Education experts say PM’s ‘maths to 18’ plan is vague and out of touch

Education experts have described Rishi Sunak’s announcement of plans for all pupils in England to study some form of maths until the age of 18 as “vague” and “out of touch”.

The Prime Minister outlined five promises for the year ahead during a speech in east London on Wednesday, which included halving inflation and bringing down NHS waiting lists.

Mr Sunak separately spoke about the importance of improving numeracy as he pledged to make it a central objective of the UK education system.

Speaking to an audience in Stratford, he said: “Right now, just half of all 16 to 19-year-olds study any maths at all.

“Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before, and letting our children out into the world without those skills is letting our children down.”

The Prime Minister said the plan would not mean a compulsory A-level for maths for everyone and may not be achieved in this Parliament.

However, a teacher and education experts said the policy does not address major problems in the wider education system, including the already “severe shortage of maths teachers”.

William Allen, a Teach First maths teacher at a school on the south coast, said Mr Sunak’s plan shows “how out of touch this Government really is”.

“This plan fails to both understand the system and fundamentally overlooks the core challenges it is facing,” he said.

“Extending the numeracy studies to 18 misses the problems underpinning numeracy skills, which is that our curriculum is not catered towards numeracy.”

Mr Allen said low-attaining pupils are “overwhelmed” by content to process outside numeracy and therefore do not get enough time to practise the core skill.

David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute, said the fact the Prime Minister did not include education as one of his five key priorities in 2023 was “very disappointing”.

“Better education is central to improving both life chances and the UK’s productivity rates,” he said, adding that helping students recover learning after the pandemic is a “huge job”.

“While there is a good case for more maths education in sixth forms and colleges, it will take many years to recruit the necessary teachers,” Mr Laws added.

“It is likely to take five to 10 years to make a reality of the maths commitment, but there are urgent education issues which need addressing now.”

Emma Hollis, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, said Mr Sunak’s announcement “sounds like a soundbite without clarity on the issues we are trying to address here”.

She said: “If it’s just about a de facto expectation that it’s somehow better to teach maths past 16, I would like to see the evidence behind that.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), called the plans “vague” and “half-baked”.

“The only tangible measure he has announced is a vague idea of extending maths teaching up to the age of 18 for every student without the slightest evidence of what this would achieve or an acknowledgement that we already have a severe shortage of maths teachers and the plan is therefore currently unachievable,” he said.

“The education system doesn’t need more policy gimmicks or random targets, but serious and sustained investment in schools and colleges after a decade of chronic underfunding, and a strategy to address teacher shortages which are at crisis point.”

The PA news agency has contacted the Department for Education for comment.