What’s actually new in Sunak’s maths to 18 (re)announcement?

The prime minister sets out new expert group, primary teacher NPQ and extended maths hubs in bid to tackle 'anti-maths mindset'

The prime minister sets out new expert group, primary teacher NPQ and extended maths hubs in bid to tackle 'anti-maths mindset'

17 Apr 2023, 13:13

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Rishi Sunak has relaunched his plan to ensure maths is studied up to 16 in England

The prime minister has restated his pledge to make maths education up to 18 compulsory today – with parts of his speech getting lots of national media coverage again.

Rishi Sunak first underlined the “ambition” – which will not be realised during the course of this parliament – back in January. Today he reannounced the commitment alongside a few smaller scale policies linked to maths. Here’s what you need to know …

1. Expert group to come up with plan …

Let’s start with the *new* stuff. Sunak announced a new advisory group to work out what maths content students should study up to the age of 18.

The group – full details of its members and their remit here – will take evidence from countries with high rates of post-16 numeracy and UK employers.

It will also advise on whether a new maths qualification will be required for 16 to 18-year-olds.

2. … ‘rough timescale’ for ‘next steps’ later this year

Sunak said he expected the expert advisory group to deliver its recommendations in July.

He added the government would be outlining a “rough timescale on the next steps” of the plan later in the year.

As we reported earlier this year, the PM had only previously committed to *starting work to introduce the policy* in this parliament, acknowledging the *actual* reforms would not be achieved until 2025 at the earliest.

3. New maths NPQ for primary teachers

Sunak also promised a new national professional qualification (NPQ) for teachers leading maths in primary schools.

This would teach participants “how to train other teachers how to embed mastery pedagogy,” education secretary Gillian Keegan said in a written statement.

It will be available to all primary schools from February 2024, with the first cohort of participants “fully funded”.

There will also be an updated ‘Targeted Support Fund’ on offer to incentivise staff to take part, including in the smallest schools, for the 2023-24 academic year.

Keegan said the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education would also work with employers to review the maths content in apprenticeships.

4. Maths hubs extended …

Sunak announced that several existing programmes would be extended. This includes maths hubs, which currently support teachers and leaders from schools and colleges with professional development in teaching the subject.

There are currently 40 ran by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM). Education software firm Tribal has a two-year, £8.6 million contract to deliver the programme up to August next year.

However, the government does not plan to increase the number of hubs.

Instead it will extend how many schools are reached by the scheme.

According to the NCETM’s latest annual report, 52 per cent of all schools received support from maths hubs in 2021-22.

Government said today this would be extended to 75 per cent of primaries and 65 per cent of secondaries by 2025.

Intensive maths hub support will also be introduced for “the schools that need it most”, with further support for staff teaching 16 to 19-year-olds resitting maths GCSE or functional skills qualifications.

There are no details so far on whether this requires additional funding.

5. … as is primary maths support scheme

Meanwhile the Mastering Number programme, which supports children in the first years of primary school, will be extended to reach 8,000 schools by 2024, government said.

The programme, delivered by maths hubs, will also be expanded to years 4 and 5.

A “financial incentive pilot” will also be launched to support those with the relevant knowledge and industry experience to retrain as FE teachers in some of the hardest-to-fill subjects, including maths.

The scheme, starting this year, will support up to 355 teachers and be delivered as part of the existing Taking Teaching Further programme.

6. Sunak admits: ‘We need more teachers’ …

A main point of contention for critics is the woeful teacher recruitment and retention numbers.

Sunak said this morning the government was “not going to deliver this change overnight”, adding that it needed to “recruit and train the maths teachers… We need already and we will need more maths teachers and we know that.”

However Sunak pointed to the £27,000 bursary for maths teacher trainees. He said that “most people will see that that’s a significant sum to incentivise” new recruits and “things are improving” because of bursary rises and new early years careers payments.

The government met 90 per cent of its secondary ITT target for maths teachers in the last two years – recruiting 2,523 new teachers in 2021-22 and 1,844 this academic year.

Meanwhile the NFER has predicted it is likely to miss the mark again this year, and questioned why the teacher target reduced so much – with their research showing non-specialists were used to teach maths in nearly half of secondary schools.

7. … but they don’t know how many

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Keegan suggested dedicated maths teachers might not be essential for every 16 to 18-year-old because extra maths content could be built into post-16 technical qualifications.

But she admitted the government did not know how many extra teachers would be needed.

“It depends on what the experts panel say they’re actually going to be learning,” she said.

“There are not enough maths teachers to deliver even the existing requirements let alone extend maths to every pupil to the age of 18,” Geoff Barton, general secretary of leaders’ union ASCL said.

8. Plans will tackle ‘anti-maths mindset’

Speaking to students and teachers in north London this morning, Sunak said the government needed to change what he described as an “anti-maths mindset”.

Despite maths being a core skill which is “every bit as essential as reading”, the subject’s value is often overlooked with poor attainment seen as “socially acceptable”, he added.

With the UK remaining one of the least numerate countries in the OECD, he argued that its future economic growth depended on combating poor numeracy.

Sunak reiterated again that it will not mean all pupils studying maths A-level. Instead government said it will “work to ensure that we have the right teaching framework and qualifications in place to deliver maths to 18 in the most effective way for students of all abilities”.

“We’re going to do it carefully and make sure we get the curriculum right. It’s about changing the culture,” Sunak added.

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  1. Peter Ryerson

    So, the Prime MInister says we will need more teachers, yet is doing nothing to atract graduates to come into teaching. If he is serious about this, then he can show it by agreeing to the demands of the teaching unions for an increase in funing for schools & teachers.

    • D Andrews

      Why do politicians act like they are experts in every field including education? When in truth they are completely clueless, and like to use the word “pedagogy” to hide this fact. They are however experts in being parasites, and stealing public money; which sadly could be used to resolve these problems.