The Channel 4 series Educating Cardiff is a brilliant portrait of school life and, along with its predecessors set in Essex and Yorkshire, it is doing much to shine a light on secondary education in modern Britain.
In one particularly telling moment in the current series, a pupil sums up the mood of generations of GCSE maths students, by grumbling: “When are you ever gonna need Pythagoras in your life?”
It’s an attitude faced by teachers up and down the UK, who work tirelessly to motivate their pupils to learn skills that many see as unnecessary for their futures. But perhaps, dare we hope, the latest move by the Government will change their mind.
This week, scores of students aged 16 and up will begin studying Level 3 Core Maths – a workplace-relevant qualification that provides a high standard of maths in a real world context. Students will learn practical skills such as how to use maths to inform business decision making, how to identify trends, calculate interest rates or how and why statistics are used in a business context.
It should appeal to those who want to improve their skills either for further education or for the workplace and is particularly useful for those hoping to become managers or seeking careers in areas such as marketing or finance where a good grasp of numbers is invaluable.
The qualification’s introduction by the Department for Education ought to be welcomed by learners, schools, colleges and employers alike. It’s not just pupils in Cardiff who fail to see the relevance of maths; many entrants to employment, even those with good grades at GCSE, lack confidence in their mathematical abilities and are often unable to transfer skills to new or unfamiliar contexts and problems.
Employers express similar concerns and stress the importance of the ability to think mathematically, solve problems, work with “big data” and communicate mathematically to ensure young people’s success and progression in the modern workplace.
Core Maths has been introduced to address these concerns. The aim is to increase the study of maths post 16, as well as to develop learners’ confidence with a qualification that is relevant and engaging to their future study and employment goals.
It can used to complement other more traditional academic study and support for entry into general higher education and transition to work beyond that. It will also be an ideal study option when used alongside more extensive technical education options such as the new TechBaccs and more direct preparation for employment.
City & Guilds is proud to have been part of reimagining new and engaging ways to teach and learn this much maligned subject post GCSE. In developing our ‘Using and applying mathematics’ qualification we worked closely with a number of employers to ensure that our qualification is credible, realistic and most importantly relevant to their needs. We’ve also been particularly open to use of digital tools in learning and assessment. No one hand draws graphs or handwrites reports at work, so why would we insist on this in exams?
The emphasis overall has been on making it as realistic as possible – as well as making it engaging for learners believe that the introduction of this new qualification will help drive up standards in the UK and to ensure that employers have the skilled and talented workforce they need to thrive.
And it’s great to see employers backing this qualification already as it demonstrates that the UK education system is really beginning to respond to the needs of business and that we’re starting to hit the nail on the head.
Not every young person is going to be a fan of Pythagoras. But maths does matter so it’s crucially important we find some way of engaging them in learning it. I know that, you know that, and employers definitely know that.
Proficiency with maths improves their life chances and gives them a competitive edge in the global jobs market. It’s a vital life skill that young people should be encouraged to maintain. Finding a way for more students to continue studying the subject in a way that they find both appealing and relevant can only be good for them now and in the future.