By Peter Walker/The Guardian
London, April 17: The UK possesses an inherent “anti-maths mindset” that is hampering efforts to improve numeracy, Rishi Sunak is to say as he relaunches his plan to make maths education until 18 compulsory.
In a speech to students, teachers and others in north London planned for Monday, the prime minister is expected to argue that a failure to consider numeracy as basic a skill as reading is costing the UK economy huge sums.
“We’ve got to change this anti-maths mindset. We’ve got to start prizing numeracy for what it is – a key skill every bit as essential as reading,” Sunak was to say, according to extracts of the speech briefed in advance by Downing Street.
“I won’t sit back and allow this cultural sense that it’s OK to be bad at maths to put our children at a disadvantage. My campaign to transform our national approach to maths is not something ‘nice to have’. It’s about changing how we value maths in this country.”
In another speech, in early January, Sunak first set out his plans to make it compulsory for everyone to study maths in some form up to the age of 18, rather than the current minimum of 16.
Critics, including opposition parties, said the promise was meaningless without a coherent plan, including money to recruit and train more maths teachers.
Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said it was still not known how many extra maths teachers would be needed, as this would depend on the recommendation from a new expert advisory group that will help shape the content and decide if a new maths qualification was needed.
Keegan said the government was confident it could recruit more maths teachers despite not hitting targets for existing recruitment, pointing to a bursary scheme for the subject and other incentives.
“They are a relatively recent introduction,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “So you know they have been impacted by the pandemic but I still believe that they will work.”
Another route, she added, was maths and physics teaching apprenticeships, saying: “That’s going to attract either those young people who want to earn and learn at the same time and not go away to university or people who need to earn and learn who want to do teaching as a second subject as well.”
Sunak is expected to point to statistics showing the UK is below average for numeracy among industrialised countries, with more than 8 million adults having maths skills below those expected in schools for a child of nine.
“If we are going to grow the economy not just over the next two years, but the next 20, we simply cannot allow poor numeracy to cost our economy tens of billions a year or to leave people twice as likely to be unemployed as those with competent numeracy,” he is to say.
“We have to fundamentally change our education system so it gives our young people the knowledge and skills they need – and that our businesses need – to compete with the best in the world.
“We will not deliver this change overnight. We’ll need to recruit and train the maths teachers.”
The government has pledged to set up an advisory group comprising mathematicians, education experts and business representatives to advise on the numeracy content needed, and whether to set up a new maths qualification for those aged 16 to 18.
Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said: “Once again, the prime minister needs to show his working: he cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers. But after 13 years of failing our children, the Tory government repeatedly misses their target for new maths teachers, with maths attainment gaps widening and existing teachers leaving in their droves.”