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Rishi Sunak’s ‘maths until 18’ plan questioned by experts

19.02.23

The prime minister's idea for all pupils in England to study some form of maths up until the age of 18 would be challenging to implement, experts say.

A panel of specialists told the Education select committee they broadly support the "worthy ambition".

However, a lack of maths teachers and a focus on exams meant "fundamental reform" would be needed, they said.

It comes after Rishi Sunak said the UK must "reimagine our approach to numeracy".

Last month, Mr Sunak said "in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, letting our children out into that world without those skills is letting our children down".

The Education Committee earlier questioned a panel of experts on what a system of studying maths to 18 should look like.

It heard that currently, a third of young people do not pass their GCSE in maths, creating "alienation and disengagement".

Niamh Sweeney, the deputy general secretary of the National Education Union, said part of the problem was that the focus was on passing tests at a young age rather than enjoying learning maths.

She said the "unfortunate announcement" by Mr Sunak "didn't come with a discussion about workforce".

The majority of maths teachers were "science, geography or PE teachers" and it was "really difficult" to teach out of your subject and maintain high standards, she told the panel.

'Fail by design'

A focus on maths could have a significant advantage for labour market skills and longer-term economic benefits, the chief executive of National Numeracy, Sam Sims, said.

Depending on the year, around 175,000 young people fail their GCSE maths, and that can have significant impact on their confidence, he said.

He said these young people "fail by design" because of the way the grading system works.

Mr Sims suggested it could be more like a driving test or "passport-style certification" which everybody could pass and which gives young people more confidence.

Sir Martin Taylor, chair of the advisory committee on mathematical education for the Royal Society, says there is a need for "fundamental reform".

He believes "what" is taught is key and that students need 21st Century skills, including data skills, which is what employers are asking for.

Mr Sunak's ambition was largely welcomed when it was announced but many questioned how it would work in practice.

The Department for Education said its policy teams were currently drawing up some options.

By Vanessa Clarke

Source: BBC.co.uk

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