Education Minister Elizabeth Truss calls for a renaissance in maths

Speaking at the National Education Trust, Education Minister Elizabeth Truss called for a renaissance in maths to help meet the demand of UK employers. As widely reported, she also announced the removal of calculators from Key Stage 2 tests. Here’s an extract of her speech from the DfE website…

It’s no exaggeration to say this is a make or break period in the history of maths in this country.

All around us, the influence of mathematics is shaping our lives in previously unimaginable ways. From our experience of online shopping to the financial performance of investments and pensions, we live in a world entirely framed by maths.

Even in those professions not traditionally associated with mathematics, there’s now a heavy reliance on algorithms and calculations: in journalism to spot the patterns in data; in architecture to use algebra and calculus with confidence; in marketing to make sense of the enormous array of statistics the world creates every day.

That modern orientation towards deduction and logic, that appetite for maths, the appreciation of statistical analysis, technology and probability, opens up tremendous opportunities for young people in this country. But to take full advantage, we need to start exploiting mathematics as urgently as other countries might drill for oil.

In technology, the media, e-commerce, design, engineering, medicine, the environment and beyond, the openings are almost limitless for those young people who are confident with numbers and able to read across into other technologies and industries. Only last week, 17-year-old Nick D’Aloisio rose to prominence after creating an app that uses algorithms to summarise news headlines.

Success stories like Nick’s highlight the incredible opportunities that maths and formal logic can open up, and it’s why this government is so determined to restore the subject to its proper place in the curriculum.

The issue we face is one of a growing mismatch between the demand for mathematical skills in this country, and our ability to supply that demand.

For their part, maths teachers have worked – and continue to work – exceptionally hard to inspire more young people in the subject, but they operate within a desperately limiting system that often turns children off maths.

As a result, the number of gifted young mathematicians coming through the ranks in this country still lags far behind those of other areas: reflected in the fact that we haven’t produced a single Field medallist in the last fourteen years, despite producing six in the previous forty.

Indeed, according to the Nuffield Foundation, we now have the smallest proportion of 16- to 18-year-olds studying maths of any of the 24 countries measured: well behind nations like France, Estonia, Russia, Australia, Spain, the US, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and China.

Many of these countries – like Canada where I spent a year in school – spotted the need to promote maths years ago: spurred on by lobbying from employers who wanted stretching, engaging curriculums that promoted the core essentials.

We are now playing catch-up. The support has not been there for maths teachers in this country, nor the iron will and determination to encourage more young people to take the subject after GCSE.

So, what do we need to do to sort it out? Well, first of all, I think we need to promote maths much better to children at primary age. Because it’s at this point that pupils are most likely to develop an affinity for the subject.

Take Alan Turing as an example – albeit a very gifted one. He did not stumble across maths at university, he was obsessed by it as a child: running around the garden fascinated by the mathematical patterns he saw in nature and the recurrence of sequences in plants.

Indeed, all the evidence shows that a thorough grounding in the essentials of maths from an early age directly correlates to improved results later in life. The CfBT has reported on the success that’s been enjoyed by Hungary, Finland, Russia and Japan – all of whom place great emphasis on supporting mathematical competence at primary age.

The Government’s draft programme of study for mathematics is designed to recalibrate the primary curriculum and make it much stronger. Our intention is to set out the very highest expectations of primary pupils: making sure they are fully prepared for secondary school and beyond…

More at:  A renaissance in maths

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