PM vows to end 'anti-maths' attitude that puts children at 'disadvantage' with new education plan

The prime minister is determined to fight against the UK's anti-maths attitude, as Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker reports

Rishi Sunak has said the UK's anti-maths attitude is putting children at a disadvantage, while setting out plans to get young people studying the subject up until the age of 18.

Announcing a review into teaching on Monday, the prime minister said all pupils will eventually be taught the subject in some way until they are 18 years old.

Speaking to students, teachers and members of the media in London, Mr Sunak launched an expert-led review that will help ensure the government takes into account the core mathematics skills students need in 2023, and whether a new qualification might be needed.

The changes will be made "without making maths A-Level compulsory", Mr Sunak stressed.

During the speech in London, he hit out at the “cultural sense that it’s okay to be bad at maths”, which he said puts children “at a disadvantage” in the workplace.

The UK's 'anti-maths' mindset puts children at a 'disadvantage', argues Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at a speech to students and teachers in London

The UK remains one of the only countries in the world which does not require children to study the subject in some form up to the age of 18, making it one of the least numerate among the 38 OECD advanced economies.

Around a third of pupils do not pass it at GCSE level, and more than eight million adults have numeracy skills below those expected of a nine-year-old, according to Downing Street.

Mr Sunak told the audience: "We've got to value maths and what it can do for our children's futures."

"I will never stop striving to achieve that," he pledged.

Mr Sunak first made his maths-to-18 pledge in January, but said the scheme may not be rolled out in this parliament.

Critics accused him of rehashing his plan to distract from an ongoing pay teachers dispute, which will see union members walk out later this month.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It seems like an attempt to divert attention away from the most pressing matter in education in England which is the industrial dispute triggered by the erosion of teacher pay and conditions and resulting crisis in recruiting and retaining enough staff.

"These severe shortages directly undermine the prime minister’s ambition because it means there are not enough maths teachers to deliver even the existing requirements let alone extend maths to every pupil to the age of 18."

Teachers in Wales taking part in a day of strike action earlier this month. Credit: ITV Wales

But the former chancellor argued that the skills acquired by studying maths until 18 years old will help young people in their careers and grow the economy.

It is the "closest thing we have to a silver bullet", he insisted, arguing that "a world class education system is the one of the most important things we can do" in UK society.

An advisory group including mathematicians, education leaders and business representatives will now be formed to advise the government on what core maths content students will be required to study, and whether a new qualification will be needed.

Mr Sunak acknowledged that the plans can't be implemented "overnight", with extra teachers needing to be recruited and trained. He also said the government will need to work out what new technology might be needed.

Labour criticised the “empty pledge”, with Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson saying: “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."

Royal Society President Sir Adrian Smith said it was "reassuring to see the PM’s commitment" as "more still needs to be done" to make courses such as core maths and mathematics skills, in general, widely available and appealing to students.

Sam Sims, chief executive of the charity National Numeracy, said: "Addressing poor numeracy needs to start much earlier than 16. We need a cradle to career vision for numeracy in the UK."

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