A  Lords Select  Committee has just recommended that maths study should be made compulsory post 16. Why? Because  our education system is not producing enough  students who are proficient in STEM subjects, and some  universities complain that they have to lay on remedial classes to ensure that undergraduates can cope with their courses  (while  other universities are  seen as offering  STEM related courses  that lack  academic rigour ,so compounding the problem)

Nobody doubts the importance of STEM subjects and the need for the education system to deliver pupils in greater number who are proficient in STEM subjects. But making maths compulsory post 16 is not without its detractors, who suggest that  such a prescriptive   move could well be counter-productive. Even top private schools find it hard to recruit good maths teachers. Maths is perceived as dull by many pupils, and part of this is probably due to the  quality of teaching. Simply coercing pupils into studying maths post 16 is therefore unlikely to greatly improve outcomes.You need in place a cadre of high quality maths  teachers to make this policy  work. This is currently not the case.  The move  may even damage the prospects of those who are keen on maths because they have to share their class with de-motivated pupils who would prefer to study anything but maths. Mediocre teaching  plus  de-motivated pupils doesn’t  equal   a good learning environment.

There is no silver bullet here, but starting early, at the Primary level  to ensure that maths is  accessible, engaging  and fun for pupils would be a good start. It is also the case that those who are perceived to be weakest at maths are placed in the bottom set , more often than  not, with the worst rather than the best maths teacher-which self-evidently   serves to reinforce failure and reduce  pupils self-esteem, which is hardly likely to deliver   improved outcomes. Time for a re-think?

Note- STEM subjects are- science, technology, engineering and mathematics


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