‘Anti-maths mindset’ needs to change so UK’s economy can grow, Rishi Sunak says

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The UK must end its “anti-maths mindset” so the economy can grow, Rishi Sunak will say today.

The prime minister will also announce a review into how the subject can be taught to make sure all pupils in England study some sort of maths, without the need to make it compulsory.

Back in January, Mr Sunak announced a “new mission” to ensure every student in the country studies the subject until they’re 18.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak departs 10 Downing Street, London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament. Picture date: Wednesday March 22, 2023.

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In his speech, Mr Sunak will criticise the “cultural sense that it’s okay to be bad at maths” – explaining that it puts children “at a disadvantage” for failing to equip them with skills needed in a workplace.

The UK is one of the least numerate countries among the 38 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) advanced economies, and is one of the few nations worldwide that does not require its students to learn maths up until they are 18.

Downing Street claims about a third of children fail to pass GCSE maths, and more than eight million adults have numeracy skills below those expected of a nine-year-old.

“We’ve got to change this anti-maths mindset. We’ve got to start prizing numeracy for what it is – a key skill every bit as essential as reading,” Mr Sunak will tell a room of business leaders, students and teachers.

“I won’t sit back and allow this cultural sense that it’s okay to be bad at maths to put our children at a disadvantage.

“My campaign to transform our national approach to maths is not some nice-to-have. It’s about changing how we value maths in this country.”

He will add: “We simply cannot allow poor numeracy to cost our economy tens of billions a year or to leave people twice as likely to be unemployed as those with competent numeracy.

“We have to fundamentally change our education system, so it gives our young people the knowledge and skills they need – and that our businesses need – to compete with the best in the world.”

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There are critics to the plan though, with some teachers and education experts warning the pledge will not address major problems in education, including a shortage of maths teachers.

Mr Sunak said the changes will not happen “overnight” – and an advisory group will be formed to assist the government that will include mathematicians, education leaders and business representatives.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “Once again, the prime minister needs to show his working: he cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers.

“But after 13 years of failing our children, the Tory government repeatedly misses their target for new maths teachers, with maths attainment gaps widening and existing teachers leaving in their droves.

“Labour does not need a new advisory group to make the right choices for our children. We will drive up standards in every corner of our country by investing in thousands more teachers, including maths teachers, by ending tax breaks for private schools.”

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Sam Sims, chief executive of the charity National Numeracy, said: “Addressing poor numeracy needs to start much earlier than 16. We need a cradle to career vision for numeracy in the UK.”

However, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said: “It seems like an attempt to divert attention away from the most pressing matter in education in England which is the industrial dispute triggered by the erosion of teacher pay and conditions and resulting crisis in recruiting and retaining enough staff.

“These severe shortages directly undermine the prime minister’s ambition because it means there are not enough maths teachers to deliver even the existing requirements let alone extend maths to every pupil to the age of 18.”

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