Update: 24 July 2012
"called for immediate action to ensure enough young people study Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects at both undergraduate and postgraduate level . The Committee were shocked to discover that many students starting STEM degrees, even those with A-Level maths qualifications, lack the maths skills required to undertake their studies. To help remedy this, the Committee recommends that maths should be compulsory for all students post-16."
The Committee is right to argue for action to be taken to encourage more young people to study STEM subjects at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and to study maths post-16.
However, why should any subject be compulsory after 16 currently post-compulsory education? See below
21 June 2012: Why should maths or any subject be compulsory post-16?
Maths should be compulsory for all pupils up to the age of 18 and should be taught separately from the exam system according to a report from MP Elizabeth Truss.
She is right to argue that maths is a vitally important subject and more should be done to encourage students to continue with the subject to a higher level. However, why should any subject be compulsory after 16 currently post-compulsory education?
Even under compulsory post-16 education or training [until 17 from 2013 and 18 from 2015] surely adults who are legally old enough to work, marry or reproduce should be able to make own decisions on what to study.
She argues that "maths is the basis of the modern world, the foundation of many disciplines of daily life", which is true, but the same could be said of English (or the language(s) used in each particular country of the world). Should English be compulsory, too?
Compulsion to study a, or any, subject post-16, could be counter-productive and lead to disaffection with education.
After all, according to Michael Gove:
Higher education students or "customers" are supposedly being put "in the driving seat" with more choice and influence, although one that will leave them with a large bill to pay off the debt on the car.
"Forcing an education on teenagers will create even more youngsters with a grudge against society and we can already see the effects of that on our streets.
"There is not a strong case for introducing compulsory participation in education or training to 18. There is a strong case for providing high quality provision for all when they are ready to learn. In the spirit of lifelong learning, the exciting opportunities in education and training should be the carrot and not the stick to encourage participation.
"We see far too many young people switched off from learning at an early age as a result of rigidly prescribed programmes of study and an overbearing testing regime. We should increase the number of young people in education or training, but without conscription. We should provide appropriate opportunities but allow young adults some choice between work and/or education and training.
"If we can get it right from the beginning of a child's life, through good parenting, universal adequate funding in the early years, appropriate high quality learning and care opportunities, and joined-up services, we could avoid so many children failing or being at risk of failing later.
"Then, with the right curriculum or training programme on offer, taught in the right way, in the right surroundings, voluntary uptake beyond 16 is likely to increase."
Politicians and society need to decide if 16 to 18-year-olds are adults or children. The ages at which young people can drive, get married or buy alcohol remain a range of dates between 16 and 18. At the moment it seems we want these child-adult hybrids to be participating citizens, or customers who must have choice, but must also stay on at school to study what the government prescribes, or, as part of the Big Society and National Citizenship scheme, be found useful things to do.
In a Voice poll on the school leaving age, we pointed out that some even argue that those who have no interest or aptitude in academic subjects should be allowed to leave school at 14 (32%), while others believe that the school leaving age should remain at 16 (58%) with only 11% opting for 18.
We also need to raise the question of whether the situation with maths take-up is as bleak as Elizabeth Truss believes it to be.
"Mathematics: made to measure, an Ofsted report highlights a dramatic increase in the take-up of A-level and further mathematics, and shows that the youngest children are doing better. GCSE and A level results continue to rise as a result of the sustained efforts of teachers and students."
"The overall effectiveness of schools' work in mathematics was judged good or outstanding in 57% of the primary schools and 52% of the secondary schools. In most cases, the judgements for achievement, teaching, and leadership and management matched the overall effectiveness grades."
So how did the media report this? True to form, there were headlines" such as "bright children failed by poor maths lessons", that are "damaging", with a need for a "crackdown", and even "most children are not being taught maths as well as they should be" (The Today programme) (despite 57% and 52%, ie the "majority", being "good or outstanding", or that
However, there is certainly a need to examine how mathematics is taught and what is included in the subject.
For example, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Financial Education for Young People has published a report, Financial Education & the curriculum, in which it argues that financial education is a "long-term solution to the national problem of irresponsible borrowing and personal insolvency".
The report recommends the Government should promote the provision of high quality financial education in schools in England, and that personal finance education should be a compulsory part of every school's curriculum.
"I would say that, next to maths, English, sexual relationships education, possibly religious education, Financial Capability is one of the most important things that could be taught in schools.
" Financial capability is an essential life skill and to participate as citizens and consumers in a modern, complex world, we need to be financially capable .
" we have a review of the National Curriculum taking place at the moment. We know that maths is going to remain as a core Curriculum subject. So there will be new maths specifications written for the new Curriculum. We can apply pressure to make sure that elements of Financial Education are embedded in that Curriculum."
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