Friday 6 January 2023

Will compulsory Maths fix the Education system?

As we start 2023, there are still far too many children missing out on education. Too many who are 'Not Fine in School'. I don't think this issue is limited to the UK but I am going to take a moment to share something close to home. This week the Prime Minister made a speech setting out his priorities for 2023, including education reforms. One headline stood out for me: "Compulsory maths until 18 for every school child" 
(front page of the Times newspaper, 4th January).

This is the kind of statement that would have enraged me a few years ago. "How ridiculous is that?" would have been the first thought I jumped to. Making children study a subject they have no interest in, for even longer than they currently have to, is not likely to end well, I feel. There is so much else wrong with the education system currently that this is the last proposal I would have wanted to hear. Compulsory anything doesn't sit well with me, I'll be honest. We have learnt that there is very little anybody can force our PDA daughter to do anyway. 

Forcing and why it doesn't work was the key theme of this great post on Facebook from Dr Naomi Fisher. I totally agree with these thoughts. The Government angle is all wrong. Have they properly considered how this will help individuals or the country to achieve more, and have they properly considered how this will be implemented? My gut feeling is no. On a side note, I find it hard to believe that the majority of the British public would have been nodding along as Rishi announced this, thinking this is a great idea, exactly what is needed to improve our country. I'm failing to see how this policy will win him more votes... but I digress. 

So why am I not raging about this latest education proposal then? These days I try to consider news from all angles before reacting to simple headlines. Here is some more detail about the intended change from the Government's own website:

The PM will commit to taking the necessary action to deliver for the long term on issues such as low numeracy rates. As part of this, he will set a new ambition of ensuring that all school pupils in England study some form of maths to the age of 18.

Around 8 million adults in England have the numeracy skills of primary school children. Currently only around half of 16-19 year olds study any maths at all and the problem is particularly acute for disadvantaged pupils, 60% of whom do not have basic maths skills at age 16.

Despite these poor standards, the UK remains one of the only countries in the world to not to require children to study some form of maths up to the age of 18. This includes the majority of OECD countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Finland, Japan, Norway and the USA.

The Prime Minister will commit to take action to reverse these trends by introducing maths to 18 for all pupils in England. He will say: "One of the biggest changes in mindset we need in education today is to reimagine our approach to numeracy. Right now, just half of all 16–19-year-olds study any maths at all. Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before. And letting our children out into the world without those skills, is letting our children down”.

We have two girls who couldn't be more different. Our eldest daughter is currently studying maths (and politics!) at A-Level. If the new policy was brought in next week, it would have no effect on her. But it would add extra unnecessary pressure to our younger daughter.

I've learnt to live with the irritation that despite paying our taxes, Sasha has not received the education she is entitled to. She has been let down. She spent six years being well supported at a mainstream school but then almost as many years since that placement came to an end being misunderstood. She simply can't learn in the way that many other children can. Following an Education Tribunal early last year, she was put on roll at a fourth school. There have been huge gaps in her education and it seems unlikely that she will ever complete any academic exams. Sasha will be 16 this year, and if the Government rush this proposal through then somebody in the system might feel a need to force her to complete a maths course or qualification in the next couple of years. Doing that is not likely to improve her future life prospects. It will just reinforce the narrative that she is not good enough as she is. That message weighs heavily. 

I am absolutely not backing this Government policy or proposal in any way, but I might concede that for some children, more maths might not be a bad idea. Especially if that type of maths was more specifically about the kind of experiences that affect most people in life - loans, interest, discounts, income, mortgages or rent and budgeting, for example. A-level maths is not what the government is aiming for, thankfully, as that would be irrelevant and unachievable for many. I am definitely not against the idea of my daughter being taught maths that focuses on life skills, as long as it is taught or discussed with her in a way that she can access. Testing her to prove what she knows is not only pointless but pretty much impossible.

I am left wondering whether it is the suggested Government policy or the emotion-stirring headline reporting by the press that is the biggest issue? Or maybe it is the way in which Local Authorities implement these kinds of policies that should come under the biggest scrutiny? Government should have more understanding of what is happening at a local level. Accountability is what many parents of children who are not fine in school would like to see and hear about, rather than blanket policies intended to improve the country but that ignore the needs of our children entirely.

So here ends my mini rant that isn't a rant. I know lots of people will have strong feelings about the maths announcement, but I can't make myself angry about this. The education system, and how it is failing too many children? Now that I could shout about for some time to come. Just watch me!

There are several posts I have written already about the school system and how it hasn't suited our daughter, if anyone is interested in further reading:

Next week I will be publishing new posts in my Not Fine In School series. Parents sharing their stories of how the education system has not worked for them or their children. Too many examples of families being failed by the system. Most of the families caught up in the system currently will not have the time or energy to be able to write about their experiences, so the experiences I share will only ever be a very small representation of what is happening across the country.

If you feel able to write about your family's 'not fine in school' experiences please email me at I understand it can be difficult for families to talk openly about this topic - for some there will be a need to stay anonymous and that is fine. This issue of the outdated, failing education system in our country is immense and should not be ignored any longer.

For any parents and carers needing help right now, I highly recommend the incredibly helpful Not Fine In School website ( Square Peg is an organisation making great strides in terms of raising awareness across different media formats, and also looking into legal challenges around attendance policies. There are many supporters behind the scenes and in the Not Fine In School Facebook group who have been, or are going, through difficult times during the school years. Plenty of knowledge is being shared there which could make a real difference to other families. If the system is not fit for purpose we need to shout that out loud. Please help, by sharing your story or sharing this post to get the message out there.

1 comment:

  1. My worry about compulsory anything to 18 is that they are trying to turn the first two years of further education into another two years of school. I always thought the school leaving age shouldn't be higher than is absolutely necessary, because (a) you don't want secondary schools to be top-heavy with unaccountable young adults with weight to throw around and (b) it gets people out of the system who are not interested in learning or studying and leaves it for those who are. My sixth form was when I first started enjoying learning, because I was at college with people who wanted to be there, not other pupils who had been thrown together. As with previous rises in the school leaving age, it has more to do with reducing the numbers of out-of-work young people and those on benefits, and reserving jobs for older adults as life expectancy increases (although that has probably stopped now), but it turns the education system into more and more of a holding pen and less and less of a studying and learning environment. I believe we should invest more in adult education, so that school is not the only chance you have to gain qualifications without great expense.

    Plus, A-level maths is not school maths, it's advanced maths (that's what the 'A' stands for). You don't do maths at that age if you didn't get a good grade at GCSE.


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