Post-16 maths in England

Elizabeth Truss speaks at the Core Maths Support Programme launch workshop about post-16 maths.

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

The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP


Thanks very much, Steve [Munby, Chief Executive of CfBT], for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here.

This weekend, at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the McLaren Mercedes cars zooming around the track will have a brand new logo on the bonnet front and centre - Your Life.

And that logo - perhaps looking slightly blurred, at high speed - will bring our message to life.

Because the whole point of the Your Life campaign is to show that “maths and science get you everywhere” applies to all young people - girls and boys, no matter where they live or what career they want to do.

And more than any other subject, maths and science can open up a whole world of exciting opportunities.

A maths powerhouse

Just like that car, just like our Formula 1 teams, I believe this country can and should be world-leaders - in maths.

There’s no reason at all why we can’t catch up with, and beat, those high-performing countries currently winning the global race.

The Your Life car can race straight to the front of the pack - we can too. Our ambition is for our young people to become the best mathematicians in the world - and nothing can stop us from achieving it.

Tonight, at Number 11 Downing Street, we’re bringing all the core elements together, right at the heart of government.

There’ll be people from the Your Life campaign - world-leading businesses and universities, and inspiring, innovative people like Eben Upton, who invented the ground-breaking Raspberry Pi computer, Belinda Parmar, CEO of Lady Geek, and our chair, Edwina Dunn, the successful business brain who pioneered Tesco’s Clubcard.

There’ll be people involved in our 2 announcements this week, like many of you - some from our new network of maths hubs, all over the country, working to spread best practice and drive up the quality of teaching, and our new core maths programme. There is no reason why children in England can’t do just as well in maths as those in Japan, Singapore and China - so these hubs will lead the system in delivering huge and sustainable change.

There’ll be sponsors of our maths and physics chairs - world-leading companies: UBS, Imagination Technologies, Nationwide Building Society, Tata Consulting, Telereal Trilium, RBS, Barclays, Hutchison Whampoa, BAE Systems, Lloyds, GlaxoSmithKline, Samsung, Goldman Sachs and Prudential.

The programme is attracting PhD graduates to become teachers and bring their top-level expertise into schools.

Together we can make Britain a maths powerhouse.

The importance of maths

No subject is more crucial to this country’s economic competitiveness.

More than any other subject, maths and science can open doors to all sorts of exciting, rewarding careers.

That’s never been more true than right now. As technology has become ever more sophisticated, and transformed ever more industries and occupations, more and more jobs now demand maths and science skills - from fashion to farming, manufacturing to music.

These skills are vital to get our country’s businesses, and our national economy, growing.

We know that maths skills command highest earnings premium in the jobs market.

And we know that the OECD calls numeracy “the best protection against unemployment, low wages, and poor health” - and that more than two thirds of employers want both maths and science to be promoted more in schools.

OECD analysis suggests that if 15-year-olds in this country could increase their average performance by 25 PISA points - the equivalent of just over half a school year - the potential benefit to our economy would be something in the order of $6 trillion.

But we also know that the pipeline is broken. Far too many young people in this country give up maths and science at 16.

We currently have the lowest rate of maths participation among 16- to 18-year-olds in the OECD - just about a fifth.

In 2013 more than 580,000 young people took maths at GCSE but only 82,000 people took it at A level.

But in Japan, Korea and Finland, all young people study maths to 18; in France, Germany, Massachusetts and British Columbia, it’s the vast majority.

And our young people will need to compete against their peers around the world for jobs, university places, for every opportunity. We can’t allow them to fall behind.

So we need to give our 16- to 18-year-olds this message. Maths and science can open more doors than they might realise - and give them the best possible start to the brightest possible future.

Maths post 16

We are radically reforming our maths curriculum and qualifications to match the best worldwide.

Our maths hubs will be working with academics from Shanghai Normal University and NCETM to bring over the Asian-style mastery approach to maths - the approach which has already helped countries in East Asia and beyond to reach the top of the tables.

They’ll also host the Shanghai Teacher Exchange - sending English teachers out to Shanghai, the highest-performing region in the world, to show off the best of British and to see Chinese teaching techniques in action, then welcoming up to 60 teachers from Shanghai to share their knowledge and expertise with teachers here, providing masterclasses for both pupils and students.

This work will give English pupils a deeper understanding of maths. But they also need to learn it for longer.

By 2020, we want the overwhelming majority of young people to study maths to 18, going from the bottom of that table to the top.

That’s why we’re making sure that young people who don’t get at least a C in maths GCSE at the age of 16 continue to study the subject until 18 - and reforming the maths A Level, working with Ofqual and top universities, to make it more challenging and stretching.

We’re also funding Cambridge University to develop an advanced maths curriculum for A level students so they are ready for rigorous degree courses.

But at the moment, a huge segment of the cohort - about 40% - get a good grade in maths GCSE, but drop maths at 16.

Maybe their timetable is too full; maybe they didn’t feel there was a maths option for them. Either way, it adds up to this result. More than 200,000 students every year are missing out.

And they’re not just missing out on the fun and challenge of studying advanced maths for its own sake - they’re missing out on all the benefits that the subject brings. Their maths gets rusty; they lose confidence; they close down career options before they’ve even started.

New, more exciting qualifications

That’s why we’re creating the new option of core maths, aimed at non-specialists, to keep these young people studying maths after GCSE - deepen and strengthen their skills, keep their confidence, and their ambitions, sky high.

Brand new, exciting core maths qualifications will fill that gap - offering 16- to 18-year-olds a challenging, rigorous course, learning to use maths to solve real life problems.

The courses will build students’ competence and confidence in mathematical techniques like statistics, advanced calculation, financial maths and modelling - for example, learning how to build a financial model to understand an investment, analyse trends in population growth or calculate ways to improve a process.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Mathematical Studies, respected by universities and employers, can be the core.

These are the sort of techniques needed in all sorts of careers, from marketing to manufacturing, computing to nursing. Importantly, core maths qualifications will also count as the maths element of the Tech Bacc, the mark of achievement in vocational education - which will be available for first teaching in September 2015.

We’ve already seen this model work with the IB Career-related Certificate and IB Diploma

Rolling out to schools and colleges

From September almost 200 schools and colleges have asked to deliver these qualifications - a year earlier than planned.

That means that more than 5,000 young people who would otherwise have given up maths to 18 will be continuing the subjects - and reaping the benefits.

These schools are the pioneers - and their experience, their enthusiasm, will be crucial as we roll out core maths across the whole country.

IB have made their course available to non-IB schools.

So I’d like to thank all the teachers and leaders who are going to be the first to try this out - and to wish them all the very best of luck for the year ahead.

Core Maths Support Programme

This is a big - and exciting - change. It could transform the whole landscape of post-16 education in this country - and could give thousands of young people a much better start to adult life.

But that “could” won’t turn into a “will” unless schools and colleges are ready and raring to deliver core maths properly.

So I’d like to thank all of you here today for your help in supporting schools and colleges to make core maths a success.

In particular, my thanks go to Mick Blaylock and the team at CfBT for helping to establish the Core Maths Support Programme in the first place.

Your work, and the work of the support programme, will be crucial in helping us make core maths the norm for many, many more young people in the future.


This is the start of something big. When England can move from a place where it’s considered cool to say “I’m rubbish at maths” to a country where young people think, not “shall I do maths?”, but “what maths shall I study?”.

We want every young person to leave full-time education with an advanced maths qualification, and all the skills and benefits that brings.

That’s what core maths can achieve - and that’s what we’re all working together to do. So thank you again for your help - and let’s make core maths a huge success.

Published 2 July 2014