LONDON – UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will announce plans on Wednesday to force schoolchildren in England to study maths until the age of 18, according to a Downing Street briefing. The initiative attempts to tackle the myriad and better equip young people for work.
In his first speech in 2023, Sunak is expected to outline plans for mathematics to be offered through alternative qualification routes. In comparison, traditional subject-based A-Levels qualifications allow secondary school students in England to choose academic subjects to study between the ages of 16 and 18.
The Prime Minister may also use the speech to address the litany of issues facing the country as she seeks to strengthen her government’s position after a chaotic 2022 for the ruling Conservative Party and the UK economy.
The UK is grappling with a winter of mass strikes by public sector workers, a looming prolonged recession, unprecedented pressure on the country’s National Health Service and a cost-of-living crisis that is straining households.
Sunak’s proposals for education would only apply to pupils in England. Education is a devolved matter, with the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish authorities managing their own systems.
Schooling in England is only compulsory until the age of 16, after which children can opt for further academic qualifications such as A-Levels or alternative qualifications, or vocational training.
The prime minister is expected to say in his speech on Wednesday that the issue of compulsory maths is “personal” to him.
“Every opportunity I’ve had in life started with the education I was lucky enough to receive. And that’s the single most important reason why I entered politics: to give every child the highest possible level of education,” he says.
Sunak attended prestigious fee-paying institutions – Stroud School and Winchester College – before studying at Oxford University.
He is expected to acknowledge that the planned overhaul will be difficult and time-consuming, with work starting during the current term and finishing in the next.
The future of the policy would thus remain uncertain if Sunak’s Conservative Party loses the next general election scheduled for 2024. The main opposition Labor Party currently holds a significant lead in the polls.
A government briefing on Wednesday morning highlighted that around 8 million adults in England have numeracy skills as children at primary school, while 60% of disadvantaged pupils do not have basic maths skills by the age of 16.
“One of the biggest changes in thinking we need in education today is to rethink our approach to numeracy,” Sunak is expected to say.
“Right now only half of all 16-19 year olds are studying any maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpins every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson slammed the plans as an “empty promise” and pointed to the government’s teacher recruitment record.
“He can’t deliver on this lukewarm, empty promise without more math teachers, but the government has missed its target for new math teachers year after year, and current teachers have been leaving in droves,” she said, according to several news outlets.
“Now the maths gaps are widening, but Rishi Sunak as chancellor said the country has ‘maximised’ Covid recovery support for our children.”
Labor has pledged to end tax credits for private schools and use the proceeds to invest in training an extra 6,500 teachers across the country.