Together we can deliver maths excellence in every class

Maths is a powerful driver of social mobility and we must do more to ensure more disadvantaged students stay on the excellence pathway, writes Simon Coyle

Maths is a powerful driver of social mobility and we must do more to ensure more disadvantaged students stay on the excellence pathway, writes Simon Coyle

29 May 2023, 6:46

Years ago, I co-founded a charity called The Brilliant Club, which supports PhD tutors to deliver courses based on their research to school students.

From this, I saw how students can benefit from a curriculum that is diverse, interdisciplinary and – on occasion – wildly esoteric. 

Today, as head of philanthropy at XTX Markets, an algorithmic trading company, my focus is on ensuring that all students can excel in maths.

And while I still believe that every subject has its place, maths is undeniably special. As well as being a foundational science, it is a powerful driver of social mobility and economic prosperity.

Adults with low numeracy tend to experience negative effects on their continuing education, earnings and quality of life.

Conversely, adults with advanced maths skills benefit from a valuable toolkit for study and in life, and command a significant salary premium.

Three million jobs in England currently require advanced maths skills. This will only increase in the years ahead, driven by growth industries like data science and technology.

Mathematical sciences research is a major contributor to the economy, including breakthrough discoveries and the development of public goods.

The UK rightly aspires to be a leader in these areas, but this is only possible with outstanding maths education.

Over the past decade, there has been some remarkable progress. Last year, 71 per cent of 11-year-olds in England achieved the expected standard, and maths is now the most popular A level with 90,000 entries every year.

However, we face persistent challenges. While students achieve well at age 11, the upward trend in GCSE performance has stalled.

And although more students are taking A level, this is not translating into more maths undergraduates. We also desperately need more specialist teachers, as only 44 per cent of teachers of secondary maths have a maths-related degree.

At XTX Markets, our philanthropy focuses on supporting disadvantaged students to progress to A level, university and into mathematical careers.

Our priority is to help schools serving disadvantaged communities to provide outstanding support for their high-potential students

We have already committed over £20 million to maths education projects, including establishing ‘maths circles’ through MESME, piloting a key stage 4 curriculum with Mathematics Mastery, and campaigning to protect pure maths in universities.

We are also incubating initiatives like the Martingale Foundation, which enables students from low-income backgrounds to complete master’s degrees and PhDs in maths.

We recently partnered with the University of Nottingham to publish Maths Excellence Pathways, a longitudinal study into which groups of students excel in maths, including where they join and leave the ‘excellence pathway’.

This highlighted major disparities. For example, 74 per cent of the most advantaged students stay on the excellence pathway from 11 to 16, compared with only 49 per cent of students on free school meals.

Building on this research, XTX Markets is now prioritising several areas for funding, including attainment from 11 to 16 and progression to A level. These should both be key considerations for the prime minister’s ambition to extend maths to 18.

Our priority is to help schools serving disadvantaged communities to provide outstanding support for their high-potential students.

To that end, our funding will combine direct support for schools with support for charities that work with schools, including curriculum, enrichment, tutoring and teacher development. 

As a next step, we are working with partners to launch a new Maths Excellence Fund, worth at least £5 million. This will develop, test and evaluate collaborative ways to increase attainment and progression from 11 to 18. The fund will open in June 2023 and will initially support groups of local schools, then expand nationally as we better understand what is working.

We are committed to help transform maths education, but we do not have all the answers. So, in the coming months we will be holding events and inviting engagement from teachers, schools leaders, charities, universities and policymakers on all sides. 

Together, we want to advance the conversation around how to make maths excellence a reality in every school. If you would like to join that conversation, my inbox is open.

Join the conversation.
You can email Simon Coyle on

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One comment

  1. Sharon Brown

    Not sure I agree with the link between quality of life and ability in advanced maths. From my experience it’s the favouritism of academic over creative/vocational ability that ruins a child’s self confidence and self esteem which leads to lower quality of life. If you can’t do A you are a failure, rather than recognising that actually your strengths lie in B, so a has less of an impact in your life’s trajectory. We need to see a wider application of maths across all vocations.