Rishi Sunak wants all pupils in England to study maths until 18 under ‘new mission’

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The Prime Minister will emphasise the importance of numeracy in his first speech of 2023

All pupils in England will study maths up until the age of 18 under plans to be set out by Rishi Sunak.

The Prime Minister will announce his priorities and ambitions for the year ahead in his first speech of the year on Wednesday (4 January), which will include a “new mission” to combat high rates of innumeracy in England.

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He will say there is a need to “reimagine our approach to numeracy” and is expected to commit to starting the work of introducing ‘maths to 18’ in this Parliament, and finishing it in the next.

The UK remains one of the only countries in the world that does not currently require children to study some form of maths up until the age of 18. Sunak will argue that with the “right plan”, he sees “no reason” why the UK “cannot rival the best education systems in the world”.

He is expected to say: “This is personal for me. Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive. And it’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education.

“Thanks to the reforms we’ve introduced since 2010, and the hard work of so many excellent teachers, we’ve made incredible progress. With the right plan – the right commitment to excellence – I see no reason why we cannot rival the best education systems in the world”.

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All pupils in England will study maths up until the age of 18 under plans by Rishi Sunak (Photo: Getty Images)All pupils in England will study maths up until the age of 18 under plans by Rishi Sunak (Photo: Getty Images)
All pupils in England will study maths up until the age of 18 under plans by Rishi Sunak (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

The PM will put emphasis on the importance of numeracy and stress that “children’s jobs will require more analytical skills”. He will add: “Right now, just half of all 16 to 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 A-level not set to be compulsory

Full details of the Prime Minister’s mission will be set out in “due course” Number 10 has said, but the government does not apparently envisage making maths A-level compulsory.

Ministers are instead looking at exploring existing routes, such as the Core Maths qualifications and T-Levels, along with more innovative options, to ensure pupils study maths in some form until the age of 18.

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The plans come as the UK faces a winter of multiple strikes, a cost of living crisis and a strained NHS that is facing huge pressures driven by staff shortages, soaring flu cases and the impact of the Covid pandemic.

Commenting on the plans, a Labour source said: “In their desperation to ensure Sunak’s speech doesn’t happen after Keir’s, No 10 have revealed they have nothing to offer the country except… double maths.

“As the health service falls to pieces after 12 years of Tory rule, criminals terrorise the streets, and working people worry how their wages will last the month, the country is entitled to ask: is this it?”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is also expected to deliver a major speech on Thursday (5 January).

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On the “maths to 18” plan, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the Prime Minister “needs to show his working”, as “he cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers”.

She added: “Yet the government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year, with existing teachers leaving in their droves. Now, maths attainment gaps are widening yet Rishi Sunak as chancellor said the country had ‘maxed out’ on Covid recovery support for our children. Labour will end tax breaks for private schools and use the money to invest in 6,500 more teachers, including maths teachers, to drive up standards in this country.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the Prime Minister needs to show the plan is “based on solid research and is not a pet project”.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson said the announcement was an “admission of failure from the Prime Minister on behalf of a Conservative government that has neglected our children’s education so badly”.

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She added: “If Rishi Sunak is serious about reversing the Conservatives’ awful record on numeracy, he should start by cancelling the planned cuts to early years education and come forward with a real plan to recruit and retain the teachers we need.”

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