Tell us what you think: Norfolk MP calls for compulsory maths until the age of 18
06:00 21 June 2012
ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC © 2009
Elizabeth Truss urges reform as UK lags behind other countries in attainment
A Norfolk MP is calling on compulsory maths for all students to the age of 18 in the face of a “strategic weakness” in the subject.
Elizabeth Truss is urging the Government to adopt reforms to coincide with the raising of the school leaving age to 18 in 2015.
The South West Norfolk MP is calling for a radical shake-up of maths and the introduction of three new levels of competence in the subject with students having to study it until they leave school.
Ms Truss said poor attainment in maths was “hampering” the UK economy.
“The Government needs to take urgent action to address the lack of mathematics attainment in schools. Current failings are hampering social mobility and the UK’s long-term competitiveness. Let’s make this year the year that we start to climb back to the top of the maths table,” she said.
Students at comprehensive schools losing out in particular, according to Ms Truss, with pupils being half as likely to study maths A Level as their independent sector peers.
Only 50pc of comprehensive schools offer A Level at further maths, a subject required for top universities.
The principal of King’s Lynn Academy, a specialist maths provider, said there was a need to look at how maths is taught and revise it so students are more engaged to find the subject “practical and exciting.”
Victoria Musgrave, principal of Wymondham High Academy, said the idea had potential: “Mathematics is a vital aspect of a student’s knowledge and it does make some sense for all students to be ‘required’ to study Mathematics to 18 (to some level). I know this is how Scandinavian countries operate and having just returned from a working trip to China, visiting schools there, it is clear that mathematics is a major focus in Shanghai and the rest of China.
“My concerns would centre on recruiting sufficient well-qualified mathematics teachers to deliver the subject for ‘all’”
Rachel de Souza, principal at Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey, Norwich, who is also behind plans for the Sir Isaac Newton Free School, which is planned to become a national centre for excellence in the teaching of science and maths, said: “At Ormiston Victory Academy we encourage the uptake of maths and at Sir Isaac Newton Free School maths will be compulsory. The reason is that all of our best universities really do expect maths as a norm when they are recruiting and it’s incredibly useful out in the world.
“Employers look for it, particularly in Norfolk where we have a lot of industry which requires maths including energy, research, off-shore and engineering, and many find it hard to recruit.”
Head teacher of Smithdon High School, Hunstanton, Jonathan Goodchild said he believed maths should be made compulsory if students had not achieved at least a grade C at GCSE by the age of 16.
“If children have not reached a grade C they should pursue their studies. But if you want to go on and study science at university, for example, you already need good grades at A level, so I’m not sure what these changes would bring,” he said.
Jeremy Rowe, head at Sir John Leman High School, in Beccles, said: “Maths is certainly a very important part of the curriculum and essential for life. In principle the higher the age people are studying maths the better for the country.”
Ms Truss said that apart from medicine and veterinary science, maths was the degree with the greatest economic return. The highest starting salary of £42,600 goes to those with a maths degree from Oxford University.
But less than 20pc of students in this country continue with the subject once past the age of 16 - the lowest percentage in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The statistic puts the UK at 28th in the list of OECD countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment. The position is mid-table on the 2009 statistics, above countries including the USA but below those including Estonia and Poland.
Ms Truss said three new levels created for students aged 16 to 18: Higher maths (H Level, equivalent to current A Level) for those reading sciences at university or a highly technical apprenticeship; Preparatory maths (P level) a basis for social scientists or to accompany a vocational course in a technical or engineering field. Core maths (C Level) for arts students or those studying other vocational disciplines.