Photo by Simon Walker / HM Treasury

Keegan admits currently not enough teachers to deliver PM’s ‘maths mindset’ plan

Prime minister Rishi Sunak will today vow to change the nation’s “anti-maths mindset” as part of a major speech on education in which he will say that all pupils in England should study some sort of maths until the age of 18.

Speaking in central London, the prime minister will announce an expert-led review into how to carry out his plan without making maths A-Level compulsory.

But the education secretary Gillian Keegan has admitted that the UK currently does not have enough specialist maths teachers. 

Speaking to Times Radio, she said: “Well, we certainly need to do more to build up our maths teachers, that is why very recently we put in place a bursary for maths teachers and also physics and computer science as well of £27,000”.

She added: “There is a lot we can do but there is no doubt, this is not a short term, overnight change, it is a change that we are going to make to our country that will take time but we have really got to set out the vision and start to put those things in place”.

Asked whether her ambition was to see specialist maths teachers used in “100 per cent” of schools, Ms Keegan replied: “Yes, of course, that’s why we’re working on an apprenticeship to broaden the number of routes into it”.

In his speech set to be delivered at 10.00 am, Mr Sunak will criticise the “cultural sense that it’s okay to be bad at maths”, detailing that it puts children “at a disadvantage” for failing to equip them with skills needed in a workplace.

He will say: “We’ve got to change this anti-maths mindset. We’ve got to start prizing numeracy for what it is – a key skill every bit as essential as reading”.

“I won’t sit back and allow this cultural sense that it’s OK to be bad at maths to put our children at a disadvantage.

“My campaign to transform our national approach to maths is not some nice-to-have. It’s about changing how we value maths in this country”.

The UK is one of the only countries in the world that does not require students to study maths in some form up to the age of 18 and around a third of pupils fail to pass GCSE maths. 

According to Downing Street, more than eight million adults have numeracy skills below those expected of a nine-year-old.

No 10 claims about a third of children fail to pass GCSE maths, and more than eight million adults have numeracy skills below those expected of a nine-year-old.

But Labour has accused the prime minister of “yet more flannel” ahead of his speech, saying that the “maths mindset” approach is a “non-plan” that does not “add up”. 

Speaking to Sky News, Labour frontbencher Thangam Debbonaire said: “It’s not even a new idea, and it’s not even a plan. … It’s like, we’ll have another consultation. He announced this back in January wasn’t it? Another time he wanted to distract from something going on”.

She added: “It’s a non-plan. It’s really poor. We need teachers. That’s the plan. Rishi Sunak is the one who needs to add up”.

Ms Debbonaire explained that Labour would invest in 6,500 new teachers if in government, paid for by scrapping the charitable status of private schools.

“Bridget Phillipson, our shadow education secretary, has rightly condemned this as yet more flannel; just so much nonsense”, she said. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that instead of “re-announcing a vague and poorly thought-out policy”, Mr Sunak should focus on resolving the pay dispute which has triggered industrial action.

“It is hard to understand why the Prime Minister is rehashing his ambition of maths to 18 having only announced this policy in January and with no further detail of what it will entail or how it will be delivered.

“It seems like an attempt to divert attention away from the most pressing matter in education in England which is the industrial dispute triggered by the erosion of teacher pay and conditions and resulting crisis in recruiting and retaining enough staff”.