What’s actually new in Sunak’s maths to 18 (re)announcement?

The prime minister sets out new expert group, £6k FE teacher cash offer and extended maths hubs in bid to tackle 'anti-maths mindset'

The prime minister sets out new expert group, £6k FE teacher cash offer and extended maths hubs in bid to tackle 'anti-maths mindset'

17 Apr 2023, 13:29

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The prime minister has restated his pledge to make maths education up to 18 compulsory today – with parts of his speech getting lots of national media coverage again.

Rishi Sunak first underlined the “ambition” back in January. Today he reannounced the commitment alongside a few smaller scale policies linked to maths. Here’s what you need to know …

1. Expert group to come up with plan …

Let’s start with the *new* stuff. Sunak announced a new advisory group to work out what maths content students should study up to the age of 18.

The group – full details of its members and their remit here – will take evidence from countries with high rates of post-16 numeracy and UK employers.

It will also advise on whether a new maths qualification will be required for 16 to 18-year-olds.

2. … ‘rough timescale’ for ‘next steps’ later this year

Sunak said he expected the expert advisory group to deliver its recommendations in July.

He added the government would be outlining a “rough timescale on the next steps” of the plan later in the year.

As we reported earlier this year, the PM had only previously committed to *starting work to introduce the policy* in this parliament, acknowledging the *actual* reforms would not be achieved until 2025 at the earliest.

3. £6k incentives for new FE teachers

A cash incentive pilot will be run this year for up to 355 FE teachers who take part in the Taking Teaching Further programme, targeted at some of the “hardest-to-fill subjects”, including maths.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan revealed the scheme today as launched the sixth round of the scheme that is backed with £15 million.

Other subjects to benefit from the bursary offer include digital/IT, construction and the built environment, engineering/manufacturing.

Each new FE teacher in those subjects on the programme will be given a £3,000 payment in year one of the programme followed by another £3,000 payment in year two.

This financial initiative is in addition to the general Taking Teaching Further support package, which covers the cost of a teaching qualification, as well as providing a reduced teaching timetable and a provider delivering mentoring support.

Taking Teaching Further was first launched in 2018. Figures obtained by FE Week show that in its first two years, the programme supported 125 industry professionals to retrain as FE teachers.

Then 254 were recruited in 2020/21, followed by 354 in 2021/22, and 254 in 2022/23.

Skills minister Robert Halfon said: “Industry professionals know the skills that employers need, and we recognise we need more people with this relevant expertise in key sectors like maths, construction and engineering to share their knowledge and skills.

“With more and more high-quality technical training offers being rolled out, including apprenticeships, T Levels and skills bootcamps, there has never been a better time to consider becoming an FE teacher to inspire the next generation and extend the ladder of opportunity to people from all walks of life.”

4. Maths hubs extended …

Sunak announced that several existing programmes would be extended. This includes maths hubs, which currently support teachers and leaders from schools and colleges with professional development in teaching the subject.

There are currently 40 ran by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM). Education software firm Tribal has a two-year, £8.6 million contract to deliver the programme up to August next year.

Intensive maths hub support will also be introduced, with further support for staff teaching 16 to 19-year-olds resitting maths GCSE or functional skills qualifications.

There are no details so far on whether this requires additional funding.

5. Sunak admits: ‘We need more teachers’ …

A main point of contention for critics is the woeful teacher recruitment and retention numbers.

Sunak said this morning the government was “not going to deliver this change overnight”, adding that it needed to “recruit and train the maths teachers… We need already and we will need more maths teachers and we know that.”

However Sunak pointed to the £27,000 bursary for maths teacher trainees in schools. He said that “most people will see that that’s a significant sum to incentivise” new recruits and “things are improving” because of bursary rises and new early years careers payments.

DfE recently upped the teacher training bursaries on offer in FE for maths from £26,000 to £29,000.

6. … but they don’t know how many

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Keegan suggested dedicated maths teachers might not be essential for every 16 to 18-year-old because extra maths content could be built into post-16 technical qualifications.

But she admitted the government did not know how many extra teachers would be needed.

“It depends on what the experts panel say they’re actually going to be learning,” she said.

“There are not enough maths teachers to deliver even the existing requirements let alone extend maths to every pupil to the age of 18,” Geoff Barton, general secretary of leaders’ union ASCL said.

7. Plans will tackle ‘anti-maths mindset’

Speaking to students and teachers in north London this morning, Sunak said the government needed to change what he described as an “anti-maths mindset”.

Despite maths being a core skill which is “every bit as essential as reading”, the subject’s value is often overlooked with poor attainment seen as “socially acceptable”, he added.

With the UK remaining one of the least numerate countries in the OECD, he argued that its future economic growth depended on combating poor numeracy.

Sunak reiterated again that it will not mean all pupils studying maths A-level. Instead government said it will “work to ensure that we have the right teaching framework and qualifications in place to deliver maths to 18 in the most effective way for students of all abilities”.

“We’re going to do it carefully and make sure we get the curriculum right. It’s about changing the culture,” Sunak added.

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