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Professor calls for optional maths at 14

Maths should be made voluntary from the age of 14 because much of the subject is of little practical use, one of Britain's leading experts in the subject said today.

David Burghes, director of Exeter university's centre for innovation in maths teaching, risks an outcry after suggesting in today's TES that most people had scant need for "higher mathematical skills" taught at GCSE and above.

His views are at odds with the Tomlinson inquiry into secondary qualifications, which wants GCSE- equivalent maths to be mandatory.

"This is a recipe for the complete alienation of maths teaching," which could also put people off wanting to study the subject at university, Professor Burghes writes "Do we really all need higher mathematical skills for future life?

"Yes, we do need an understanding of number and the ability to estimate so that we can check whether automated results are of the correct order of magnitude, but this should be covered in depth at primary school. The average young person will need very little mathematics for their future life."

He said the present system in which maths is taken up to the age of 16 had led to children being demotivated. Such pupils should, however, be able to take practical mathematics courses instead.

But Margaret Brown, professor of mathematics education at King's college, London, writes in response that the proposal would only worsen Britain's already poor adult numeracy. Admitting that many are bored by maths lessons, she adds: "The remedy is to improve the forms of assessment, the quality of teaching and the syllabuses rather than throwing our hands up in despair and giving up."

Summer debate 15

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