Tens of thousands of students left with little or no maths education – report

Tens of thousands of students a year in England are being left with little or no maths education after the age of 16, a report has warned.

The take-up of core maths – which offers an opportunity for students not studying A-level maths to study an alternative maths course – is low, according to an analysis by the Royal Society.

Fewer than a third of state schools and colleges offer core maths, while nearly 10% of local education authorities in England have no schools or colleges with core maths entries, it found.

Only around 7% of A-level students not taking A-level maths are taking the alternative core maths qualification – which was introduced nearly a decade ago, according to the analysis of data from the 2021/22 academic year.

This leaves around 150,000 A-level students a year with little or no post-16 maths education, the Royal Society has said.

It comes after the Prime Minister announced that all pupils in England will study some form of mathematics until the age of 18 under reforms to introduce “the Advanced British Standard”.

The Royal Society is calling for a “comprehensive plan” to support the greater take up of core maths.

In the 2021/22 academic year, only 11,683 students across 740 schools and colleges sat the core maths exam – an estimated 7% of the potential numbers, according to the analysis.

Sir Adrian Smith, president of the Royal Society, said: “In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin an increasing number of jobs, young people will require analytical skills more than ever before – but we’re letting a huge proportion of them enter the workplace without sufficient maths, stats and data skills.

“The Prime Minister is committed to ensuring all young people study some form of maths to 18 – core maths can be a way of delivering that but at the moment, provision is just not there.”

He added: “There is a huge proportion of students that are more than capable of studying core maths and there is no reason why they should not be encouraged to do so. We just need to make sure they have access to it.

“A comprehensive plan to support the significantly greater take-up of core maths qualifications would be an important stepping stone towards achieving a goal of maths for all to 18.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Institutions struggle to find attractive and cost-effective ways of including core maths in their provision. This is undoubtedly compounded by a national shortage of maths teachers which makes it difficult to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of them for any qualification.

“This lack of maths teachers is further compounded by the fact that there are far more students taking GCSE maths resit than core maths.

“Presently schools and colleges have no choice but to prioritise maths teachers for these resits, as the resits are a condition of funding requirement. Until there is reform of this resit policy there will always be too few maths teachers to be freed up to teach core maths.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Maths continues to be the most popular A-level. We have transformed the curriculum and invested £100 million in the Maths Hubs programme to improve maths teaching.

“Our reforms are already improving maths education and driving up standards. Just last week, England was ranked 11th in the world for maths, up from 27th in 2009.”