Press release

New maths qualifications to boost numbers studying maths to age 18

The 16 to 18 core maths package is the latest part in the government’s top-to-bottom overhaul of maths in schools.

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

Teacher working with pupils

New high-quality maths qualifications will allow thousands more pupils to study the subject from age 16 to 18, Education Minister Elizabeth Truss today said.

She said the new core maths qualifications would give young people the numeracy skills they needed to compete for jobs and high earnings, and would ensure future generations were strong in maths - a subject vital to so many careers.

The Department for Education will spend £20 million from 2014 to 2016 on a programme to support schools and colleges to develop teaching for the new courses. To guide exam boards in developing new core maths qualifications, an expert panel convened by the Advisory Committee in Mathematics Education (ACME) has published guidelines today on what the courses should cover.

The new core maths qualifications will suit students who achieve a B or C in GCSE maths - usually around 50% of pupils every year, the vast majority of whom currently drop the subject afterwards. It will also be available for those with an A* and A grade who are not taking A or AS level maths.

The International Baccalaureate Organisation announced today that an online version of its maths studies standard level course is to be developed for students in post-16 education from September 2015. This standard level course is already taught successfully to post-16 students in schools and colleges offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma and will be made available more widely.

Core maths courses will include topics like statistics, probability, advanced calculation and modelling, and will develop students’ mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills. The qualifications will also count as the maths element of the new TechBacc, to be introduced from September 2014 to recognise high performance by students in vocational education.

The 16 to 18 core maths package is the latest part in the government’s top-to-bottom overhaul of maths in schools. It includes a rigorous new maths curriculum from age 5, and reformed maths GCSEs and A levels. Last month the government announced that students who reached the end of secondary school without a grade C or better in GCSE maths would have to continue the subject in some way, up to the age of 18 or until they did achieve that qualification. The Department for Education is consulting on bringing in a new measure in the 16 to 19 performance tables which will show what proportion of students at colleges and school sixth forms achieve level 3 maths qualifications - equivalent to AS/A level.

Only a fifth of pupils in England currently carry on studying 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 CBI’s 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.

Research shows the importance of maths to people’s careers. Those with A level maths earn between 7% and 10% more than similarly skilled workers who do not have the qualification. A study by Deloitte last year showed that the economic return from maths science jobs was £74,000 on average compared to the national mean of £36,000.

Elizabeth Truss said:

The evidence is clear, maths is vital to getting on in life. Careers increasingly demand strong numeracy and reasoning. We need far more of our young people going to university and into work with these skills.

England lags behind the world in maths, both in performance and participation. This is a real risk to our economic growth and future prosperity.

This is why we are supporting organisations to develop these maths qualifications. They will mean thousands more young people will now study the subject to age 18 and be able to compete in the global jobs market.

Professor Jeremy Hodgen of King’s College London said:

Mathematical problem-solving and modelling is becoming increasingly important in the workplace and in higher education. It is essential young people with GCSE study maths for longer to develop greater understanding. These proposals present an exciting opportunity for young people to develop this capacity to apply and use mathematics.

Adrian Kearney, regional director for IB Africa, Europe, Middle East, said:

With the number of UK students studying mathematics beyond 16 significantly lower than many other countries, there is an urgent need to take action to ensure that future generations of young people have the mathematics and problem-solving skills required to keep the UK internationally competitive. In today’s global marketplace, both universities and employers need to be confident that the people they are recruiting are on a par with their international counterparts when it comes to standards in mathematics. But to bring the discipline to life and inspire young people to continue in the subject, we must make sure we embed the study of mathematics in the context of other disciplines and the real world - something which is at the very heart of the IB’s approach.

Prof. Stephen Sparks FRS, ACME Chair said:

Whatever path young people choose, they will face situations where they need to be competent and confident in dealing with numbers, data and graphs. These courses will give them the opportunity to work mathematically with authentic materials and resources and in a range of realistic contexts, outside of the world of mathematics.

Mike Ellicock, Chief Executive of National Numeracy, said:

National Numeracy believes that everybody needs to be confident and competent in using numbers and thinking mathematically in everyday life and so strongly supports the concept of a ‘core maths’ qualification for all those students who are not taking maths A or AS level.

We welcome this report from ACME as a step in the right direction and in particular we approve of its focus on developing confidence and applying maths competently and fluently in a variety of situations and contexts. The report contains an excellent, well-defined list of outcomes for students, which includes reference to confidence and positive attitudes. We look forward to the development of courses that deliver these outcomes, that take real-life problems as their starting point and that address areas such as financial capability that are crucial for all young people.

The International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate maths studies standard level is suitable for students in post-16 education with a grade C or above in GCSE maths. It includes content on statistical applications and mathematical models. IB is working with Pamoja Education to develop a teacher-led, student-centred online course which will be available from September 2015.


The guidelines for exam boards published today by ACME’s expert panel say core maths qualifications should be:

  • level 3 qualifications accredited by Ofqual - designed to sit alongside current post-16 qualifications but distinct from A level and AS level maths
  • aimed at students with at least a grade C in maths GCSE for whom A level or AS level qualifications are not the right course
  • suitable for students studying a wide range of subjects, including those taking vocational qualifications

Sir Tim Gowers / Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI)

MEI is already developing a maths and statistical problem-solving curriculum based on the work of Sir Tim Gowers. The organisation is working with maths education experts, universities and awarding organisations and plan to develop a core maths qualification for first teaching in 2015.

Government reforms to boost maths

We have instigated a system-wide overhaul of maths in our schools:

  • 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 12 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

Notes to editors:

The Nuffield Foundation survey

In a survey of 24 countries, England, Wales and Northern Ireland had the lowest levels of participation in mathematics to age 18, with fewer than 20% of 16- to 19-year-olds in England studying the subject. This is fewer than countries as diverse as Estonia, France, the USA, New Zealand, Russia, Spain and China.

In England only 13% of students study maths to advanced levels, whereas in Japan 85% of students achieve this level.

Participation in some mathematics Participation in advanced mathematics
Japan All 85%
Korea All 57%
Finland All 20%
France Most 13-30%
US (Mass.) Most 15%
Germany Most 11%
Canada (BC) Most n/a
New Zealand Many 41%
Singapore Many 31%
Scotland Some 23%
England Few 13%

DfE enquiries

Published 8 October 2013