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Why Does Rishi Sunak Want All UK Students Up To Age 18 To Study Maths?

In his first speech in 2023, Sunak explained why studying maths is important for all students.

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All students across the United Kingdom (UK) will have to study mathematics up to the age of 18, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday, 4 January.

The announcement comes in the backdrop of aspersions being cast by leaders across party lines on the leadership abilities of Sunak, especially at a time when the government-run National Health Service is undergoing perhaps its worst ever crisis and cost of living expenses are shooting through the roof.

What exactly has Sunak said about the plan, and what is the rationale behind it?

Why Does Rishi Sunak Want All UK Students Up To Age 18 To Study Maths?

  1. 1. What Did Sunak Say?

    In his first speech in 2023, Sunak explained why studying maths is important for all students, as it will help them with innumeracy and assist them as they take on jobs in modern working environments.

    "This is personal for me. Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive," Sunak said, adding, "It’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education."

    Reiterating his vision for the education sector, the Indian-origin prime minister said that with the right plan, there was no reason that the UK would not be able to rival the best education systems in the world.

    Expand
  2. 2. The Rationale Behind Sunak's Plan

    According to a release from 10 Downing Street, around eight million adults in Britain have the numeracy skills of primary school children.

    Further, only around half of 16-19 year olds study any maths at all, and the problem is particularly acute for disadvantaged students – 60 percent of whom do not have any basic maths skills at age 16.

    "Despite these poor standards, the UK remains one of the only countries in the world to not to require children to study some form of maths up to the age of 18," the release from Downing Street said.

    This includes the majority of OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Finland, Japan, Norway, and the USA.

    "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."
    Rishi Sunak

    Further explaining the need for this plan, the government said that studying maths till the age of 18 will equip young people with the quantitative and statistical skills that they will need for current and future jobs.

    "This includes having the right skills to feel confident with finances in later life, including finding the best mortgage deal or savings rate," the release asserted.

    However, the government clarified that it does not envisage making maths A-Level compulsory for all 16-year-olds. While further details will be released in time, the government has been exploring existing avenues, such as Core Maths qualifications and T-Levels, among other options.

    Emphasising the importance it attaches to the education sector, the government had announced in its Autumn Statement that it would invest an additional £2 billion in schools in 2023 and a further £2 billion in the next year, thus taking school funding to its highest level ever.
    Expand
  3. 3. Shortage of Teachers: The Biggest Impediment To Sunak's Plan

    The government's announcement has been met with mixed reactions. While some have hailed the decision, supporting the view that enhanced maths skills will improve the employability of students when they graduate, others have cast aspersions on the practicality of Sunak's ambitious plans.

    The Association of School and College Leaders said, for instance, that there is currently a "severe shortage of maths teachers" in UK schools, thus making the plan "currently unachievable", the BBC reported.

    In 2021, there were 35,771 maths teachers working at state secondary schools across Britain, less than English teachers (39,000) and science teachers (45,000).

    While the number of maths teachers in the country has risen by 9 percent from 2012, several shortages have been reported across England.

    On the other hand, Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, hailed Sunak's decision, saying that the focus should be on "giving young people the practical maths skills that they need in the workplace and in their everyday lives."

    Expand
  4. 4. 'Empty Pledge': Opposition Slams Sunak

    Several Labour Party members also criticised Sunak's decision, calling it an "empty pledge" and "unworkable" in the short-term.

    Bridget Phillipson, the Labour Party's shadow education secretary, asked the prime minister to "show his working" on how his plan 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," Phillipson said.

    Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson labelled the plan "an admission of failure" from the PM on behalf of a Conservative government that has "neglected our children's education so badly."

    Even a member of Sunak's own party cautioned that while the plan is ambitious, it will not work unless a proper approach is followed.

    "It's great to hear the prime minister today committing to maths beyond 16, 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," Tory MP Robin Walker told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

    (With inputs from BBC.)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Did Sunak Say?

In his first speech in 2023, Sunak explained why studying maths is important for all students, as it will help them with innumeracy and assist them as they take on jobs in modern working environments.

"This is personal for me. Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive," Sunak said, adding, "It’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education."

Reiterating his vision for the education sector, the Indian-origin prime minister said that with the right plan, there was no reason that the UK would not be able to rival the best education systems in the world.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

The Rationale Behind Sunak's Plan

According to a release from 10 Downing Street, around eight million adults in Britain have the numeracy skills of primary school children.

Further, only around half of 16-19 year olds study any maths at all, and the problem is particularly acute for disadvantaged students – 60 percent of whom do not have any basic maths skills at age 16.

"Despite these poor standards, the UK remains one of the only countries in the world to not to require children to study some form of maths up to the age of 18," the release from Downing Street said.

This includes the majority of OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Finland, Japan, Norway, and the USA.

"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."
Rishi Sunak

Further explaining the need for this plan, the government said that studying maths till the age of 18 will equip young people with the quantitative and statistical skills that they will need for current and future jobs.

"This includes having the right skills to feel confident with finances in later life, including finding the best mortgage deal or savings rate," the release asserted.

However, the government clarified that it does not envisage making maths A-Level compulsory for all 16-year-olds. While further details will be released in time, the government has been exploring existing avenues, such as Core Maths qualifications and T-Levels, among other options.

Emphasising the importance it attaches to the education sector, the government had announced in its Autumn Statement that it would invest an additional £2 billion in schools in 2023 and a further £2 billion in the next year, thus taking school funding to its highest level ever.
0

Shortage of Teachers: The Biggest Impediment To Sunak's Plan

The government's announcement has been met with mixed reactions. While some have hailed the decision, supporting the view that enhanced maths skills will improve the employability of students when they graduate, others have cast aspersions on the practicality of Sunak's ambitious plans.

The Association of School and College Leaders said, for instance, that there is currently a "severe shortage of maths teachers" in UK schools, thus making the plan "currently unachievable", the BBC reported.

In 2021, there were 35,771 maths teachers working at state secondary schools across Britain, less than English teachers (39,000) and science teachers (45,000).

While the number of maths teachers in the country has risen by 9 percent from 2012, several shortages have been reported across England.

On the other hand, Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, hailed Sunak's decision, saying that the focus should be on "giving young people the practical maths skills that they need in the workplace and in their everyday lives."

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

'Empty Pledge': Opposition Slams Sunak

Several Labour Party members also criticised Sunak's decision, calling it an "empty pledge" and "unworkable" in the short-term.

Bridget Phillipson, the Labour Party's shadow education secretary, asked the prime minister to "show his working" on how his plan 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," Phillipson said.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson labelled the plan "an admission of failure" from the PM on behalf of a Conservative government that has "neglected our children's education so badly."

Even a member of Sunak's own party cautioned that while the plan is ambitious, it will not work unless a proper approach is followed.

"It's great to hear the prime minister today committing to maths beyond 16, 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," Tory MP Robin Walker told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

(With inputs from BBC.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Britain   Maths   Rishi Sunak 

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