Sunak's plans for all to study maths until age 18
The Head's Study
School Maths lessons were one of my least favourite subjects. Despite working assiduously at the DIY cards that were all the rage at the time, translating this to the demands of GCSE was challenging and it was with relief that I chose the humanities route at A level. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised to discover at Law School that I enjoyed the binary nature of tax and the maths it entailed. On reflection this was, perhaps, one of my earlier lessons in lifelong learning and positive mindset well before any such term had been coined.
Sunak’s announcement on maths being studied by all until 18 raises a lot of questions not least why the gold standard of our recently reformed Maths GCSE now needs propping up with additional qualifications. The issue of a specialist teacher shortage particularly in the maintained sector is a further concern particularly if additional expectations are to be placed on them. No one doubts the importance of numeracy in a world where it touches seemingly all jobs, however, is an additional compulsory qualification at 18 the answer? I would argue not, although access to various maths routes combined with exposure to a wide range of finance-based experiences to build confidence in numeracy at Sixth Form is.
Girls and their attitude to maths is one of the most common questions I discuss with parents looking round the Senior School. So many are apologetic about their daughter’s poor maths or are worried about her struggles with numeracy. Fast forward to my half term discussions with our Year 7 starters and I love the fact that so many of them, in response to the question – ‘What are you enjoying the most about being at Royal High School?’; answer – Maths lessons. When you drill down what becomes clear is that their confidence has grown significantly: the confidence to speak up when they don’t understand; the confidence to make mistakes and then unravel where they went wrong; the confidence to try challenging maths they were never exposed to at Primary or Prep school.
Fast forward a further five years to the year groups Sunak is targeting and close to 50% of our Sixth Formers choose to continue with maths. All our IB girls take maths at either standard or higher level while those choosing the A level pathway can opt for AS Maths as part of the enrichment programme to complement their A levels or they can choose for a full A level with or without Further Maths.
But the practical application of numeracy does not stop there. We have plenty of financial focus in the ‘Life Skills’ sessions delivered in vertical groups in Sixth Form tutor time including: payslips and tax; managing your money; cooking on a budget; and later this year we will be looking at mortgages. These are all topics requested by students as practical maths applications to help them with their financial skills.
Financial acumen was something identified by the GDST’s Girls’ Futures Report 2022. In data drawn from a nationally representative sample of girls aged 14-18 only 10% felt their schools prepared them with the financial skills needed whereas 70% of girls recognised the importance of a financial education and wanted more of this in school. Interestingly the GDST cohort of girls questioned were the group that scored most highly in this question, above national boys and national girls, in feeling prepared for the adult world, including through their financial education. GDST schools are listening to girls and ensuring part of their pioneering girls’ education includes the financial numeracy crucial for women keen to make their mark in the modern workforce.
Last week’s episode of ‘The Apprentice’ showed how essential maths can be. It is not enough to have a good idea; you also need confidence in your numeracy skills to perform key sums under pressure accurately. I shall be checking that maths calculation (45x400) with our Sixth Formers to ensure their Life Skills lessons are paying dividends.