vague and poorly thought-out policy it would be more helpful if he instead focused on resolving the industrial dispute.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Ensuring every young person has the skills they need to succeed is a laudable aim of the Prime Minister and one that is shared by school staff up and down the country. The Prime Minister’s ambition will be thwarted, though, unless he faces up to the reality of the state of education in England.

“After thirteen years in government there are not enough teachers to deliver the Prime Minister’s vision. His government’s policies for teacher recruitment are not bringing in enough new teachers. There is also a crisis of teacher retention as a result oflow pay and excessive workload. The Government needs to urgently get a grip of this workforce crisis in education.

“Of his proposals on maths education, the Prime Minister says ‘we’ll need to recruit and train the maths teachers’ but he does not explain how the Government will do this. Let’s not forget that this is a Government that has cut its recruitment target for maths teachers by 39% since 2020.

“Parents and school staff will be left scratching their heads at this latest announcement from the Prime Minister. Taken as a whole, the Government’s policies on education simply don’t add up.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:

“The PM is right that we need a step change in maths teaching and this includes how young people are supported to be more numerate up to 18. But the focus on 16 to 18 alone is shortsighted – we need action from early years through to 16 because our approach is failing too many young people and we need an ambitious plan to support millions of adults to improve their numeracy too.

“DfE figures show only 30% of disadvantaged young people achieve a grade 5 or higher in GCSE maths, compared to 50% overall. This review must aim to close that maths disadvantage divide. The figures for adults are staggering with 12 million struggling with basic levels of numeracy and participation in entry-level maths having plummeted since 2010.

“Three-quarters of 16 to 18 maths is delivered in colleges, so colleges are the crucial partner to delivering maths to 18. Our latest data shows 44% of colleges already struggle to hire enough maths teachers and with teachers in schools currently earning around £8,000 more than those in colleges, it is unlikely that struggle will ease any time soon. School teachers have just rejected an enhanced pay award – yet no similar funding has been made available to colleges even to match that offer.

“College leaders sit down this week with unions representing college staff to discuss next year’s pay award and we know from the outset that Government underfunding means college pay is simply not attractive enough to recruit the staff needed to deliver maths to 18 for all students. At the very least, the Government needs to start treating hardworking teachers and support staff in colleges the same as their colleagues in schools and close the enormous pay gap as quickly as possible.

“The GCSE resit policy has made students feel like they are failures at maths for the past decade and should be reviewed as part of this latest inquiry. We need a motivating maths curriculum, not one which punishes young people.”

Russell Hobby, CEO, Teach First, said:

“We absolutely agree that all children should leave school with a good grounding in maths – as it can be the gateway to many opportunities later in life. Getting more children to excel in maths starts by tackling the unequal access to a brilliant education those from poorer backgrounds currently face – right from primary school.

“Every child deserves to be taught by a great teacher – but we’re currently facing an acute shortage of teachers, particularly in STEM subjects – with the poorest communities most affected. To address this, we’re calling for an uplift in starting pay, with additional pay premiums for teachers in the poorest areas and those teaching shortage subjects.

“Any growth plan for our country should put investment in teachers and young people at its heart.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“Requiring students to study maths in some form until the age of 18 suggests the existing curriculum for younger pupils is failing to provide them with the numeracy skills they need for the world we live in

“A review of the current maths curriculum and GCSE qualifications should therefore be a pre-requisite to any new policy decisions.

“While it is important for young people to have good numeracy skills, it is also crucial to protect student choice, which will be narrowed post-16 if students are compelled to take maths.

“There can be no confidence that the government would even be in a position to provide enough well-qualified specialist maths teachers,  having repeatedly failed to meet its teacher training target for maths graduates. Even though this year’s recruitment round for initial teacher training is well underway, the government has yet to publish its recruitment targets.  This is no way to plan for future delivery.”

Sharon Davies, CEO of leading education charity Young Enterprise said:

“Without the necessary skills in maths, far too many young people and adults are unable to access the tools and opportunities that can benefit them, their families, communities and the economy the most, and which can hinder them from reaching their full potential.

In today’s data driven society, having a great knowledge of maths can set you up for a better future. Rishi Sunak’s pledge of Introducing compulsory maths to 18 is a welcome step towards this – ensuring that children are given the right skills to prepare them for adulthood.

However, if we’re really serious about unlocking the huge potential of this country, then compulsory maths really must include embedding the application of practical maths to ensure all young people have equal access to opportunities to build personal finance skills such as budgeting, saving and digital literacy, especially as many jobs are now underpinned by technology, statistics, and data.”

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