Posted: Mon 17th Apr 2023
The UK economy is being held back by an "anti-maths mindset", the prime minister has said as he announced a review of how the subject is taught in schools in England.
Speaking in London, Rishi Sunak claimed that there is a "cultural sense that it's ok to be bad at maths" which means children are at "risk of being left behind, and shut out of the careers they aspire to".
"When my daughters first heard me talk about them doing more maths, they weren’t too excited, and that's just it.
"We make jokes about not being able to do maths. It's socially acceptable. But we'd never make a joke like that about not being able to read, so we’ve got to change this anti-maths mindset."
All this has led to the UK being one of the least numerate countries in the developed world, Sunak said. More than 8 million adults in the UK have numeracy skills below those expected of a 9-year-old and around a third of young people fail to pass GCSE maths.
The prime minister announced the creation of a new advisory group, made up of mathematicians, education leaders and business groups, to advise the government on "the core maths content that students need to succeed in future". It will also advise on whether a new maths qualification is required for 16-18 year olds.
Earlier this year Sunak pledged that all pupils will study maths until age 18, although he said that this does not mean every pupil having to study maths A-level.
The prime minister also committed to extending Maths Hubs, partnerships of schools and colleges to support maths teaching, and the introduction of a new voluntary and fully funded professional qualification for teachers leading maths in primary schools.
Sunak acknowledged that more maths teachers are needed to meet his aims. Research released last year showed that 62% of schools in England have had some maths lessons taught by non-specialist teacher due to recruitment challenges.
Charlotte Thomason, head of policy at Enterprise Nation, said:
"As a small business owner, you absolutely have to be an all-rounder. Maths is important, but so are digital skills, entrepreneurial skills, and interpersonal skills. We'd like to see the entire curriculum broadened out to include these essential life skills.
"However, one silver lining of today's speech is the possibility for more relevant maths for young adults, such as personal finance, tax management, budget management, cash flow and long term savings.
"With young people increasingly given access to money making ventures like Vinted, YouTube channels or online gaming, it's key that the curriculum keeps pace with how young people access and interpret the world today.
"As around half (48%) of the 18 to 24 year-old age group now expect to start a business at some point in their career, these broad skills will be even more important."