Mathematics in the UK gets some interesting press

Maths in the UK, is it time to change?

Maths in the UK, is it time to change?
Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash

The Maths Scholars Scheme looks into how mathematics education takes the flack but still inspires.

What’s the future for mathematics in the UK?

There was a headline back in 2016 that stated UK Maths education is ‘superficial’. The basic problem seems to be the curriculum is vast and as a consequence students cover a lot of ground but only superficially.

Last year, Andreas Schleicher representing the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development was very critical. It appears that what the UK Maths education system lacks is rigour, focus and coherence. That was a pretty damning report and one that perhaps might sound a little embarrassing. So what should be done to compensate for our lack of world ranking when it comes to maths? 

Should we do more to set up colleges that will specialise in maths. Is our mathematically driven world in need of these specialist colleges? Or do we need to think again about what we are offering students?  Also, is this exactly what we do need? It’s interesting when you make comparisons between Asian and UK educational systems and the kind of students that graduate. Are we in need of rote learners or something a little more creative? What kind of thinkers do we need to power the economy over the next 50 years?

Andreas Schleicher did not write off the UK as it does still perform reasonably well in international benchmarking. But compete with East Asian systems? It’s unlikely. Her feels the biggest problem is that we tend to overcomplicate our teaching rather that giving as focus on concepts and ensuring everyone understands the building blocks before moving on. He thinks we should study fewer topics but do them to a higher level.

Is the UK 12th or 20th? Nope 26th place in Pisa tests 2016

Is the UK 12th or 20th? Nope 26th place in Pisa tests 2016
Photo by Loic Djim on Unsplash

But performing in Pisa tests is one thing. In 2016 the UK was in 26th place. How worried should we be about this? Certainly teacher training in maths education has changed and the emphasis is quite different but is it enough? Should we be working with employers? Do we actually need a more creative approach to maths education? Certainly the candidates who become Maths Scholars are knowledgeable, inspirational and creative and are passionate about getting the very best from their students.

One potential transformation has been through the work and philosophy of Baroness Alison Wolf who felt specialist maths schools would make a difference. King’s College School in South London has been doing very well and is oversubscribed. Students have achieved considerable examination success but what seems to set them apart is that there is the opportunity and ability to discuss maths with others who are keen on the subject. If the modus operandi is the pursuit of mathematical excellence and creativity it becomes the norm. Many students have said that in their previous schools, there may have been just one or two pupils who shared their passion. 

Are specialist schools the answer? What do you think?

The Maths Scholars Scholarship 2017/18 will open in October. Meanwhile start preparing your application statement in advance as competition is tough. See more about the Maths Scholars Scholarship scheme here.