Carol Vorderman says pupils should study maths to 18


Report author Carol Vorderman: "Some children are never taught maths by a maths teacher."

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School pupils in England should study maths up to the age of 18, a report for the Conservative Party has said.

It says radical change is needed to give children the mathematical skills needed to succeed in a workplace where numeracy is increasingly important.

The report, by TV presenter Carol Vorderman, said the current system was failing young people.

Almost half of 16-year-olds fail to achieve grade C at GCSE, with just 15% studying maths beyond that level.

This compares to almost all other industrialised countries, the report says, where either all, or nearly all, students study maths to the age of 18.

Ms Vorderman led a "maths task force" to produce the report, which was commissioned by Education Secretary Michael Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron when they were in opposition in 2009.

She said more than 300,000 16-year-olds each year completed their education without enough understanding of maths to function properly in their work or private lives.

She said 24% of economically active adults were "functionally innumerate", and universities and employers complained that school-leavers did not have necessary maths skills.

Ms Vorderman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that pupils who did not achieve the expected standard - level 4 - in the national curriculum tests known as Sats at age 11 faced a "catastrophe".

Some 90% of them go on to fail to get a C at GCSE, she said.

"If you're on the scrap heap by 11, you will remain mathematically on the scrap heap," she said.

She recommended that the maths Sats, or national curriculum test, be scrapped, as it led schools to narrow their teaching to focus on the tests.

The test brought "no benefit to the children taking it," the report concluded.

Split exams

Start Quote

The report is aspirational but this does not mean making maths harder for everyone”

End Quote Carol Vorderman Report's author

Ms Vorderman's team concluded that the GCSE curriculum leans towards advanced topics needed by those who will study maths at A-level, which puts off less gifted pupils.

The former Countdown host, a long-standing advocate of better maths study and teaching, said pupils were being taught trigonometry and algebra when "they can't even calculate a percentage".

The report recommends that the current maths GCSE should be split into two separate exams.

One would offer a higher standard of education in the core areas of the curriculum, such as basic numeracy and personal finance, while the other acted as a preparation for A-level.

The report says all pupils should study maths to 18, but this should not necessarily be in the form of an A-level or AS-level course, but should include a range of options to suit all abilities.

The task force also said that many primary school teachers are not adequately prepared to teach the subject and staff shortages mean a quarter of secondary school pupils are taught by non-specialist maths teachers.

Girl writing sums on blackboard The government says UK pupils lag between their peers in other industrialised countries

The report calls for better training to improve primary teachers' subject knowledge and confidence; the active encouragement of maths activities outside the daily lesson; and a new assessment for 11-year-olds to replace Sats.

Ms Vorderman, who graduated from Cambridge University with a third class degree in engineering, said: "Mathematics is a critically important subject. It is a language without which the entire global infrastructure is struck dumb.

"This report does not make comfortable reading. It is aspirational but this does not mean making maths harder for everyone; it means making the teaching better and what is taught much more suitable for those who are learning it."

In the face of current financial turmoil, Ms Vorderman said: "Who knows which countries will come out on top in 20 years - is it going to be a country which has a lot of numerate people, or is the one that doesn't bother?"


The government has already said it intends to make maths study compulsory to the age of 18 for students who have not achieved a grade C or above at GCSE.

In June, Mr Gove also said he would like to see the "vast majority" of pupils in England studying maths to the age of 18 within a decade.

He said there were strong arguments for "making certain subjects compulsory for longer".

Mr Gove said Ms Vorderman's report would be of "great help" as the government continued "its drive to equip our children with the skills that they need to compete with their global contemporaries".

"As Carol and her team point out so powerfully, we are falling behind our competitors when it comes to mathematics education."

The Royal Society and Advisory Committee on Mathematics (Acme), which have both raised concerns about maths standards and made similar recommendations, welcomed the report.

Acme called for a "broad set of mathematics qualifications that are designed to meet everyone's needs".

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) backed the recommendation for maths study to the age of 18.

"Businesses are most concerned about basic levels of numeracy and it's alarming that more than one in five 16-19 year olds are considered functionally innumerate," said Susan Anderson, the body's director for education and skills policy.

But the National Union of Teachers said it was "not entirely sure" why the task group's report was necessary as a full review of the National Curriculum is currently being carried out.

"There is nothing particularly new in the idea of primary school teachers requiring more maths subject knowledge," said general secretary Christine Blower.

"Indeed, the last government looked into it, but a reluctance to match that need with proper funding is the reason nothing ever happens."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    pupils should be allowed to give up maths after passing a certificate of numeracy at age 14. Having tried to teach maths to disinterested secondary pupils who know that they will not need algebra, trigonometry etc. in their future career paths, and many know that they will never 'get it' just cause disruption to the whole of the group.
    Let them study something they find stimulating and useful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    As a Head of Mathematics in secondary schools over a number of years one of the main issues has always been the recruitment of sufficiently qualified and experienced Mathematics teachers. Until two things happen this will remain a problem. 1. There must be a meaningful incentivised scheme to recruit Mathematics graduates into the profession. 2. The salaries must then be ULTRA - competitive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    In the seventies I was at school in Scotland and am the proud possessor of an O grade in Arithmetic. I also studied Maths. Arithmetic was compulsory, Maths was optional and covered very different skills. When employers complain about the lack of Maths skills they generally mean arithmetic - fractions/percentages not algebra/calculus. GCSE Arithmetic would meet their needs better than GCSE Maths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Absolutely right Carol. As I'm sure many will say, it's what we used to do - separate maths and algebra, the latter only being taken up by those with a bent for the subject and maths as the core for all. Yet again, it proves that the wrong people at the top (dictated from government) have continually been messing with the curricula, and look what it's done for our kids...leave it to experts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    In other countries you chose your path of study in secondary, but you always had obligatory lessons in language/Grammar, foreign languages, history and maths. Also to get into the university you need to take 7 A's levels exams, the 4 subjects before mentioned and the rest of what you chosen path was, such a economics or Latin. I found it strange they are kids with no general education in secundary


Comments 5 of 18


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