Major alterations in maths education are critical or we risk our future economic prosperity. And there should be compulsory maths in some form until the age of 18.
These are among the key conclusions of an independent report commissioned by the Conservative Party in 2009 and carried out by a task force assembled and led by Carol Vorderman.
Every year more than 300,000 sixteen year olds conclude their GCSE Maths course unable to function properly in either their work or personal lives, says the report. By age 16, there is a 10 year learning gap between the highest and lowest achieving students and after 11 years of being taught maths, many of our students have learnt to fear and hate the subject.
With maths requirements in the workplace having increased significantly over the last 20 years, we are putting our economic prosperity in jeopardy without rapid changes.
The report, entitled 'A world-class mathematics education for ALL our young people', argues that the problems many young people experience in their maths education become entrenched during primary and the early years of secondary school. A child's mathematical 'career' is effectively determined by the age of 11. 90% of those who fail to achieve the SAT target (Level 4) at age 11 will go on to 'fail' GCSE. Conversely, 94% of those who surpass the target (Level 5) will 'pass' GCSE.
Vorderman's team makes a number of recommendations to address the critical issues and build 'a world-class mathematics education for ALL our young people.' As well as compulsory maths until 18, these include replacing the present GCSE maths system with one offering two GCSEs and improving the mathematics subject knowledge of primary school teachers and new trainees and addressing what is, in many cases, a lack of confidence.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said:
"As Carol and her team point out so powerfully, we are falling behind our competitors when it comes to mathematics education. British 15 year olds' mathematics skills are now more than two whole academic years behind 15 year olds in Shanghai, and the last decade has seen us plummet down the international league tables in both Maths and Science.
"This comprehensive report, looking at all the important areas, will be of great help as the Government continues its drive to equip our children with the skills that they need to compete with their global contemporaries and thrive in the 21st Century.
Carol Vorderman said:
"Mathematics is a 'critically important' subject. It is a language without which the entire global infrastructure is struck dumb.
"This report does not make comfortable reading. It is aspirational but this does NOT mean making maths 'harder' for everyone, it means making the teaching better, and what is taught much more suitable for those who are learning it. The curriculum which exists is a trickled down version of the needs of the most talented. In my view, it is pointless for most 14 year olds starting their GCSE courses, to be force-fed mathematical topics which they will never use, when what they desperately need is to become more comfortable with numbers including percentages and fractions used in the world of finance.
"The top 15% are important but so is everyone else. Education must be about all of our young people in future and we must stop pretending otherwise."
Sir John Holman, Professor of Chemistry at the University of York and Senior Fellow for Education at the Wellcome Trust, said:
"I welcome Carol's clear no-nonsense report. For too long we have stood and watched mathematics education stagnate while academic study and the workplace have steadily increased their quantitative demands. We do no-one any favours by pretending that mathematics is something you can get by without, and I particularly welcome the strong recommendation that everyone should continue with some form of mathematical study beyond the age of 16."
Charlie Stripp, Chief Executive of the Charity Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) said:
"Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) strongly welcomes this report. It gives a thorough analysis of the issues in mathematics education that are preventing young people from learning the mathematics they need, and gives practical examples to show how many of these issues can be addressed.
It is vital that action is taken to follow its recommendations, which can enable our young people to have a truly world-class mathematics education and so help provide the workforce we need to compete successfully in international markets."
Professor Dame Julia Higgins, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics (ACME), said:
"We are pleased to see the importance of an excellent mathematical education being highlighted by another major report. Carol's work taps into one of the biggest concerns of not only the mathematics community, but also of higher education and business, that too few people study mathematics up to the age of 18.
Susan Anderson, CBI Director for Education & Skills policy, said:
"Maths is a subject of critical importance, and this report rightly highlights that there needs to be more focus on teaching 'useful maths' that is relevant for future employment and day-to-day life.
"Businesses are most concerned about basic levels of numeracy and it's alarming that more than one in five 16-19 year olds are considered functionally innumerate.
"To help address this problem, all young people should continue to study some form of maths until the age of 18. Pupils with good maths ability should continue to study the full curriculum, but all pupils, regardless of ability, should go on to study a functional numeracy qualification."
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