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Smith report: Maths to 18 is 'unrealistic' owing to teacher shortages

Government says post-16 GCSE resit policy will continue this year despite recommendation to rethink

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Government says post-16 GCSE resit policy will continue this year despite recommendation to rethink

The long-awaited Smith report into maths teaching has said there are not enough teachers or suitable qualifications for all students to study the subject until age 18.

As reported earlier this term in Tes, the long-awaited report by Professor Sir Adrian Smith, chancellor of the University of London, has said that there is no case for making the subject compulsory now.

But he recommends that the government "should set an ambition for 16-18 mathematics to become universal in 10 years."

“There is not a case at this stage for making it compulsory,” the report states. “The appropriate range of pathways is not available universally, teacher supply challenges are significant and it is unclear when sufficient specialist capacity will be in place for universal mathematics to become a realistic proposition.”

The report was commissioned by George Osborne, then chancellor, in his Budget of March 2016, to look into whether it was possible to teach maths to 18 to all pupils. England is unusual among advanced countries in not having most students study maths beyond age 16.

The government has already made maths study compulsory to 18 for students who received a grade D in GCSE maths.

But the government’s insistence that these lower-attaining pupils retake the GCSE post-16 has not worked, says Sir Adrian in his report.

He argues that the low success rate means students who repeatedly fail are “less motivated or confident to achieve in the subject” and has recommended that the DfE reviews its resit policy and look at alternative qualifications for these students.

In the government’s response to the review, schools minister Nick Gibb has said that the current resit policy will remain in 2017-18, although it will be monitored and reviewed.

David Miles, spokesman for the Mathematical Association, said that the report highlights the need for urgent action to be taken to bolster maths take-up.

A recent survey by the Mathematical Association revealed that half of the 330 school surveyed reported a decrease of at least 10 per cent in applications to start A-level maths in September 2017 compared to last year and one in four maths departments were expecting numbers taking A-level further maths to drop by 50 per cent or more.

The predicted drop-off is due to the introduction of a new tougher GCSE and to funding changes which means schools and colleges are less likely to allow students to start four A or AS level courses.

Sir Adrian’s report recommends: “As a urgent and immediate measure, [the Department for Education] should consider increasing the financial incentive for both AS and A-level further mathematics within four/five A level programmes and consider providing a funding incentive for student programmes which include core maths.”

Mr Miles said: “This recommendation is directly relevant to the findings of our A-level maths and further maths uptake survey.  It is a shame that this has not been taken forward immediately as it could have potentially mitigated any decline in recruitment to courses for September 2017.”

The government has announced today that it will invest £16 million to increase the quality of teaching in post-16 maths.

It has acknowleged that, while maths continues to be the most popular subject at A level, with 88,000 entries in 2017, almost three-quarters of students with an A* to C in GCSE maths choose not to continue with the subject.

Core maths was introduced in 2014 to allow students who had passed GCSE to continue with the subject without taking a full A level. 

The £16 million announced today is due to be used to create a level 3 maths support programme, says schools standards minister Nick Gibb in his response to Sir Adrian, building on the momentum created by the further maths and core maths support programmes.

“[The programme] will work with schools and colleges to improve mathematics education by sharing best practice and delivering knowledge-rich curriculum materials, as well as working to increase participation and attainment in 16-18 mathematics,” he writes.



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