- Published: 15/05/2023
What has happened?
The Prime Minister’s 17 April speech on maths to age 18, building from his initial announcement in January, sets out a national commitment to all young people studying maths to age 18. This cannot happen quickly because we don’t yet have the necessary teaching capacity, and curriculum development is needed to make maths pathways available to meet the needs of all students. However, now that the commitment has been made, work is underway to plan how to make it happen. I think this is really excellent news.
Why is it important?
As a country, we need to get more positive about maths. Many people in our society happily claim they are bad at maths, yet the modern, digital world is driven by maths and data.
Confidence in using maths to analyse and interpret data and understand finances is crucial for everyone, empowering people to make informed decisions. Currently, many people are not confident to use maths and data in their life and work. This limits their opportunities and reduces their potential. Furthermore, recent research from the University of Oxford found that studying maths post-16 has a positive impact on brain development and cognition.
This is why it is so important that we make it possible for everyone to study maths to age 18. Currently, around half of all young people stop studying maths at age 16. These young people are losing out. We need to develop our education system so that all young people can follow a maths education pathway post-16 that equips them with the knowledge and skills they need. This will improve both individual and national success.
What can we do now?
An immediate thing we can do is to encourage growth in the uptake of Core Maths qualifications. As I wrote in a blog post back in 2018, the number of students who would benefit from taking Core Maths is huge.
Core Maths, or something very like it, will almost certainly form part of the long-term solution for maths to age 18. It is designed for students who have succeeded in gaining a grade 4 or above in GCSE Mathematics but who do not wish to study AS/A level Mathematics. It teaches students mathematical and statistical skills to use simple maths in complex contexts, building from GCSE to applying maths and statistics to real problems. Core Maths supports the quantitative study in other subjects and prepares students for the maths they’ll meet in work and life, from estimating values, to finances and statistical information presented in the media.
If you’re not familiar with Core Maths, take a look at the curriculum and try out some of the exam questions. Teachers and students in schools and colleges that offer Core Maths are enthusiastic about it and recognise its value.
There are two things we can do right now to increase Core Maths participation:
- Make sure that secondary school students know about it and understand its value. The key messages to all should be:
- Studying maths gives you a better understanding of the information you will meet in life, work and further study. People who study maths beyond GCSE have more opportunities open to them.
- If A level Maths isn’t for you, whatever else you plan to study post-16, you should study Core Maths.
Many young people don’t yet know about Core Maths. We must do all we can to promote it.
- If your school or college offers A level or Level 3 technical and vocational programmes, you should make sure you are offering Core Maths too.
Currently, around 30% of schools and colleges offering A level or Level 3 technical and vocational programmes offer Core Maths. I’d argue that it should be 100%, and that schools and colleges can better meet the needs of their students by offering it.
What is the long-term vision?
Negative attitudes towards maths in our country will change. It will no longer be the norm for many people to fear maths and to lack competence and confidence in using it. All young people will study a maths pathway to age 18 that will equip them to use maths effectively in everyday life and work, and develop the maths knowledge and skills they need to pursue their aspirations.
We are making progress towards this vision. The work of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), the Maths Hubs Network and the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme (AMSP) is helping to pave the way. More young people in primary schools, secondary schools and colleges are enjoying maths and appreciate that the ability to use maths supports their future success.
In years to come, I believe it will seem strange that there was a time when half our young people routinely stopped studying maths at age 16.