Maths to 18 will equip young people with the quantitative and statistical skills that they will need for the jobs of today and the future.
This includes having the right skills to feel confident with finances in later life, including finding the best mortgage deal or savings rate.
Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, January 2023
When the above announcement was made, it was met with a mixed response. On the surface of it, it could be a good idea. However, for it to be a success, it needs adequate funding, it needs teachers who have the right training to deliver these lessons, and it also needs to have clear objectives.
Children are introduced to maths from an early age, through learning songs like “5 Little Ducks” and experiencing engaging activities based in real-life problem-solving situations that help them grasp what a number is. As they go through school, they then develop their maths skills and learn new ways of manipulating numbers so that they can become confident mathematicians. However, for some children this doesn’t always work out as expected, and their confidence in maths - and working with numbers later as an adult - can suffer because of this. The effects of this “numeracy illiteracy” is that there are some adults who are unsure about things that may influence their daily life, such as budgeting, or the effects of interest rate changes on saving and loan accounts, all of which can lead to other social problems. Would giving a bigger focus to “real life maths” in the lessons taught in school help break the stigma that it’s ok not to be good at maths, because you don’t need it once you leave school?
Research by Ofsted has shown that there is a varied approach to teaching maths in schools, and that this has partly resulted in a wide attainment gap forming between the low and high achievers in maths in England. If this is the case for the first 16 years of a child’s life, then how does subjecting them to a further 2 years of compulsory maths help provide them with the support they need? This is where the clear objectives of this plan and how it will be implemented need to be addressed and shared, so that students are not expected to continue with the same work that has led to their lack of confidence in working with and understanding numbers. Practical lessons on dealing with money and understanding interest rates, as well as budgeting, are all areas that will be useful for young people as they begin to navigate their way into the world of personal finances for themselves. More lessons on angles and geometry, whilst useful if you go into lines of work where these are required, are not generally topics that are revisited once the GCSE exam is done.
The other argument against the plan of continuing maths until 18 is…what about those students who don’t enjoy maths, and no longer wish to continue with it. The plan could be seen to show a somewhat disrespectful stance against the arts, when we know how important the studying of arts and humanities is for so many different kinds of industries that are a vital part of this country’s future and also a big part of its history. Understanding how maths and the arts compliment one another could bring a positive angle. And let's not forget there are only a certain number of hours that students are able to be taught for, so where do these extra maths lessons fit into those timetables?
For now, there have been no follow up details about how the plan is going to be implemented, so until then, it’s important to keep an open mind, but we can only hope that even though the plan was introduced as “more maths”, what was actually meant was “financial preparation” which would be of some benefit to all.
By Ben Case
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