Why does want the government want people to study maths for longer?
People with A-level maths earn, on average, 11 per cent more than their counterparts without the qualification (bit.ly/MathsEarnings).
But the UK has one of the lowest rates of teenagers carrying on with maths until the age of 18. The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests reveal that the UK’s 15-year-olds rank 27th in the world, dropping from 26th in 2012.
Can’t we make it compulsory?
Professor Sir Adrian Smith has looked into the feasibility of this. He has concluded that making maths compulsory post-16 is not feasible at the moment and could take about 10 years to bring in. Difficulties include a shortage of teachers and a lack of suitable courses for youngsters.
But I thought it was compulsory for some 16- to 18-year-olds?
Since August 2015, it has been compulsory for teenagers who got a grade D (now grade 3) in GCSE maths in Year 11 to resit. Those with an E grade or lower can resit or take an alternative maths qualification. But the GCSE resit success rates are low: just 26.9 per cent of students aged 17 and over achieved a grade C or above in GCSE maths, and there have been calls to create a more suitable mathematics course. Smith has urged the government to reconsider the current GCSE resit policy.
If you can’t use the stick, how about a carrot? What about making maths post-16 more attractive?
Core maths qualifications have been introduced for just this reason. The qualifications, begun in September 2014, are aimed at students who have a C grade in GCSE but do not want to study AS or A level. But Smith points out that the current funding model does not incentivise core maths provision.
Why are post-16 funding changes making a difference?
Funding pressures mean that sixth-form colleges are increasingly offering three A levels instead of four. A survey by the Sixth Form Colleges Association found that 61 per cent will offer three subjects as standard for 2017-18 and only 13 per cent will allow students to start four subjects and drop one after a year – compared with 20 per cent last year.
There are concerns that this lack of flexibility could not just affect core maths, but also further maths AS and A level, which may have been started as a fourth subject in the past.