'Anti-maths mindset' must change to boost economic growth, says Rishi Sunak

'Anti-maths mindset' must change to boost economic growth, says Rishi Sunak
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

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".

He added:

"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."

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance journalist and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's news reporter and Bristol Local Leader. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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