Rishi Sunak’s objective for all children to study some form of maths until the age of 18 has several barriers in its way, three leading education experts have made clear.
The Prime Minister announced his ‘Maths to 18’ plan earlier this year including the establishment of a new advisory group.
However, in a joint article published by The University of Manchester’s policy engagement unit Policy@Manchester, Professors Maria Pampaka, Laura Black and Julian Williams set out a series of challenges facing Mr Sunak and offer recommendations to improve his chances of success.
The academics warn that current maths teaching practices are largely perceived to be “transmissionist” or “traditional, teaching to the test.” They write: “This teaching practice has been found to be negatively associated with students’ dispositions to engage with mathematics,” in contrast to “more student-centred and interactive approaches” which are preferred by students and teachers.
Linked to this, they argue that a transformation of the curriculum, teaching methods and assessment is required, “one that values engagement, enjoyment, confidence and inclusion as much as, or more than attainment.” This, they state, “is important for both learners and teachers.”
The University of Manchester experts highlight the increasing demands in teaching post-16 maths and call for “an expansion of the pool of confident, well qualified, and motivated teachers at a time when the profession is currently losing people.”
They say: “Teachers – like nurses and other public service staff – are abandoning their profession for a variety of reasons but are citing that this is not just about pay, but also conditions in the workplace and the kind of pressures that Ofsted impose.”
Professors Pampaka, Black and Williams also raise concerns over low interest and appreciation for maths amongst some pupils studying the subject, together with high anxiety levels. They add: “The evidence points particularly to gender, but other characteristics, like social and ethnic background, are equally important.”
Their article concludes: “Decades of education policy focussed on raising attainment has been most successful in discouraging engagement with mathematics learning and teaching.
“Increasing mathematics education for all, especially to age 18, will require policymakers to pay renewed attention to emotional aspects, i.e. the joys of mathematics.”
“Calculating the benefits – maths to 18,” is available to read on the Policy@Manchester website.