Why the UK has a problem with maths | FT Film

Financial Times
18 Sept 202328:00
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TLDRThe video script addresses the UK's struggle with numeracy, highlighting that many Britons lack basic math skills, which affects their financial literacy and daily life. It explores the impact of poor math education on children and adults, with a third of teenagers failing to pass GCSE math exams, limiting their future opportunities. The script discusses various approaches to improve math education, such as 'maths by stealth' in community gardens and integrating financial literacy into school curricula. It also features experts advocating for an overhaul of the current exam system, suggesting the need for a more functional and relevant math curriculum that doesn't alienate students and provides them with practical skills for the real world.

  • πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ The UK is a major financial hub, yet many Britons struggle with basic math due to poor experiences with math education.
  • πŸ“š There is a debate about the effectiveness of current math teaching and examination methods in schools, which may hinder the development of competent number skills.
  • πŸ‘¨β€πŸ« The fear of math or a bad experience in secondary school can lead to a lifelong avoidance of math, affecting both education and career prospects.
  • πŸ“‰ A significant number of students leave school without a good math qualification, and over half of working-age adults have low basic numeracy.
  • 🌱 Community colleges offer 'maths by stealth' programs, like gardening classes, to help adults overcome their fear and improve their numeracy skills.
  • 🏫 Efforts have been made to improve state schools since the 1990s, but an OECD report showed that young people in the UK had worse numeracy than older generations.
  • πŸ“ˆ Math skills are unevenly distributed, and the exam system often leaves 'hidden losers' who miss out on opportunities for further education and employment.
  • πŸ’‘ The prime minister's goal is for everyone to learn math up to the new school leaving age of 18, emphasizing the importance of a solid foundation in math.
  • 🧩 There is a need for a more practical approach to teaching math, integrating real-world applications and financial literacy into the curriculum.
  • πŸ”’ The current GCSE curriculum is criticized for being too academic and not meeting the needs of all students, with calls for a more functional approach to math education.
  • πŸ€” Experts suggest that the UK needs to overhaul its approach to math education, considering the importance of statistical literacy and the ability to understand and analyze data.
Q & A
  • What is the main issue discussed in the video script regarding the UK's education system?

    -The main issue discussed is the poor state of numeracy skills in the UK, with a significant number of students leaving school without a good maths qualification and many adults having low basic numeracy.

  • What is the impact of not achieving level 4 in maths and English according to the script?

    -Not achieving level 4 in maths and English can lead to being written off, as it locks individuals out of later opportunities at college and work.

  • What is the 'Multiply programme' mentioned in the script?

    -The Multiply programme is a national multi-million-pound initiative funded by the government, designed to help people overcome their fear of maths and improve their numeracy skills in a way that doesn't feel like traditional schooling.

  • How does Morley College approach adult numeracy education as described in the script?

    -Morley College uses a 'maths by stealth' approach, embedding maths into various courses such as gardening, art, and ceramics, making learning more engaging and relevant to real-life situations.

  • What is the concern raised by the script about the current teaching of maths in secondary schools?

    -The script raises concerns that the current teaching of maths in secondary schools is too abstract and disconnected from real-life applications, leading to disengagement and poor numeracy skills among students.

  • What is the GCSE pass rate at Shoreditch Park Academy as mentioned in the script?

    -The GCSE pass rate at Shoreditch Park Academy was 80 per cent in the year discussed in the script, which is significantly higher than the average for England and Wales.

  • What is the role of the charity FLIC in the script?

    -FLIC (Financial Literacy and Inclusion Campaign) is a charity that has developed materials for a pilot financial literacy scheme being used in PSHE classes at Shoreditch Park Academy.

  • What does the script suggest about the current state of numeracy in the UK population?

    -The script suggests that the UK population has shockingly bad number skills compared to other countries, with a significant proportion of kids leaving school without a good maths qualification and more than half of working-age adults estimated to have low basic numeracy.

  • What is the proposal from Lord Baker, the architect of the GCSE system, regarding maths education?

    -Lord Baker proposes retiring the all-ability GCSE maths and introducing more functional maths from ages 11 to 16, focusing on basic calculations and financial literacy, to better meet the needs of students and prepare them for real-world applications.

  • What is the potential issue with creating a separate numeracy qualification as discussed in the script?

    -The potential issue with creating a separate numeracy qualification is that it could divide students along class and socio-economic lines, and possibly shut out already disadvantaged kids from the cultural and intellectual benefits of academic maths.

  • What is the role of the 'core maths' A-Level in the context of the script's discussion on maths education?

    -Core maths at A-Level is presented as a growing option that includes elements of finance and statistical skills, which are seen as important for real-world applications, but it is not widely available at the GCSE-equivalent level for 16-year-olds outside Scotland and Wales.

  • What is the script's view on the necessity of improving numeracy skills in the UK?

    -The script emphasizes the urgent need to improve numeracy skills in the UK to avoid the economic cost of tens of billions a year due to poor numeracy and to ensure that more people are equipped to cope with everyday calculations.

πŸ“š The UK's Maths Education Crisis

The script opens with a discussion on the UK's struggle with maths education despite being a global financial hub. It highlights the poor numeracy skills prevalent among Britons, often rooted in bad experiences or fear of maths during their school years. The speaker expresses concern over the current state of maths teaching, which seems outdated compared to real-world applications. The impact is significant, with many students lacking basic numeracy skills, affecting their future opportunities. Efforts to improve state schools have been made, but an OECD report shows a decline in numeracy among the younger generation. The script emphasizes the need to address this issue to prevent children from being left behind and to ensure a solid foundation in maths for all.

🌱 Maths by Stealth: Community Garden Approach

This paragraph introduces an innovative approach to tackling adult numeracy issues through a gardening class at Morley College in London. Funded by the government, the class uses practical gardening tasks to subtly teach maths concepts, such as spacing and measuring, which are essential for understanding basic numeracy. The 'maths by stealth' method aims to overcome the fear and dislike of maths by embedding it in everyday activities, making it more relatable and less intimidating. The class is part of the government's Multiply programme, a multi-million-pound initiative designed to help adults overcome their fear of maths and improve their numeracy skills in a non-traditional learning environment.

🏫 Shoreditch Park Academy: Success in Maths Education

The narrative shifts to Shoreditch Park Academy, a school with an impressive 80% GCSE pass rate in maths, significantly above the national average for England and Wales. The school employs a traditional approach to teaching maths, including trigonometry, with a focus on abstract concepts. The head of maths, Sam Mitchell, discusses the challenges of making maths relevant to students' lives and the importance of engaging them with real-world applications. The school also incorporates financial literacy lessons, a pilot scheme supported by the charity FLIC, into their Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) classes. This initiative aims to provide students with a better understanding of financial concepts, such as risk and reward, which are crucial for their independence and future success.

πŸ”’ The Forgotten Third: The Impact of Failing Maths GCSE

The script addresses the issue of the 'forgotten third,' referring to students who fail their maths GCSE and are left with limited options for advanced courses. These students are often enrolled in further education colleges, where they must repeatedly resit the maths exam. The headteachers' organizations argue for a different set of basic maths and English qualifications to provide these students with better opportunities. The paragraph also discusses the views of Kenneth Baker, the architect of the GCSE system, who now believes that the system needs a radical overhaul. He suggests introducing core maths that focuses on basic calculations and financial literacy, which are essential for everyday life and business.

πŸ’Ό Numeracy in the Real World: Financial Implications

This section delves into the real-world implications of poor numeracy, particularly in the context of financial management. Sacha Romanovitch, the head of Fair4All Finance, a charity that supports financially vulnerable individuals, discusses the limitations of numeracy and financial education. She emphasizes that while numeracy is important, it is only one aspect of the complex issue of financial resilience. The script also includes insights from Rebecca Roden, a GCSE maths tutor, who highlights the gap between academic maths and the practical numeracy skills needed in everyday life, such as managing irregular incomes and navigating financial products.

πŸŽ“ Rethinking Maths Education: Abstract vs. Functional

Alf Coles, a professor at Bristol University and an expert on maths education, shares his perspective on the importance of abstract maths and its cultural value. He argues against the idea of separating numeracy into a separate qualification, fearing it could lead to further educational divide. Coles emphasizes the need for a curriculum that provides both academic stimulation and real-world relevance. The script also touches on the importance of statistical literacy, a skill that is crucial for understanding and navigating the data-driven world. The paragraph concludes with a call for a new curriculum that reflects the current needs and challenges, including the ability to understand and analyze data effectively.

πŸ›  The Challenge of Numeracy Reform: A Policy Puzzle

The final paragraph discusses the challenges and the urgent need for education reform in the UK, particularly in the area of numeracy. It acknowledges the difficulty of implementing changes amid a cost-of-living crisis and a government cautious about additional spending. The script highlights the need for more teachers and inventive approaches to teaching maths. It also points out the importance of making maths relevant and accessible to all students, including those who struggle with it. The paragraph ends with a humorous note on the mnemonic SOHCAHTOA, used for understanding trigonometry, reflecting the ongoing efforts to make maths education more engaging and less intimidating.

Numeracy refers to the ability to understand and work with numbers. In the context of the video, it is a key concern as it highlights the UK's struggle with basic number skills compared to other countries. The script mentions that a significant number of adults have low basic numeracy, which affects their financial capabilities and everyday decision-making.
πŸ’‘Mathematics Education
Mathematics education is the study and teaching of mathematical concepts. The video discusses issues within the UK's education system, suggesting that current teaching methods may not be effectively equipping students with practical maths skills. The script raises questions about the impact of bad experiences in secondary school and the fear of maths on students' numeracy skills.
πŸ’‘Functional Maths
Functional maths is the application of mathematical skills to everyday situations. The video emphasizes the need for a solid foundation in maths to avoid being left behind, and it discusses the idea of teaching functional maths to ensure students can apply mathematical concepts to real-life scenarios, such as budgeting or understanding financial concepts.
GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, which is an important set of exams in the UK education system. The script points out that a third of 15- and 16-year-olds are likely to miss out on a pass grade at GCSE maths, which can limit their future opportunities in college and work, highlighting the high stakes associated with these exams.
πŸ’‘Maths by Stealth
Maths by stealth is an approach where mathematical concepts are taught within other subjects or activities, making learning more engaging and less intimidating. The video script describes a gardening class as an example, where spacing out onion seedlings involves math without explicitly labeling it as such, aiming to tackle the numeracy crisis among adults.
πŸ’‘Financial Literacy
Financial literacy is the knowledge and understanding of financial concepts. The video discusses the importance of financial literacy as part of education, especially in the context of risk and reward, and how it is being integrated into PSHE classes. It is suggested that financial literacy can help students become more independent and make informed decisions about money.
πŸ’‘Education Policy
Education policy refers to the strategies and guidelines set by governments and educational institutions to shape the learning environment. The script touches on the evolution of education policy, particularly how it relates to maths education, and the need for reform to address the numeracy gap and make maths more relevant and accessible to students.
πŸ’‘Abstract Concepts
Abstract concepts in maths refer to theoretical ideas that may not have immediate tangible applications. The video discusses the difficulty students face in relating these abstract concepts to real-life situations. There is a debate about whether the focus on abstract maths is hindering the development of practical numeracy skills.
πŸ’‘Core Maths
Core maths is a term used to describe a more practical and basic level of mathematical skills necessary for everyday life. The video mentions core maths as a potential solution to the numeracy crisis, suggesting that it should deal with basic calculations and financial understanding, which are essential for all students regardless of their career paths.
πŸ’‘Educational Divide
The educational divide refers to the gap in educational achievement and opportunities between different groups in society, often linked to socio-economic status. The script discusses the potential for an educational divide in terms of numeracy, where some students are turned off from maths due to teaching methods and curriculum design, leading to lifelong disadvantages.
πŸ’‘Data Literacy
Data literacy is the ability to read, understand, and analyze data. The video highlights the importance of data literacy as a key skill in today's world, where statistical literacy is crucial for making sense of information such as graphs of Covid infections or political debates filled with statistics.

The UK's capital is a financial hub, yet many Britons struggle with basic math skills.

There is a debate about the effectiveness of math education and its impact on numeracy.

A significant number of students leave school without a good math qualification.

Over half of working-age adults in the UK have low basic numeracy.

Efforts have been made to improve math education in state schools since the 1990s.

Math skills are uneven, and the exam system can create 'hidden losers'.

A third of 15- and 16-year-olds are likely to miss out on a pass in GCSE math.

The prime minister wants everyone to learn math up to the new school leaving age of 18.

There's a push for creative ideas to tackle the lack of number skills in the nation.

Community colleges offer 'maths by stealth' to help adults overcome numeracy challenges.

The government's Multiply programme aims to help people overcome their fear of math.

Shoreditch Park Academy has an 80% GCSE pass rate, well above the national average.

Maths at school has become too abstract for many students, according to educators.

Financial literacy is being integrated into PSHE classes as a pilot scheme.

The achievement gap in maths between deprived and well-off students has widened post-pandemic.

There are calls for a different set of basic maths qualifications to better prepare students for learning or jobs.

Lord Baker, who introduced GCSEs, now believes the exams need a radical overhaul.

Core maths, focusing on basic calculations and financial skills, is suggested as an alternative.

Poor numeracy can have significant impacts on adult life, including financial management.

Experts suggest that the current math curriculum does not meet the needs of all students.

There is a need for a new curriculum that bridges the numeracy gap and includes real-world skills.

The film highlights the challenges and potential solutions in improving math education in the UK.

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