PM’s ‘maths to 18’ plan must tackle ‘chronic’ teacher shortages, say experts

Rishi Sunak’s first speech of the year will include a new mission to combat high rates of innumeracy in England.

04 January 2023

Rishi Sunak must tackle “chronic” shortages of maths teachers if his plans for all pupils in England to study some form of the subject until the age of 18 are to work, education experts have warned.

The Prime Minister will lay out his priorities for the year ahead in a speech on Wednesday afternoon, which will include a new mission to combat high rates of innumeracy in England.

Mr Sunak, who is expected to commit to starting the work in this Parliament and finish it in the next week, will say he sees “no reason” why “we cannot rival the best education systems in the world”.

Education experts welcomed the move but also reacted to the plans with caution, saying “already-chronic” maths teacher shortages must be tackled.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the Prime Minister needs to show the plan is “based on solid research and is not a pet project”.

He added: “We would also want to hear how such a policy would avoid exacerbating the already-chronic national shortage of maths teachers.”

David Robinson, director for post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute, said they “welcome the efforts to increase the study of maths beyond GSCE” but added that there are some “major issues” that need to be addressed.

“Firstly, to successfully implement such a policy, the Government will need to address the existing shortfall of qualified maths teachers, and to increase funding levels for 16-18 years to match that of secondary age students,” he said.

“Secondly, any new maths provision must work not just for those studying A-levels, but also for the majority of students studying vocational and technical qualifications.

“Finally, many pupils already fail to master maths by age 16 and many of these have fallen further behind during the pandemic. The Government will need to help these pupils to close the gap before a major post 16 expansion can be a success.”

Catherine Sezen, education director of the Association of Colleges, said: “To achieve the Prime Minister’s ambition for all young people to continue studying maths post-16, the sums must add up, with appropriate qualifications for students working at different levels, adequate staffing levels, and sustainable funding for colleges and sixth forms.”

She added: “Poor 16-18 funding is a big obstacle to recruiting and retaining staff to teach maths for all.

“Maths teacher recruitment incentives are paid to schools but not colleges, and funding per student drops 20% at age 16 for no good reason – this requires urgent attention.”

The UK remains one of the only countries in the world that does not require children to study some form of maths up to the age of 18.

The Government does not apparently envisage making maths A-level compulsory for all 16-year-olds and further details will be set out in due course.

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