Press release

New maths hubs to raise standards

The government announces £11 million for new maths hubs to drive up the quality of maths teaching.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Students writing

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss today announced £11 million for new maths hubs to drive up the quality of maths teachers - as international test results showed England’s performance had stagnated.

The money will allow the development of a national network of around 30 ‘mathematics education strategic hubs’ (MESH). Each will be led by a teaching school and will provide support to all schools in the area, across all areas of maths education, including:

  • recruitment of maths specialists into teaching
  • initial training of maths teachers and converting existing teachers into maths
  • co-ordinating and delivering a wide range of maths continuing professional development (CPD) and school-to-school support
  • ensuring maths leadership is developed, eg running a programme for aspiring heads of maths departments
  • helping maths enrichment programmes to reach a large number of pupils from primary school onwards

Other teaching school alliances and school and college groupings in the area will be strategic partners in the hub. The expectation will be that all phases of education from early years to post-16 will be represented.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests this year focused on maths, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) comparing countries’ average performance in the subject with England’s.

The PISA tests show that England’s performance has stagnated in maths and we are now ranked 25th. England’s score in maths is now 495, compared to 493 in 2009 and 495 in 2006. The OECD said England’s performance had plateaued in the last 6 years with 1 in 12 of England’s 15-year-olds failing even to reach the most basic level.

The table is dominated by jurisdictions from south-east Asia - the top 7 in maths are Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Macao-China and Japan. Vietnam is now ranked ahead of England, at 17th. The performance of all these jurisdictions is rated by the OECD as ‘significantly’ better than England’s.

Notes to editors

Further information on hubs

Hubs will develop local specialist expertise by including local university faculties, area representatives of national initiatives (such as the Further Mathematics Support Programme and the Core Maths Support Programme), subject associations and appropriate local employers.

National co-ordination will be provided by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) which has already tested the approach, working with several leading teaching schools.

The aim of the national network of MESH will be to ensure that all schools have access to support. The network will also ensure that all the support provided by MESH is grounded in evidence about what works, both in terms of mathematics teaching and the development of teachers of mathematics. The network will bring together the emerging national leaders of mathematics education and aim to make school-led national subject improvement a reality.

This specialist support complements the more general workforce development and school improvement led by teaching school alliances and will initially focus on the implementation of the new national curriculum mathematics curriculum from 2014 to 2015, and the new mathematics GCSEs from 2015 to 2016.

The NCETM have established 5 pathfinder MESH which are already demonstrating how well placed certain teaching schools are to provide strategic leadership. Also evident is the strong commitment from a diverse range of partners to pool their expertise in a collective effort to support schools in mathematics education.

The main programme will be robustly evaluated, and if it proves successful in raising the standards of mathematics teaching it may be continued in 2016 to 2017, contingent on future spending review outcomes.

Maths reforms

The Department for Education has already launched a top-to-bottom overhaul of maths in schools in England to address the issues, which include:

  • Only a fifth of pupils in England study maths at any level after GCSEs - the lowest rate of 24 developed countries, behind Estonia, France, USA, Spain, Russia and China, according to a 2010 report by the Nuffield Foundation. In Japan, approximately 85% of young people study maths to the equivalent of A level. In Chinese Taipei, South Korea and Hong Kong - examples of high-performing countries - maths is compulsory in ‘upper secondary’ (16 to 19) education.
  • Most students who do carry on with maths in England to a higher level are A-grade students - 71% of those who got an A* or A in GCSE maths in 2012 studied maths post-16. But almost all other pupils drop the subject after GCSE because of the lack of appropriate maths courses for them to take - only 33% of students who got a B, and just 24% of those with a C, studied any maths post-16, often at a level below GCSE.
  • The amount of time spent teaching maths in England is also low - we are 39th out of 42 countries, with 116 hours a year spent teaching maths at age 14. This compares with 166 hours a year spent teaching maths in Chinese Taipei, 138 hours in Singapore, 138 hours in Hong Kong and 137 hours in South Korea - some of the highest-performing education jurisdictions (TIMSS 2011).
  • Alongside low participation, international tables show that England’s performance in maths has stagnated at ages 10, 14 and 15, while 30% of businesses in the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) education and skills survey last year reported dissatisfaction with the standard of school and college leavers’ numeracy. Some 68% of employers said they wanted both maths and science promoted more in schools.

The reforms include:

  • A rigorous curriculum that focuses on the basics in primary so pupils can progress and achieve greater success at secondary.
    • There is increased challenge in primary school maths with more demanding concepts (eg calculations of fractions, volume and area) introduced earlier. Children will be expected to know their 12x12 times table by age 9.
    • Secondary school pupils will learn about rates of change, probability and algebra.
  • Calculators banned from tests for 11-year-olds.
  • Tough new GCSEs that are more demanding than current exams.
  • We are involving our top universities in developing new maths A levels and are funding Cambridge University to develop an advanced maths curriculum for A level students so they are ready for rigorous degree courses.
  • We have introduced new specialist maths free schools.
  • From this month all students who do not get a grade C in maths GCSE will carry on studying the subject until they do achieve that qualification.
  • We are providing the highest level of bursaries for the best maths graduates to train to teach.
  • New core maths qualifications for 16- to 18-year-olds will be introduced, in particular for students who get a B or C at GCSE and consider A level maths too challenging.

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Published 4 December 2013