Plans to make maths compulsory up to age of 18
Daisy Scott, Online Deputy Editor, discusses the recent plans set out by Rishi Sunak which may make maths compulsory up the age of 18 and what students at University of Exeter think about the plans.
Recent plans laid out by Rishi Sunak may see pupils studying maths up till the age of 18. In his first speech of 2023, the Prime Minister has layed out plans which may lead to all school children in England continuing to study maths up to the age of 18. During this speech he also added “Letting our children out into the world without those skills is letting our children down”. The details of the plan have not yet fully been layed out, but according to Number 10, the government did not “envisage” making maths A-level compulsory.
Last year, statistics showed that 59 per cent of children leaving primary school in England reached the expected standard which was well below the target of 90 per cent by 2030 announced last year. According to government figures, around eight million adults have numeracy skills similar to those of primary school children whilst 60 per cent of disadvantage pupils do not have basic maths skills at 16. “Right now, just half of all 16-year-olds study any maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere, and statistics underpin every job our children’s job will require more analytical skills than ever before”.
Around eight million adults have numeracy skills similar to those of primary school children
The PM is not the first to put forward these plans as the subject was previously advocated for by former education secretary Michael Gove in 2011, the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee in 2012 and then education minister Liz Truss in 2014. It was later featured in Labour’s 2015 manifest and then mentioned in chancellor George Osborne in his 2016 budget.
There are many people who are welcoming of the PM’s ambitions. Children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza has said “Having a good grasp on numbers is helpful at all stages of life and can open the door to some fascinating and rewarding careers”.
However, there has been much criticism of these recent plans. The association of school and college leaders has harshly criticised the plans stating that there is a “severe shortage of maths teachers” and saying that the plans are “therefore currently unachievable”. In 2021, there were 35,771 maths teachers in state secondary schools whilst there are 39,000 English and 45,000 science teachers. Due to the lack of secondary school maths teachers, a survey found that 45 per cent of schools used non-specialist teachers to lead their maths lessons in 2021. Labour’s education secretary Bridget Philipson said, “He cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers, yet the government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year” and has called for Mr Sunak to “show his working”. Tom Grinyer, CEO of the Institute of Physics said “Simply mandating compulsory maths until 18 is not enough in itself without the appropriate number of teachers, infrastructure and support”.
Exeposé conducted a survey amongst the students at the University to collect opinion about these plans. According to the survey, 54.5 per cent of respondents thought that maths (at some level) should become compulsory up to the age of 18 however, 90.9 per cent of those thought that maths A-level should not become compulsory. Of those that agreed with maths up to the age of 18, the most common responses said that it should include more “everyday skills” including taxes, billing, student finance and interest rates and that the new course should not be examined. According to this survey, 27.3 per cent of students did not feel that they had enough maths knowledge when they finished their A-level.
54.5 per cent of respondents thought that maths (at some level) should become compulsory up to age of 18
Sunak’s decision to focus on post-16 education rather than focusing on the state of the NHS this winter – with overcrowded A&E departments, 30 hour waits in ambulances outside hospitals and patients being treated in hospital corridors – has come as a surprise for many.
Maths to 18 could be provided through a variety of different routes, it would not solely be through A-levels. These plans would also only affect pupils in England as education is a devolved issue, with Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish authorities managing their own systems.
The Prime Minister acknowledges that reforming secondary schools will be a challenging task but will commit to starting the work of introducing maths to 18 in parliament. However, the UK remains one of a handful of countries who do not require children to study some form of maths up to the age 18.
I agree with the fact that UK school children are unprepared for our currently data-driven world and that we should be preparing them better for a data-led economy, but it may not be the best idea to force children toc continue with a subject they hate until they are 18 years old. Instead, there needs to be a radical overhaul of the education system to make sure that children learn enough maths before the age of 16.