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 309.

    I believe that parents should take more of an active role in teaching their children numeracy, rather than adopting the attitude that once their child goes to school its no longer their responsibility. Simple household tasks like calculating a shopping budget will give children confidence with the subject if they believe that they can apply their knowledge to real life scenarios.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    I'm currently 21, and Maths was always my strong point. Last year I went back to my old school to teach maths, and what I found is that a lot of the students just don't care, nothing you can say or do will make them want to work. Based on this, I think you might as well stop wasting resources on those who don't appreciate it and rather focus on those who want to make something of their lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.


    That is not what I said. I don't need to understand trig to shore up the foundations of my house. And right angles - don't you know the difference between trigonometry and geometry. My point is that specialised maths is taught as necessary. should I learn surgery - I may need an operation in future? Your point is futile!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    If Maths is made compulsory after GCSE-level, exactly what are people thinking is going to happen to the quality of the teaching and of the lessons? Has nobody stopped to consider that by forcing students to study a subject they have no interest in, the standard of education of those who do want to take the subject will suffer as a result?

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    The problem exists by Age 11, so extending by 2 yrs to 18 fixes the wrong end! Some kids start school too soon and never learn the basics, so how can they build on them? I like Nogggs modular idea.

    The split into Maths Practice/Theory would be good. Knowledge of Percentages, Averages, Graphs and Trends is more useful in life and work than Trigonometry which I have never needed in Finance.

  • 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 303.

    Maths no longer focuses on skills "useful in the workplace"; Instead going off on tangents, asking algebraic equations and insisting your methods are more important than the answers! No wonder kids are no good at arithmetic, we no longer teach it!
    Mind you, even Carol used a calculator, so perhaps we should incorporate that into lessons?

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    Furthermore, I achieved a good GCSE grade but decided not to continue studying Maths as it was not my strongest subject. Had I been forced to study Maths to 18 at A Level I would most certainly have had to stay in school for extra years over 18 in order to ensure I gained A Levels in ALL my subjects. If there is a subject you struggle with it will hold you back and I would not have gained a degree

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    The problem is that innumeracy has become a badge of honour for some people, that proves how "creative" they are, rather than an incompetence like not knowing left from right. Many of my classmates just threw their hands up and said they didn't "do" equations before they even tried. And when footballers and musicians are more admired than engineers, is it any wonder that's all the boys want to be?

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    I am a mathematician with experience in schools and Universities. What rubbish this suggestion is. If kids aren't numerate at 16 two more years isn't going to do it! All primary teachers must have a high level of numeracy - they don't. We need more and better secondary maths teachers. And a curriculum concentrating on the basic needs, you shouldn't need a calculator for simple addition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Firstly, the students who leave school at 16 will not want to carry on compulsory maths as they are people who often go into full time work or have left due to struggling with school. Secondly, does this mean all students should be forced to stay in education until 18? If so what happens next? Maths we learn in school is never ever used again unless going into a maths related job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    I don't think that comment is particularly relevant to the debate. The sorry fact is that maths is a subject which is perceived by children as being boring and difficult. We need to change that perception, and the people who know how to do that are current teachers, not somebody whose only link to maths is being on Countdown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    Here we go again. Students need more of a particular subject: Maths, English, IT, Foreign Languages... whatever. More, more, always more. Pop-Quiz: if a child studies at school for a fixed six hours a day, and they study an extra 30 mins maths, how much less will they study of other subjects?

    If they aren't numerate (or literate) at 11, let them do a remedial year concentrating on the basics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    The latest worldwide research, on DNA and genes, shows that in the whole world there are basically only three types of people:-
    Those who can count, and those who can't count !

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    Math to 18 will be remedial American model, to make up for so many failed children at primary schooling that Coalition government is totally ingoring.

    The only time we were awake, due to post war malnutrition at infant/primary in early 50s/60s was standing up and chanting the times tables, which I and my old school friends still use for mental math. The same rote system used for the alphabet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Im not sure if it's known, but there's a course post-16 students generally take called Key Skills Level 3. Maybe it should be made compulsory for students to take Key Skills Level 3 in Maths?

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    Qualifications. Be careful what you wish for. I was once taught Statistics by the guy who wrote the text book we were using. He may have known his subject but he had zero teaching skills. We all had decent academic qualifications including maths but we all failed his year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.


    As someone who left Uni recently, sadly you're bang on the mark.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.


    Maybe education (and social mobility) would improve if fewer people took your attitude. To say that trigonometry is rarely used so who cares if anyone does well/badly at it is terribly short-sighted.

    These things underpin the buildings that house you for god's sake. I won't kill you to know what a right angle looks like - maybe for the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Conversely the majority of students and for that matter adults, do not know how to manage a budget, don’t understand the daily statistics that come across from the media, have no hope of understanding taxation, insurance (house, car, personal., life & as investment), pension plans and stocks and shares.


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