As easy at 1,2,3? How to solve England’s maths crisis - RSA

As easy at 1,2,3? How to solve England’s maths crisis

Press release

  • Education
  • Curriculum
  • Teaching

English mathematics education is not fit for purpose and is damaging the UK’s competitiveness, according to a report published by the RSA.

Solving the maths problem shows how English maths education has fallen behind other OECD countries with one in four adults considered functionally innumerate.

View the Solving the maths problem report

The report concludes that lessons can be learnt from places such as Hong Kong, where all students study mathematics until entering university or joining the work place.

Scotland too was found to outperform its neighbours with a quarter of their students studying maths until at least 18 compared with only 15 percent of their English counterparts.

Building on the recent report by Carol Vorderman into the future of English mathematics, 'Solving the maths problem' draws on international examples of best practice to lay out guiding principles behind future mathematics reform including:

  • The need to provide flexible, bi-level qualifications that allow students to progress at their own speed and aim for the highest possible grade (as per National 4 and 5 in Scotland). On this basis the linked pair of mathematics GCSEs currently being piloted should be rolled out across England.Upper secondary maths education should extend beyond re-takes even for students who have not gained GCSE Mathematics.

  • Further consideration of making mathematics compulsory for all students in upper secondary education is needed and should draw on Hong Kong’s experience.

  • The importance of incorporating both functional and academic elements (including arithmetic) in secondary and upper secondary education.

  • Designing assessment arrangements that limit performativity (teaching to the test), for instance through some element of teacher-led assessment for students studying foundation-level qualifications.

  • Recognising that too much diversity in qualification-type can be confusing for students, education-providers and employers and that diversity in curriculum content would be a better route for meeting diverse learner needs (as with the Scottish Higher and Hong Kong's NSS).

  • Once the pilot and evaluation of the linked pair GCSEs is complete, the mathematics community should come together over a one or two day period to consider the big picture and learning from overseas, and develop definitive recommendations for the future of maths education in England.

Commenting on the findings, RSA Associate Director Emma Norris said:

"With nearly 50 percent of our students failing to achieve GCSE mathematics, long term reform should be an urgent priority for ministers. English students would benefit from maths education that’s flexible to learner needs, rather than the regimented exam - driven approach that currently characterises England’s mathematics qualifications."

'Solving the maths problem' found that many students do not realise that mathematics is necessary for success in a range of higher education subjects such as psychology, social sciences and human sciences. The limited mathematical facility of university teachers also means English universities are not keeping pace with international standards.

View the Solving the maths problem report

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