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If maths until 18 is compulsory, keep it real.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a bold pledge earlier this month – to require all pupils to study maths until the age of 18.

It’s a policy that comes from concerns that millions of adults in the country have the numeracy skills of primary-aged children. Sunak is also referencing the policies of other countries, which require pupils to keep studying the subject until they’re adults.

I get where the PM is coming from, but I don’t completely agree with him.

The Government says that keeping pupils in maths lessons until they are 18 will help them in the jobs of the future. The concern, he says, is that more and more jobs will require work with data and statistics. A research study by Dell Technologies and authored by the Institute For The Future (IFTF) stated that 85 percent of jobs that will exist in 2030 have not yet been invented yet.

With world trends edging towards more sophisticated information technology, artificial intelligence and robotics, it is no wonder Sunak is advocating maths until 18, after all, maths and statistics drives such innovation.

Now, as a teacher, I understand the importance of Maths – it is a fundamental part of a child’s education. However, Maths needs to be more relevant to young people if it is to mandatory for everyone until 18, in my view.

What Should Be Taught Between 16-18?

I’m a big believer in ensuring children leave school with a good level of financial literacy, for example, to help them to understand how to manage their money and understand how money flows.

Key aspects to financial literacy include knowing how to create a budget, manage debt, track personal spending and plan for their retirement. Research suggests that people who are financially literate are generally less vulnerable to financial fraud. Essentially, financial literacy provides a strong foundation support individual life goals. This would prove to be incredibly useful to a student that is just about to start their life at university.

Research by the National Union of Students found that ‘financial difficulty was students’ main reason for contemplating leaving their education and why 10 per cent of students drop out of university in their first year. Surely, whether a student at 18 goes to university or begin an apprenticeship, or enters the world of work – this will be the first time they will be properly managing money.

For those not intent on pursuing an academic career in a Math-based subject, wouldn’t it be better to show these young people how to accumulate wealth and develop good money management skills instead? Surely, this will be more useful?

For those not taking Economics A-Level, can we give all a decent level of understanding of micro and macro-economics? For example, we are currently in a recession. What does that mean? Interest rates are high. So what? The government will bail us out right?

Wouldn’t providing an education in financial literacy and basic economics be more relevant to prepare them for the world we are living in today and in the future?

Young people need to understand that any change to the national income and interest rates directly affects the spending of the consumer as a result of the demand and supply of a company’s product. The balance between supply and demand can affect the company experiencing profits or losses. What does that mean in terms of their net income on their payslips? What does a payslip even tell you? What is a national insurance number? The list goes on and on…

Finding the tangent of a circle or solving an advanced differential equation is simply not relevant for the majority. Students need to be prepared for the world they live in. The maths need to be relevant.

Research has shown that to encourage motivation among pupils, making lessons relevant to their lives is incredibly helpful. As young people approach the point in their lives where they have to spread their wings and either enter the world of work, training or further or higher education, they are already thinking about how to live on their own, being less reliant on their parents.

They might not admit it, but this can be a daunting period in a young person’s life. This is why I think that if we are to have compulsory subjects, such as Maths, up to 18, we must work harder to make the lessons more useful for pupils. It is difficult to see how a young person headed towards a job or course without any serious requirement for math skills will stay motivated. Making it real will getting them sitting up and taking notice.

Maths is important and more jobs in the future will rely on maths skills, but it is a missed opportunity if we do not show our young people how to apply those skills to their lives as they enter into adulthood.