British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday said he was looking at plans to ensure all pupils in the United Kingdom study maths in some form until the age of 18.
“We’re one of the few countries not to require our children to study some form of Maths up to the age of 18. Right now, just half of all 16-19-year-olds study any Maths at all,” Sunak said in his first speech of 2023.
“In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, letting our children out into that world without those skills, is letting our children down. So we need to go further,” the Indian-origin prime minister said.
He said he was making numeracy a central objective of the education system.
“That doesn’t have to mean compulsory A level in Maths for everyone. But we will work with the sector to move towards all children studying some form of Maths to 18,” he added.
It is not clear what the plans will mean for students who wish to study humanities or creative arts qualifications, including BTecs and no new qualifications are immediately planned and there are no plans to make A-levels compulsory.
The government is instead exploring expanding existing qualifications as well as “more innovative options”, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
The idea appears to be an aspiration rather than a fully developed policy, with the precise mechanics for how it would work not set out.
The government acknowledges it would not be possible to implement before the next general election, although the prime minister is expected to begin working on the plan in this parliament, the BBC said.
The Association of School and College Leaders, however, said there was a “chronic national shortage of maths teachers” in the UK.
And Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson called on Sunak to “show his working” on how greater participation in maths will be funded.
“He cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers, yet the government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year,” she said.
Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Munira Wilson, called the aim “an admission of failure from the prime minister on behalf of a Conservative government that has neglected our children’s education so badly”.
“Too many children are being left behind when it comes to maths, and that happens well before they reach 16,” she added.
Tory MP Robin Walker, who is chair of the education committee, urged the prime minister to focus on childcare.
“It’s great to hear the prime minister today committing to maths beyond 16,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “But if we don’t get the right approach to stimulating and supporting children early on, they won’t have the opportunities to thrive in the school system.”
Sunak became prime minister towards the end of a turbulent political year which saw his two predecessors – Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – brought down by Conservative backbenchers.
Sunak faces the challenge of keeping his own MPs happy, while dealing with the rising cost of living and strikes in several sectors, including nursing and the rail industry.
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