Royal Society response to the Smith Review of 16-18 mathematics education

20 July 2017

The Royal Society welcomes the recommendations by Sir Adrian Smith in today’s publication reviewing post-16 mathematics. The report explores ways of increasing participation in mathematics up to age 18.

Frank Kelly, Chair of the Royal Society Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, said: 

“We are currently failing our young people when it comes to maths education. Too many pupils leave school without decent grades at GCSE and too few go on to study the subject at A level. This leaves them ill-equipped for the workplace of the future.  Most countries already have mathematics education to 18 and the Smith Review highlights that even with political will, we do not at the moment have the means to deliver it.

“The Royal Society’s 2014 Vision report found that only 13% of young people in the UK study maths beyond 16, and 1 in 4 economically active adults are functionally innumerate. Mathematics is essential for understanding the modern world and provides the foundations for economic prosperity.

“We welcome the Government's recognition of the importance of maths skills and their commitment to improving opportunities in schools and colleges. We look forward to working with the Department for Education and the Institute for Apprenticeships to increase access to and participation in mathematics.”

The Detail

  • As a priority, attention must be given to the recruitment, retention, and training of our teachers to ensure an expert workforce that can deliver Core Mathematics and A level mathematics. Increasing participation in mathematics to 18 will require an increase in the number of teachers needed, and the Society urges the Department to continue supporting the number of new teachers and emphasise measures to improve teacher retention.
  • The Society welcomes the Government’s commitment of £16 million to support 16-18 mathematics, but it is unclear how this funding will be used to tackle existing resource pressures on schools and colleges that limit the number of courses they can offer to pupils. The Government must consider how it can modify the current funding model for 16-18 education, reducing disincentives that hinder schools from offering the full range of mathematics qualifications. 
  • To deliver an industrial strategy that champions science and innovation throughout the UK, we need to ensure that young people in all areas of the country have the same opportunities to pursue mathematics. As the report identifies, there is a correlation between future earnings and mathematics participation, which requires action on the regional disparities that are preventing young people from obtaining the skills they will need in the workplace.
  • The role that employers and universities play in signalling the value of studying mathematics is another area that requires urgent action and we look forward to working with the Department for Education and the British Academy to explore how the right messages from these sectors can encourage young people to study and excel in mathematics. 
  • The Review highlights serious disparities in the gender and ethnicity balance of pupils studying mathematics. It is critical we encourage all young people to pursue mathematics so that we have a diverse workforce of the future. A cultural shift is also needed to counter negative attitudes and aspirations towards mathematics, and the Society welcomes further exploration of these issues. A vital part of this will be a focus on joining up the importance of mathematics to a wide range of disciplines and career paths.
  • The Society recognises the increasing role technology is playing in the teaching of mathematics and supports calls to improve the evidence base on how this enhances young people’s learning in the classroom. 
  • The Society welcomes the recommendation to reconsider the GCSE resit policy and we encourage the Department for Education to explore options that will best support these pupils to obtain the mathematics skills they need. 
  • Participation in apprenticeships continues to increase and the Society looks forward to working with the Department for Education and the Institute for Apprenticeships to help develop the mathematics content for technical routes in further education.