Compulsory maths until 18? No, thank you.

16th January 2023

I am still reeling from the announcement from Rishi Sunak at the beginning of the year, that he plans to make maths compulsory for all students until the age of 18.

The idea behind his plan is to raise the standard of maths in the UK so we can be in line with other countries and to prepare children for a world where 'data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job'. He believes that “letting our children out into that world without those skills is letting our children down."

I’ve nothing against maths. It’s a beautiful subject, but what about all the other skills? What about communication skills? Creativity and inventive thinking? Without these skills I think we’d be letting our children down.

For children to flourish and be well rounded individuals, we must celebrate and nourish their creativity, their ways of thinking, how they approach tasks and how they view the world.

Already many schools are losing funding for arts and humanities, so many students are missing out on what I believe to be vital subjects. In my mind, the children who learn about these subjects in school could be the next generation of theatre makers who are shaping the future of our industry.

For some, if they don’t experience the arts at school, then there is a chance that they might not have the opportunity to experience them at all. A scary thought.

The government has for a while sent clear messages that the arts are not as important as maths and other STEM subjects - from budget cuts to planning to cut them from the curriculum altogether. This decision is just more proof that they do not value the arts in state schools. Funny how fee paying schools and top public schools do see these subject as important! Drama and theatre thrives in these schools.

Creativity in all state schools needs investment. Now.

Like Simon Pegg says in his video, “What about arts and humanities and fostering this country's amazing reputation for creativity and self-expression?... Rishi Sunak wants a drone army of data-entering robots.”

Looking from a creative perspective rather than a mathematical one, the new plan raises a few questions for me:

  • If maths isn’t a good fit for students who may be more creative – what does this mean for them? Will they get the right or extra support that they need to succeed?
  • Will being forced to do maths alongside their A-Levels be detrimental to grades in other chosen subjects?
  • Will being forced to do maths be detrimental to both young people’s mental health and their decision to continue into sixth form?

There has been much talk of real life skills, teaching students practical life skills. Well, all the maths skills we are taught from primary school to GCSE teach us these skills and there does need to be a good solid foundation as in any subject. Yes, of course we need to give children real life skills like managing finances and budgeting, mortgages, pensions, practical maths skills, but all this can be done though the years up until sixteen. Of course A Level and further maths is more academic and wonderful for those who wish to study it.

If the PM wants the UK to challenge the ‘best education systems in the world’, then he needs to look at what other countries are doing.

Take Finland for example. Its education is a national priority, teaching is highly respected and a well-paid profession, and schools receive plenty of funding. Because of this, Finland is ranked in the top five education systems in the world.

Students spend around five hours in class each day with additional expert-led sessions before and after school that match parents’ work schedules. Class sizes average around 20. Breaks are taken in between each lesson to give time to teachers to prepare and children to rest. Little or no homework is given as it is believed that the time wasted on assignments can be used for hobbies.

Schools believe that the best place for students to learn is at school where trained professionals are available to assist. And they really are all professionals - all teachers must have a Master’s degree.

Back in the UK, it’s another story. Schools barely receive funding and are losing arts and humanities at a fast rate. Class size has always been an issue. I once had a class of 36! How was I ever expected to give every student the attention they deserved?

Teachers aren’t given the respect or pay they deserve. Many are leaving the profession, which is putting added pressures on others who are having to teach not only their own subject but also subjects outside their specialism. So there’s another major issue. There aren’t enough Maths teachers.

Recruiting maths teachers is a very difficult task right now due to the severe shortage of them. If the PM were to move forward with his plans, it would mean bringing the right teachers in on expensive contracts. Where would this money come from? How does that play out with teachers of other subjects? To my mind this continual pushing a hierarchy of subjects is most unhelpful. Education should be a well rounded endeavour. I’m not sure Mr Sunak is fully clued up with the current situation of our education system.

A certain level of maths is important for everyone, but having access to the arts is vital to everyone of all ages. It enriches our lives, brings creativity into all we do, adds value and contributes to our learning by providing us with key skills such as communication, discipline, concentration and self-esteem. It’s also improves our mental health. There are so many positives that come out of the arts.

As I have said before, some children may not be able to sit still and concentrate during a maths class, but they come alive on the stage. We all have different skills and abilities. Art and creative opportunities cannot be taken away from the classroom.

To me this plan makes no sense. Even the experts are saying that his idea doesn’t add up

The PM should be looking at funding the arts to give our children the best chance of having a well-rounded education where they are learning about art, playing an instrument, trying a new language, or even treading the boards. What is life without the arts?

Instead of "reimagining our approach to numeracy", we need to reimagine our approach to creativity… And quickly.