Minority mathematics

27th January 2012 at 00:00

It's great to see the evidence that UK maths teaching stands up well alongside its European counterparts ("Making maths measure up", TESpro, 20 January). But there is one way in which maths in the UK lags seriously behind, and it's no fault of teachers.

When the Nuffield Foundation compared the numbers of students continuing with maths past the age of 16, it found that, of 24 developed countries, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have the lowest levels of participation, with fewer than 20 per cent of students continuing with maths. In almost every other country, it is acknowledged that maths is so important to future study and future employment that pupils need to stick with it throughout their education, building the confidence and fluency with maths that are so important in study and the workplace.

In his speech to the Royal Society last year, Michael Gove set a goal for the education system "so that within a decade the vast majority of students are studying maths right through to the age of 18". We need to realise that maths is not just important to the minority who go on to take A-level maths and study Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) at university; it is essential to the social sciences and there is a steady shift in the employment market towards jobs that need higher-level skills, many of which are mathematical in nature.

John Holman, Department of chemistry, University of York.

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