Mathematical Futures programme

The Mathematical Futures programme aims to build a new vision of mathematics education that anticipates needs and reinforces the role of mathematics in society.

A new approach to Mathematical and Data Education

Mathematics, data and statistics seem ever-present and increasingly influence our daily lives, whether as employees, citizens or consumers (of products, services or political messaging). They support decision-making by governments, guide industry and business, and feature prominently in research and innovation in all sectors. We must therefore ensure that all young people learn how to engage confidently with a data and digitally rich world.

In September 2023 the Royal Society launched a discussion paper for consultation ahead of a major report to be published in spring 2024. The paper makes the case for a new approach to mathematical education. Our aim is to provide a better mathematics education for everyone, from the everyday needs of citizens to the brilliant academic mathematicians of the future. 

We believe this new approach, which we are calling Mathematical and Data Education, will equip future citizens with the capabilities, skills, adaptability, and resilience they need to thrive in a world where mathematics and data play increasingly important roles in everyone’s lives.   

The reforms we seek are ambitious and cannot be achieved by limited short-term measures:

  • Activity to effect changes should begin immediately.
  • It will take 10-15 years to fully implement reform.
  • This will require investment, careful planning, design, and evaluation.
  • Successful implementation requires collaboration between the many stakeholders involved and buy-in across the political divide.  

Programme overview

The Mathematical Futures Programme (MFP) was launched in February 2020, overseen by the Royal Society’s Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education through a specially convened expert Board, chaired by Sir Martin Taylor FRS. It is generously supported through donor funding from industry partners: Arm, GSK and Google, and continuing support from the London Mathematical Society, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and the Royal Statistical Society. 

The programme considers the phases between the start of compulsory education and entry into higher or further education or employment. It is concerned with the future mathematical needs of young people progressing through education and preparing for diverse futures, ranging from citizens who will require functional numeracy in their lives to those in jobs/professions where mathematical competencies will be a core component.

With a 20-year time horizon, the programme seeks to address two core questions:

  1. What mathematical competencies will be needed for citizens and society to thrive in the future?  
  2. How should education systems develop these mathematical competencies?

Phase 1: Evidence-gathering to understand the changing nature of mathematics education

  1. Call for Views on the changing nature of mathematics and implications for education
    A Call for Views took place between October 2020 and January 2021. Responses from teaching practitioners, industry representatives, researchers, learned societies and government agencies from across the four nations of the UK were analysed and helped to shape Phase 2.
  2. A synthesis of the evidence for the value of mathematics in the future  
    A literature review to gather evidence of the value of mathematics to citizens’ future lives, employment and citizenship. This focused on how mathematics is likely to contribute to scientific, technological, economic, and societal developments over time and how this may change in the future.  
  3. Landscaping mathematics education policy
    To inform future thinking this research reviewed 40 years of UK mathematics education policy. It included a chronological mapping of mathematics education policy interventions in England, analysis of trends and the implications of these findings for influencing future mathematics education policy and practice. 
  4. Horizon scanning international mathematics education policy 
    Key features in mathematics education policy in high performing international jurisdictions were compared with those in the UK, particularly England.  Aspects examined included curriculum and pedagogy, qualifications and assessment, resources and technology, and teacher preparation and professional development. 
  5. Scenarios for the value of mathematics and mathematical education in the future
    Using evidence generated from the other projects and a series of workshops, several scenarios for the future place of mathematics in education and society were generated. These help to envisage the future according to the policy choices made.     

Phase 2: Looking to the future

Following the first phase of evidence gathering, the Mathematical Futures Programme Board agreed a number of themes that required further investigation: 

  1. The intersection between mathematics, statistics, data science and computing: how could their synergies be better utilised in the future?
    Research commissioned from the Open University investigates the intersection of mathematics, data science, statistics and computing and suggests a framework of competencies for a curriculum at that intersection.
  2. Inequalities in mathematics education and the challenges of engaging pupils and students 
    The Royal Society invited a group of experts to suggest how to address the deeply entrenched inequalities in mathematical education (and beyond) that influence life outcomes for many, as well as the challenges of engaging all pupils in mathematics. 
  3. The role of technology (Ed-tech or digi-tech) in mathematical education 
    Research commissioned from UCL makes recommendations to support educators in recognising which educational technologies are best used for which purpose in mainstream mathematics education. It suggests strategies for their implementation and considers the use of digital technologies in teaching, learning, and doing mathematics.
  4. Implications for the teaching workforce, in mathematics and other disciplines, of our learning from themes 1-3 

Phase 3: Sharing the vision

Findings from the evidence-gathering phases were drawn together into a discussion paper. Its publication is the start of a process of consultation with the many communities that have a stake in the future of Mathematical and Data Education. There will be a number of consultation events and meetings during Autumn 2023. 

The purpose of the consultation is to air the underlying principles and possibilities, to gauge the appetite for change, and to explore how we could move from strategic vision to implementation. We invited readers to respond by 31 October 2023 to any or all of these questions

  • Do you support our vision for the future of mathematical and data education? 
  • Is this vision appropriate for all students?
  • Are there areas of our vision that need further development?
  • What are the first steps needed to begin the process of change?

A report with recommendations that are informed by our consultation will be published in 2024.