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Maths for All to age 18: MEI’s view

Posted on in News

What has the government announced about maths?

On 4 January the Prime Minister said: ‘We will move towards all children studying some form of maths to 18.’

Currently, students can drop maths at age 16 if they achieve a grade 4 or better in GCSE Maths. This means up to 300,000 young people each year stop studying maths at age 16. The long-term aim is that all 16-18 year olds will study some form of maths to support their future needs and aspirations.

Should we do this?

Yes. The UK is unusual compared with its international competitors in having so many young people who stop learning maths at age 16, and this affects people’s opportunities and the economy.

Maths is important to so many things we do – from financial management to understanding the data and statistics we see at work and in everyday life. Maths helps make sense of the world, and almost everyone who goes on to higher education will use maths and statistics whatever they are learning.

The value of students continuing maths post-16 is already well-understood. Individuals and society will benefit, so this position attracts support from across the political spectrum.

Will this mean everyone will be expected to study A level Maths?

No. What many young people need is confidence in using and applying maths, for example in dealing with their finances and being able to interpret data and statistical charts. That’s the kind of maths in qualifications called ‘Core Maths’ – they were designed for this purpose.

What is Core Maths?

Core Maths qualifications are designed to be studied alongside other post-16 qualifications. They have been available since 2016 and are becoming established as valued qualifications in many schools and colleges. They cover just the right kind of maths to support learning in other subjects, as well as preparing students for the maths they need in further study, work and everyday life.

Will maths to age 18 mean narrowing the curriculum?

No, just the opposite. Core Maths is around half the size of an A level and is designed to be studied in addition to a student’s other subjects, so it broadens the curriculum.

When will ‘maths for everyone’ start?

There’s no timetable yet, but a phased transition is essential, allowing time to develop the teaching capacity and other resources needed. The Advanced Maths Support Programme is already working on this.

It would be a great start for every college and school teaching post-16 students to offer Core Maths (about a third of them do already), so all young people at least have the opportunity to choose to study the maths they need.

Why has the plan been controversial?

There was some negative comment about the plan. At least some of this reflects a cultural problem we have with maths – it seems quite OK to say ‘I can’t do maths’. We must do better for the next generation, so they can be confident in using the maths they need for work and in everyday life – continuing to develop their skills in maths to age 18 should be part of that.

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