New report calls on the government to make maths mandatory

A review comissioned by the Conservative Party proposes that young people should be forced to study mathematics up to the age of 18.

The report, titled ‘A world-class mathematics education for ALL our young people’ is available here. It states: “To bring this country into line with the rest of the world, mathematics, in some form, should be made compulsory to the age of 18. The implementation of this recommendation is a matter of urgency.”

To the surprise of many working in further education, the report does not reference the role of FE colleges, apprenticeship programmes nor alternatives to the GCSE in mathematics, such as the Functional Skills qualification.

Carol Vorderman, who assembled and led the taskforce for the report said: “This report does not make comfortable reading. It is aspirational, but this does not mean making maths ‘harder’ for everyone. It means making the teaching better, and what is taught much more suitable for those who are learning it. The curriculum which exists is a trickled down version of the needs of the most talented.”

A spokesperson from the Department of Education said: “This [the report] was comissioned by the Conservative Party and whilst the government have already published The Wolf Report  [a review of 14-19 vocational education] we will consider its recommendation.”

The Wolf Report, published in March 2011, made similar suggestions regarding compulsory mathematics.

Recommendation 9 of the report states: “Students who are under 19 and do not have GCSE A*-C in English and/ or Maths should be required, as part of their programme, to pursue a course which either leads directly to these qualifications, or which provide significant progress towards future GCSE entry and success.”


FE Week has spoken to the Association of Colleges (Aoc) and a number of college principals to get their views on the recent report.

John McDougall, Principal & Chief Executive of Havant College said: “I think that the proposal to continue the study of Maths until the age of 18 is a sensible one. Students progressing to ‘A’ Levels or other level 3 qualifications are often unprepared for this level of study due to skill shortages in Maths, and to a lesser extent English language: indeed even students who have secured the higher grade ‘A*’, ‘A’ and ‘B’ passes in Maths find the transfer to ‘A’ Level Maths very challenging given the significant skills gap between these levels.

“A better grounding in Maths and English skills through to 18 would certainly help to bridge this gap and would improve the UK’s European academic league table position, which is sadly at best only average, with Asian economies leading the way in the development of skills in Science and Maths.”

An AoC spokesperson said: “The proposals relating to compulsory Maths in some form up to the age of 18 echo the Wolf report recommendations on this issue; in common with Professor Alison Wolf and Government we appreciate the importance of English and Maths in ensuring young people have successful careers and fulfilling lives but, as the Wolf Report made clear, for some young people between 16 and 19, GCSE qualifications may not be suitable.

“We would want to help Government identify possible alternatives that will give this group the core skills they need to succeed.”

Vicki Illingworth, Assistant Principal of Chichester College and Student Success said: “Although compulsory study to the age of 18 wouldn’t be right for many of our learners, we wholly support the idea of preparing our young people for further study, employment and real life.”

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  1. roddyofour

    Although the report says it is about mathematics I think it is really about getting people just to the minimum level of numeracy needed to function in the workplace. There aren’t the resources to teach real mathematics and anyway that would produce a lot of people who could work out more effective ways of protesting than nicking some trainers from JD Sports.