Rishi Sunak is resurfacing today after the Christmas break and amidst the NHS meltdown to talk about maths. The Prime Minister’s new year speech contains an announcement that has provoked a visceral personal reaction in many of the mildly innumerate inhabitants of the Westminster village. It’s the sort of response that will underline to the PM and his team why Britain needs to take maths more seriously than it does. His solution to this country viewing maths as something to bunk off as soon as possible is to make it compulsory to 18, though he is not expected to make all students sit Maths A level.
The reasoning behind more maths for longer – ‘double maths’, as Labour is evocatively calling it – is that a similar approach worked for literacy, and therefore a focus on numeracy will help pupils’ skills long before they’re in the 16-18 education bracket anyway. Perhaps there will be further details in the speech of how Sunak plans to answer the glaringly obvious questions of how to recruit more maths teachers – and ones who can bring maths alive to children rather than putting them off. By the age of 16, it is very difficult to turn around a deeply visceral personal reaction to maths in a pupil who has been badly taught for years, and forcing them to get another maths qualification may not be the way to change that.
But the overriding reaction in Westminster is ‘why maths?’ when the NHS is under such pressure and that is the main concern of voters. Sunak is expected to talk about the health service in the speech, promising a big reform plan soon.
He’ll have to answer plenty of questions from the press pack when he finishes his speech this afternoon too.