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Teachers Facing Staff Crisis Are "Baffled" By Rishi Sunak's Maths Plans

Rishi Suank is expected to announce plans that pupils should learn maths to 18 in some form (Alamy)

4 min read

Rishi Sunak’s plans for all pupils to continue maths education until the age of 18 have been described as “baffling” by a teachers' union, which has warned that schools do not have the staff to deliver it.

Sunak laid out his intention for all students to keep up numeracy classes in a major speech this afternoon. Currently pupils in post-16 education are not required to study maths. 

But the head of the National Education Union, which repesents more than 500,000 teachers in the UK, has said that no changes to the curriculum will make an impact until ministers address staff recruitment and retention issues. 

Announcing the pledge with a major speech in east London on Wednesday, Sunak said we are "letting our children down" by not providing them with what he considers to be sufficient maths education. 

"I am now making numeracy a central objective of our education system," he continued. "Improving education is the closest thing to a silver bullet there is."

Ahead of the speech, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU called the previewed plans “disappointing” with a “lack of realism” and a “lack of vision”, and suggested instead the government should focus on issues that are driving people away from the teaching profession. 

"The Prime Minister’s statement is baffling in its failure to notice the obstacles to his ambitions to extend maths education: schools and colleges lack the teachers to deliver it," Courtney said. 

"His government’s policies for teacher recruitment are not bringing new teachers in sufficient numbers and have missed their target in every one of the last 12 years. The government have also cut their recruitment target for maths teachers by 39 per cent since 2020.

"Low pay and the pressures of workload are creating a crisis of teacher retention as well. None of the government's frequent announcements about curriculum change will be credible unless it addresses these basic problems.” 

Anne Longfield, a former children’s commissioner for England, said there are “big issues lying behind” why some children do not progress in maths, and called for ministers to go beyond making pupils “jump through hoops” and instead look at what business leaders want in maths skills.

Longfield, who now sits on the board of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told PoliticsHome that “no-one’s going to argue” against children having better maths skills, but rather than doing post-GCSE retakes “we need to get children to the point where at 16 more are able to get good results so they don’t have to go on to resits”. 

Longfield agreed with Sunak's suggestion that pupils needed to be better prepared for the working world, but believed that more focus on applied maths in the existing curriculum could be more effective than prolonging teaching. 

“No one’s going to argue that we don’t want our children to be numerate, we do," she explained.  

"But we need to do much more to get them to the place they need to be by 16, and we need to be much more creative about how we progress from there for our children but move beyond the resits for the hoop jumping that’s there at the moment.”  

Dr Helen Rafferty, Senior Programme Manager at education charity SHINE also agreed that "maths is a crucial skill with the power to support decision-making in day-to-day life as well as the aspirations of our future scientists, engineers and economists", but believed that the subject should be looked at in the context of the wider curriculum, with the most disadvantaged children in mind. 

"The Prime Minister should consider how children and students can be supported to thrive in their education from their earliest years and to fulfil their aspirations across all domains," she said. 

“Increased funding direct to the schools who know their children best, and to support the development and retention of excellent teachers, must underpin any new policy.”

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