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Budget: mathematics until 18 for all?

March 16, 2016

One Budget announcement that may prove significant for HE: Osborne has announced a review into post-16 mathematics led by Adrian Smith. Smith will report this year on

“how to improve the study of maths from 16 to 18, to ensure the future workforce is skilled and competitive, including looking at the case and feasibility for more or all students continuing to study maths to 18, in the longer-term.”

I am involved with alternative mathematics education with the Fine Art Maths Centre at CSM and a series of courses I help to run at City Lit in the philosophy of mathematics. (Initiatives which have contributed to reducing the frequency of blog updates here – apologies!).

That said, I can’t see that compulsory mathematics to 18 is the solution to low participation in England. The lessons I have learned over the last two years are that there is a lot more to mathematics than numeracy, algebra and statistics and many branches of modern mathematics would be more relevant and appealing to arts, design and humanities students. It’s reform of the post-16 curriculum and qualification landscape that’s needed.


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  1. Here in Germany, it is difficult to avoid maths until after 18. Nor is it easy to avoid studying a foreign language until 18. Effectively, a fairly broad education is compulsory for all until 18. Most people find it rather baffling when they hear that some Brits are deeply unhappy with proposals for a weaker version of similar practices.

  2. marhob permalink

    I don’t think A. Smith is looking at what the end of your article implies he is. The point is, from what angle does maths become interesting rather than a chore, or a box of tricks to juggle with. Understanding why mathematicians in the past wanted to develop the areas they did, i.e. what problems faced them, helps make the subject more understandable – in my experience, the problems become real, and what is needed to solve them easier.

    • Marian, that was meant to be my point: that the review will have too narrow a frame of reference – being dominated by quantitative skills – and a broader conception of mathematics (one more allied to the contemporary discipline) is needed (unless post-16 education is reformed at root).

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