Should we learn maths until age 18?

Rishi Sunak’s recent announcement that all pupils will study maths until the age of 18 has generated a lot of debate. As an ambassador for National Numeracy and someone with dyscalculia, here are my two cents…

Yes, we have a real problem with numeracy in this country. According to National Numeracy’s most recent research on this, more than half of the working age population have numeracy levels expected of a primary school child, and 57% of people don’t want to improve their maths skills.

That’s a crying shame, and something has clearly gone wrong. But I’m not sure having more lessons for longer at school will fix the problem. The fact is that some of us are better at maths than others – I imagine that Rishi Sunak as someone who was doing the accounting at his parents’ pharmacy in Southampton when he was a teenager, is probably naturally good with numbers.

Also, the kind of maths education that Rishi Sunak received through the School Mathematics Project at Winchester was inspired by the Cold War and basically designed to get a new generation competing with the Russians on the space programme.

As you can imagine, this type of curriculum (taught from the age of 4, yikes) was more about abstract maths than practical arithmetic. This is great in some respects – we need people with those next-level maths skills to boost science, industry and (therefore) growth. But not everyone can do that kind of maths, and in my opinion, not everyone needs to do that kind of maths.

What we need is enough brilliant maths teachers who can take the time to really go through the sums and formulae with those kids who need hands-on help. 


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A post shared by Iona Bain (@ionajbain)

I had terrible maths experiences right up until I was 13 – that only changed when I started learning with an amazing maths teacher (thank you Mr Bateman!) who was able to create a calm, focused and disciplined environment. That allowed me to be identified as having dyscalculia and then I was able pass maths.

I didn’t study maths beyond Standard Grade, the Scottish equivalent of GCSE, but here I am, doing alright, having improved my numeracy and become more confident around numbers! My message is this – if I can do it, anyone can.

PLEASE check out if you want to get better with numbers. Personally, I think it would be great if for certain young people we taught maths through money, rather than the current approach which mostly teaches money through maths. I may be biased, but it’s obvious we need a new approach to teaching number confidence at school – I’m just not sure compulsory abstract maths until the age of 18 is it.

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