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UK Government To Push Maths Until 18

Students in England will study mathematics until the age of 18 under plans to be unveiled by Prime Minister,he states: ‘This is personal for me. Every opportunity I’ve had began with the education I was so fortunate to receive.’ 

The UK is an outlier in allowing students to stop studying Maths as early as 16. Meanwhile, other OECD countries: Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland, Japan, Norway, and the US, all require their young people to study the subject until the age of 18.

Meanwhile, Downing Street tells us that there are around 8 million adults in England with the numeracy skills of primary school children. Presently, only around half of 16-19-year-olds study any maths and the problem is particularly acute for disadvantaged pupils, 60% of whom do not have basic maths skills at age 16. The government does not envisage making maths A-Level compulsory for all 16-year-olds. Further detail will be set out in due course, but the government is exploring existing routes, such as the Core Maths qualifications and T-Levels, as well as more innovative options.

‘One of the biggest changes in mindset we need in education today is to reimagine our approach to numeracy,’Mr. Sunak is estimated to say. Furthermore, workplaces increasingly need workers with quantitative and statistical skills, and our output of graduates is not meeting this demand. It makes sense for this issue to be brought to the forefront of political discussion. However, this pledge has come from questions surrounding the actual substance of the Sunak administration. Here, the PM seeks to give us a flavor of his long-term commitments beyond putting out the fires of recent crises.

On the other hand, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders sees this saying, ‘The government must set out the evidence for extending maths for all students to the age of 18’. Barton believes this pledge ought to be tackled with a proper action plan that considers the needs of students, as opposed to sticking more maths to their timetables: ‘There is a strong argument for developing a system which allows for greater subject breadth tailored around the needs of the student rather than simply bolting on more maths.’

Therefore, it makes sense to see this call for reform as more of a ‘pet project’ that gives the young government a perception that it is here to stay with its excellent ideas rather than viewing the commitment as a sincere pledge to prepare students for the world of work today.

Likewise, the Labour Party considers the announcement to have impeccable timing as it was moved to a time before a speech was due to be made by the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer. It is said that ‘In their desperation to ensure Sunak’s speech doesn’t happen after Keir’s, no ten have revealed they have nothing to offer the country except… double maths’. They add: ‘As the health service falls to pieces after 12 years of Tory rule, criminals terrorize the streets, and working people worry how their wages will last the month, the country is entitled to ask: is this it?’

If the Prime Minister’s sincerity is to be believed — to borrow a widely used mantra from all our Maths teachers — he must show his working out! One major problem that shows this expediency move for what it is is that the UK has had a lot of trouble in the past few years encouraging people to become STEM teachers, even less for female STEM teachers. Lacking the required workforce for his ambitious task, how does he plan to achieve his pledge? This goes to show us that there are more considerations needed than meets the eye when trying to push Maths in the UK until the 18. 

If all of this tells us anything, it is that there is more research required for an appropriate plan to tackle the problem of poor numeracy skills in the workforce. Why attack the issue at a school level? Perhaps other avenues would allow adults already in the workplace to improve their numeracy skills. 

Furthermore, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research says that there has been a steady growth in basic skills training for people with poor maths and English skills, which have significant benefits in the workplace and beyond which was almost non-existent in 2001However, they say it is still vital to reverse the trend of the overall decline in the proportion participating in education at this stage.

Let us hope the government considers its claims with an appropriately researched report that justifies its grand-scale thinking.

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