UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has proposed making the study of mathematics compulsory for all students in England up to the age of 18, to help young people “in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job”.
Extending compulsory maths education past 16 is not a new idea. It has been suggested by other ministers and has failed to materialise. What is clear, though, is that the prime minister’s reasoning is grounded in fact. There is a mathematical skills shortage in the UK.
The government’s 2017 Smith Review found that only around 20% of students on non-STEM degrees in higher education have studied mathematics after the age of 16. A Nuffield Foundation report, which compared England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to 20 other developed nations (including Estonia, Spain, Japan, Korea and Russia) found that they were four of only six countries that did not require any mathematics study after 16.
What’s more, around half of adults in the UK are reported to have the same level of numeracy as is expected of a child at primary school. This lack of maths skills has been estimated to cost the UK £20 billion per year.
However, Sunak’s plan has been met with criticism. A hurdle to the idea to extend maths teaching is the widespread shortage of maths teachers. This shortage is compounded by teachers leaving the profession. Approximately a third of all teachers have left five years after qualifying.
There are also issues of funding. Schools have had to make