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£150m post-16 maths plan 'is a sticking plaster'

The chancellor has allocated millions for projects to boost maths – but colleges fear the money will be out of reach

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The chancellor has allocated millions for projects to boost maths – but colleges fear the money will be out of reach

Extra funding for post-16 maths could have little impact if colleges and sixth-form colleges are unable to access it, FE leaders have warned.

Chancellor Philip Hammond outlined four programmes in his Autumn Budget specifically aimed at boosting post-16 maths, and allocated some £150 million in funding over the next five years. He was acting on recommendations from Sir Adrian Smith in his post-16 review of maths education.

But as more details emerge, concerns are growing that the initiatives – and the promised funding for them – will be too difficult to access, and risk having little impact.

'Lack of core funding'

Matthew Grant, principal of Priestley College in Warrington, said if the government was serious about maths it would not make colleges chase pots of money.

He added: “A consequence of the squeeze on post-16 funding has been the narrowing of the curriculum offer in too many providers. A sticking plaster, or series of sticking plasters, will not compensate for a lack of core funding.”

One of the programmes that colleges have raised concerns about is the basic maths premium pilot, which aims to improve GCSE maths resit outcomes. The funding is limited to areas that the Department for Education deems to have low attainment.

By these criteria, the Manchester College is not eligible to take part – a frustration for principal Lisa O’Loughlin.

She said: “As one of the largest colleges in the UK, we are very disappointed to not qualify for the pilot. We have over 5,500 maths and English enrolments per year within our 16-18 cohort, and this represents the significant majority of retakes in the city.”

Staffing cost 'biggest challenge'

A DfE spokesperson said that more than 45,000 students per year stood to benefit from the basic maths premium pilot, adding: “The location of the main campus of the institution was considered rather than where students are living, to maximise the benefit and impact of the additional funding for this limited pilot.”

Meanwhile, the requirements for setting up a Centre for Excellence have also proved prohibitive. To be eligible, institutions must have a minimum of 250 students with prior attainment below grade 4 in GCSE maths.

Mike Hill, principal of Carmel College, a sixth-form college in Merseyside, said this threshold was a barrier. He is now looking at putting together a consortium with other providers to open a centre.

“It feels like lots of well-intentioned policies are being pushed out very quickly,” Hill added. “Whether they will have an impact is yet to be seen. If the funding was given out across the board that would be more beneficial.

“The biggest challenge is the staffing cost – the money that is available is not going to have a massive impact in terms of capacity.”

The four maths schemes are:

  • Basic maths premium pilot £8.5 million: Worth an additional £500 per student, the programme is targeted at GCSE resit students with a grade 3 or below in maths. To be eligible, the main college campus must be in an area of low attainment. Some providers get 100 per cent of the additional funding up front, while a second group gets only half up front, and a third receives the funding only if students achieve a grade 3.
  • Advanced maths premium£83.2 million: This amounts to £600 for every additional student taking A level or core maths, and could be worth up to £2,400 per pupil if they complete a full A level. The government will issue colleges and schools with a “base rate” based on the average number of maths students over two years, and they will be funded for every additional student recruited above this number.
  • Centres for Excellence £40.3 million: The programme aims to support the post-16 sector to “develop, test, deliver and share pedagogical approaches” to improve maths teaching for students with low prior attainment. The Department for Education expects to fund around 20 centres over an initial three-year period, each receiving between £140,000 and £300,000 per annum. Each centre will be led by an “exceptional post-16 institution”, with ideally at least one opening in each English region.
  • Maths free schools£18 million: The specialist 16-19 free schools for pupils who are mathematically able are a top priority as set out in the government’s industrial strategy. Maths schools attract an additional £350,000 funding per year. Two pilot institutions have opened to date

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