Published Letter-The Times 30 July 2012 

Sir, No one doubts the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, but making maths compulsory post-16 would surely be counterproductive. Most people cope very well in the jobs market with basic maths skills. Of course it is important to raise standards at primary and at early secondary level, but coercing pupils into studying maths post-16 is unlikely to greatly improve outcomes. For such a policy to be workable you would need a cadre of high-quality maths teachers. This is currently not the case. Even top private schools find it hard to recruit good maths teachers.The danger, of course, is that this would damage the prospects of those who are keen on maths because they have to share their class with demotivated pupils. Mediocre teaching plus demotivated pupils doesn’t equal a good learning environment. Maths is perceived as dull by many pupils, and part of this is probably due to the teaching and a lack of imagination and creativity in the way the subject is taught.There is no silver bullet here, but beginning early, at the primary level, to ensure that maths is accessible, engaging, relevant and fun for pupils would be a good start. We should begin by focusing on the shortage of good maths teachers rather than coercing pupils to continue to fail at maths for a bit longer.

Patrick Watson  London SW8


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