Rishi Sunak speech today: what time is prime minister’s ‘maths until 18 announcement’ - and how to watch on TV

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The PM will set out a vision to ‘rival the best education systems in the world’ - but critics have questioned the plan’s timing given the cost of living crisis and strikes

Rishi Sunak has announced that the government will make maths a compulsory subject until the age of 18 for pupils in England.

The Prime Minister’s announcement has been described by the government as one of Sunak’s “priorities” for the year ahead. It comes as the Conservative government seeks to make up ground in the polls to Labour, whose leader Keir Starmer is set to reveal his own policy ambitions in a major speech on Thursday (5 January).

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But critics and opposition politicians have criticised the education plan for a ‘lack of detail’ as well as its timing. Sunak has revealed his plan against a backdrop of the cost of living crisis, nationwide cross-sector strikes, and soaring NHS waiting times.

His first public speech since the start of 2023 comes after the PM delivered a gloomy outlook for the next 12 months in his New Year speech. He warned many of the difficulties faced by the UK in 2022 will remain with us for a while yet.

So what time is Rishi Sunak’s speech today - and what is he expected to say? Here’s everything you need to know.

Rishi Sunak says his maths plans would not force all pupils to take maths A-Levels (image: AFP/Getty Images)Rishi Sunak says his maths plans would not force all pupils to take maths A-Levels (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak says his maths plans would not force all pupils to take maths A-Levels (image: AFP/Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

When is Rishi Sunak speech today?

Rishi Sunak will give a more detailed outline of his maths plan - as well as his other policy priorities for 2023 - in a speech today (4 January).

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Exact timings have not yet been released, but it is expected that the PM will take to his lectern at around 2pm. It is likely you’ll be able to watch it live via the BBC News Channel or Sky News.

What is Rishi Sunak’s maths plan?

According to briefing released in advance of Rishi Sunak’s speech, the Prime Minister is going to announce that maths will become a compulsory subject for all students until the age of 18. Currently, it is compulsory until you take your GCSEs at the age of 16.

The PM will pledge to tackle the ‘long-term issue’ of low numeracy rates as part of a bid to improve the UK’s education system. The PM will say that with the “right plan”, he sees “no reason” why “we cannot rival the best education systems in the world”.

“This is personal for me. Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive,” Sunak is expected to say.

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“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.”

The government has identified numeracy as a key issue facing school pupils (image: Getty Images)The government has identified numeracy as a key issue facing school pupils (image: Getty Images)
The government has identified numeracy as a key issue facing school pupils (image: Getty Images) | Getty Images for the Birmingham

The government says work towards delivering the pledge will begin in this Parliament and will be completed after the next general election. By implementing the policy, it says it would bring the UK in line with other economic powerhouses, including France, Germany and the USA.

Sunak is expected to add that he believes extending maths tuition will be important for the future, when the UK economy is likely to be dominated by digital work. He will say that numeracy, in particular, will form a key plank of his plan.

“One of the biggest changes in mindset we need in education today is to reimagine our approach to numeracy. Right now, just half of all 16–19-year-olds study any maths at all.

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“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.”

Despite pledging to make maths compulsory for longer, the government says it does not envisage making the maths A-Level compulsory - with students possibly set to receive T-Levels or another type of qualification known as ‘Core Maths’. It says further detail will be released in due course.

Opposition reaction

The plan has been criticised by opposition parties and experts, who have pointed out that the UK is currently facing staffing issues when it comes to maths tutors.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “The Government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year, with existing teachers leaving in their droves.

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“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.”

Labour also questioned the timing of the speech, with a source telling PA news agency that Sunak’s speech was a sign of “desperation” as “No 10 have revealed they have nothing to offer the country except… double maths”. The source suggested the government should be focusing more on the cost of living, industrial action and crime.

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

He said: “We would also want to hear how such a policy would avoid exacerbating the already-chronic national shortage of maths teachers.”

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