Apprenticeship programmes in Britain should focus on fostering basic maths skills, Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said today.
Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum event on post-16 maths, Mr Schleicher said that apprenticeship programmes needed to make up for the "deficiencies" of the school system when it comes to maths.
“When you look at older adults, and given that the labour markets reward numeracy skills, there’s a lot that further education and apprenticeship programmes could do to foster those types of skills," he said.
“The apprenticeship programmes in Britain are very much practically oriented, which has its strong sides, but I do think that apprenticeships, in principle, should be a good way to foster foundation skills – that’s what you can see in Switzerland and Germany: there is a good mix between applied practical knowledge and the building of foundations. Given that the schools system in Britain has deficiencies, I think making up for this is very important.
“For people who go to university, maybe for them that is going to happen, but I think we do need to worry about those who do not go to university.”
There are currently no formal entry requirements in English and maths to undertake a level 3 apprenticeship in England, but students are expected to complete functional skills alongside their apprenticeship if they do not hold qualifications in either subject.
In the Programme for International Student Assessement (Pisa) tables, compiled by the OECD, in 2019, England achieved an average score of 504 for maths and ranked in 17th place. Schleicher told the Westminster Education Forum there was a “huge gap when you look at excellence in mathematics” and that the UK still had “quite a bit of room to grow in terms of improving mathematics skills".
Call for apprenticeships to boost maths skills
Mr Schleicher said that in order to improve maths skills widely, more needed to be done in England to attract teachers into post-16 maths.
He suggested that maths teaching needs to be “intellectually” attractive – and pay and conditions improved.
“There are solutions that will be very difficult to implement – and that’s differentiated pay and conditions," he said. "Sweden would be an example of this. Leaders can exercise discretion on pay structures. They can say, 'I need a science or maths teacher and I could put more attractive working conditions on this'.
"The other part, teaching in the UK is financially not very attractive, but it’s intellectually even less attractive. I do think making maths teaching intellectually more attractive by giving teachers more opportunities, more time to do other things than teaching, like continuing to engage with teaching.
"That’s a lesson that you could learn from Japan or China. Teaching maths is an amazing job, you work on the development of the learning environment, you work on technology, and so on. Making maths teaching simply intellectually more attractive and focus on better salaries is probably something to think about.”