We often hear that the country needs more mathematicians and more maths teachers. But are girls being put off the subject by its geeky image?
Carol Vorderman, who studied engineering at Cambridge and is best known for her 26 years as a maths whizz on the Channel 4 television programme Countdown, chaired a task force on maths education for the Conservative party. Its report, A World-Class Mathematics Education for All our Young People, was published earlier this year.
It called for all students to study maths until the age of 18 (but not necessarily to A-level). It also found the popular belief that girls are not as good at maths as boys to be a myth. But it is the case that girls who do not get the top grades at GCSE are less likely than boys of a similar standard to take maths at A-level.
And as an increasing number of undergraduate courses, from history to nursing, call for mathematical skills, those who drop the subject at 16 face the prospect of having to take extra classes at university to help them catch up - or they may simply drop out.
See Comment, page 58.
The percentage of pupils who achieve the expected standard for their age is very similar for boys and girls up to GCSE:
32% of boys achieved level 5 at KS2 in 2003. Five years later, 14.1% got an A or A* at GCSE
26% of girls achieved level 5 at KS2 in 2003. Five years later, 14.8% got an A or A* at GCSE.