Here's why UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants all students to study Math until age 18

Critics point out that Britain is facing a severe shortage of Math lecturers, which can derail PM Sunak's proposed plans
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak | Pic: Flickr
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak | Pic: Flickr

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has revealed that he wants students in the United Kingdom to learn Mathematics at least until the age of 18 in schools. 

"We're one of the few countries not to require our children to study some form of maths up to the age of 18. Right now, just half of all 16-19-year-olds study any maths at all," Sunak said in his first speech of 2023, according to PTI.

"In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, letting our children out into that world without those skills, is letting our children down. So we need to go further," the prime minister said, adding that he was making numeracy a central objective of the education system.

"That doesn't have to mean compulsory A level in Math for everyone. But we will work with the sector to move towards all children studying some form of Math to 18," he said. It is not clear what the plans will mean for students who wish to study humanities or creative arts qualifications, including BTecs, and no new qualifications are immediately planned and there are no plans to make A-levels compulsory, according to PTI.

The government is instead exploring and expanding existing qualifications as well as "more innovative options", a Downing Street spokesperson told PTI. The idea appears to be an aspiration rather than a fully developed policy, with the precise mechanics for how it would work not set out.

The government acknowledges it would not be possible to implement before the next general election, although the prime minister is expected to begin working on the plan in this parliament, the BBC said. The Association of School and College Leaders, however, told PTI there was a "chronic national shortage of Math teachers" in the UK.

And Labour's shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson called on Sunak to "show his working" on how greater participation in Math will be funded. "He cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more Math teachers, yet the government has missed their target for new Math teachers year after year," she said.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Munira Wilson, called the aim "an admission of failure from the prime minister on behalf of a Conservative government that has neglected our children's education so badly". "Too many children are being left behind when it comes to Math and that happens well before they reach 16," she added.

Tory MP Robin Walker, who is chair of the education committee, urged the prime minister to focus on childcare. "It's great to hear the prime minister today committing to Math beyond 16," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "But if we don't get the right approach to stimulating and supporting children early on, they won't have the opportunities to thrive in the school system."

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