In his first speech of 2023, the Prime Minister will set out his priorities for the year ahead and ambition for a better future for Britain. He has a lot on his plate with a crumbling NHS just for starters.
The PM will commit to taking the necessary action to deliver for the long term on issues such as low numeracy rates.
Today, he is expected to say he wants all young people to study some form of maths until 18, due to poor levels of numeracy in the country. He will commit to starting the work of introducing maths to 18 in this Parliament and finishing it in the next.
It appears that around 8 million adults in England have the numeracy skills of primary school children. Currently only around half of 16-19 year olds study any maths at all and the problem is particularly acute for disadvantaged pupils, 60% of whom do not have basic maths skills at age 16.
Despite these poor standards (which have come about how?) the UK remains one of the only countries in the world to not to require children to study some form of maths up to the age of 18. This includes the majority of OECD countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Finland, Japan, Norway and the USA.
The Prime Minister will say:
One of the biggest changes in mindset we need in education today is to reimagine our approach to numeracy.
Right now, just half of all 16–19-year-olds study any maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before.
And letting our children out into the world without those skills, is letting our children down”.
Maths to 18 will equip young people with the quantitative and statistical skills that they will need for the jobs of today and the future. This includes having the right skills to feel confident with finances in later life, including finding the best mortgage deal or savings rate.
The government’s focus on literacy since 2010, including phonics, has apparently led to significant improvements in standards, though it can be hard to spot. In 2012, only 58% of 6-year-olds were able to read words fluently. By 2019, the figure had risen to 82%.
The government does not envisage making maths A-Level compulsory for all 16-year-olds, which is a relief as currently most people would not want to or be able to do it.
Further detail will be set out later but the government is exploring existing routes, such as the Core Maths qualifications and T-Levels, as well as more innovative options.