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 189.

    The quality of primary teaching is all-important. Over 20 years ago we moved our children from the local primary school because the headmaster held the belief that the learning of times tables was unnecessary because calculators were commonplace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Nonsense basic numeracy is all that is required to function for the majority. Being able to factor a polynomial is complete nonsense for most jobs outside of certain professions. Would love to see even 10% of UK adults do vector caclculus for me. And is the world falling a paper - no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Private schools (esp. those dominating Oxbridge entrance) do a core of Eng. Lang. & Lit., Maths, a Language, Triple/Double Science, Hist/Geog. with a choice of 2/3 more subjects at GCSE. At primary school level basic maths is covered to meet the requirements of the senior school entrance tests. Importantly they have specialist Maths teaches & the pupils are confident in Maths. CONT..

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Choosing not to study Maths doesn't mean everyone goes and chooses Media Studies... Just as not liking Transformers doesn't therefore mean the only film you watch is Citizen Kane. Sorry for the inane example.
    The problem I see is that people are almost proud to be bad at maths. Would you be proud to not be able to read or write?

  • 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 184.

    Making pupils study maths for longer is not going to work. If they're ready to give up by 16, what makes you think they will actually try in these compulsory lessons? It will only push them further away. If pupil's mathematical skills are not good enough at the moment, it shows that their earlier education was not good enough. We need to focus on improving the education system, not extending it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    To someone like Carol Vorderman, who obviously has a gift for maths, it's probably inconceivable that there just might be those of us for whom the subject is anathema. I'm 67 years old, had a good grammar school education and went on to a successful career in teaching - without Maths O.L. I hate the subject as much now as I did then, but I know the basic skills - that's all I've ever needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    As a student doing IB, I still have to do maths in Yrs12&13 - except classes are divided based on ability.

    My issue with maths is how so much of it is irrelevant to a little thing called REAL LIFE. I'm NEVER going to use vectors, trigonometry, etc. Aspects that are important though, I feel get sidelined to abstract stuff. The system needs changing to better reflect real world needs IMO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    The idea that maths be continued to 18, simply because of larger demands on numeracy, is barmy, People dont need to know anything beyond basic arithmetic, logs and algebra at a push. This is ediucation gone stupid. And just what are these larger demands on numeracy anyway ? Slide rules are obsolete because we have computers these days. Demands on numeracy were greater in the past, not now !

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Kids should be able to add up, subtract, multiply and divide for day to day life. Outside of that, maths will never be used by 99% of the population - ever!

    Numeracy is NOT increasingly important! There is maths behind everything, but who cares? The way we use technology increasing does NOT need you to understand it.

    Maths for people who love it, fine - for the rest? Not required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Pupils should "study maths to 18"? What about all the other numbers? 19, 20, 21, 22, er, 2...3?

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Too often people are almost proud to admit they 'can't do maths'. How often do you hear people exclaiming they can't read or write? That for me is the biggest problem facing children. There is almost an acceptance that not being good at arithmetic (let alone the rest of maths) is normal and it is only the 'geeks' and 'nerds' who know their stuff. Can you blame kids when adults are just as bad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    This just shows the fakery and fiddling behind the ever-rising educational attainment stats. Record GCSE passes, yet our children are far behind the rest of the world. Our Govt should hang its head in shame, but rather than admitting wrongdoing and resolving to fix the situation, there will simply be the same lies and spin we've had for the last 25 years. It's absolutely criminal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Im 20, studying Business Economics at University. Schooling on the whole has declined drastically. I got told GCSE's will be tough, A levels will be tough, and in reality they're not particularly difficult. I waltzed all of the exams with no work at all, and my grades consited of A's and A*'s. The only difficult A level was and is maths. UK educational system has been flawed for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Make it interesting and show how it applies in real life and most kids will get it. Playing shops with 6 year olds, a game of darts for a 10 year old.

    Make it competitive and it gets really interesting. A league table of who knew the most times tables certainly inspired my class mates and me aged 10 to learn them (25 years ago)

    Compulsory maths to 18 - no inspirational teaching from 4 we need

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    The idea of lengthening Maths teaching to 18 is beyond ridiculous. I've never understood why it is always the most pushed subject as I've never needed anything outside of basic Math since I started working. I studied to Masters level and when I was at school I couldn't wait to drop Maths, so for those who are less inclined academically/mathematically, this proposal must be very depressing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Many students are being failed in schools and are unable to add, subtract, multiply and divide when they leave school. Emphasis on the basics should be made at a young age. If a student can do the basics then they are able to move on and achieve. Too many people are proud to say they are useless at maths whereas they would not say they can't read.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Whatever the pros and cons of extended maths teaching might be, we still have problems with people's attitude to the subject. It is quite acceptable to say "I'm useless at maths" whereas admitting, "I'm illiterate" generates a completely different response...

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    "Almost half of 16-year-olds fail to achieve grade C at GCSE, with 15% studying maths beyond that level. This compares to a rate of 100% in most industrialised nations."

    This should make us very very worried as a nation. We appear to be raising a bunch of dunces who aspire to fame, celebrity and easy money. And failing that, media studies follwoed by a career in marketing or worse, PR.

  • 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!


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