• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Could Sunak’s “nightmarish” plans to make Maths compulsory be beneficial in  the long run?

ByJoanna Saunderson

Mar 28, 2023

In his first speech of 2023, Rishi Sunak proposed plans to make maths a compulsory subject  for all students in England until the age of 18. Sunak hopes to raise UK numeracy standards and boost the financial skills of young people to make them better equipped for the modern workplace,  where he says: “data is everywhere, and statistics underpin every job”. His plans suggest that students would need to study “some form of maths” until 18, not requiring everyone to  meet the existing A Level standard. 

Conversations with Edinburgh students revealed that many have concerns that the plan is “unrealistic” in the current UK educational climate. Teachers have outlined that the policy  holds no hope of success unless Sunak first tackles the vast shortage of Maths teachers and  the lack of funding. Students also said it would be “unfair”, particularly for those who struggle to keep up with Maths until 16. Around a third of students in England retook their Maths GCSE last summer, with a large proportion of these students failing this second exam. Forcing students to then continue with Maths for a further 2 years seems both highly demoralising and a  “worst nightmare” for many. Students also commented that enforcing Maths as a compulsory subject would diminish the focus and significance of humanities and arts subjects. 

However, it was striking how many students admitted they would have appreciated  continuing with maths post GCSEs. One student described how he felt “seriously out of his  depth” in his International Business classes because he had not continued with maths into  sixth form. So, perhaps in the long run students would benefit from this compulsory study. Various reports from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and development) certainly suggest this, as they reveal how the UK is lagging significantly behind most developed nations in terms of numeracy skills amongst youth.   

A number of international students highlighted the unique nature of England’s A Level system, where students narrow their focus to 3 subjects and are not required to keep studying Maths and English. The majority of OECD countries around the world, including France, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA, require maths to be studied in some format until  18. Several students from the USA and Ireland commented that studying a wider range of subjects for a longer period allowed them to keep their options open and to develop skills  they were not as confident with. Whilst continuing with Maths was a serious challenge for  many, they viewed it as beneficial in the long run. In many countries students can select  which maths topics they study until 18, and therefore can ignore areas such as integration but continue with statistics. This approach in offering specific maths topics seems popular amongst many who may want to develop skills in probability, analytical thinking and budgeting but not calculus.  

Sunak’s plan, lacking detail and direction, seems highly unrealistic in the current climate. To implement his policy after the next general election would require significant progress in teacher training, funding and curriculum changes. However, it is increasingly evident that the UK is falling behind in its education sector. Extending the time for students to broaden their numeracy skills could be a crucial change that the UK’s educational system needs. Whilst Sunak’s plan is unlikely to be the key to solving these failings, it raises important questions about the importance of the development of core skills, and which subjects fit into that category.

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak visits a coronavirus testing laboratory in Leeds” by HM Treasury is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.