Headteacher says Rishi Sunak’s maths plan is ‘unrealistic’ when staff have to prioritise feeding children

Rishi Sunak’s plan for all pupils in England to study some form of maths until 18 is unrealistic in the current climate despite being a ‘really positive ambition’, a Greater Manchester headteacher has said.

And Glyn Potts, of Newman RC College, in Oldham, says the Prime Minister’s announcement lacks detail and doesn’t address the vast shortage of maths teachers currently facing schools. The Prime Minister outlined a new mission to combat high rates of innumeracy in England during a speech in London yesterday.

“In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before, and letting our children out into the world without those skills is letting our children down,” he said.

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Details are scant, but Mr Sunak said the plan would not mean a compulsory A-level for maths for everyone and may not be achieved in this Parliament. Education experts said the policy does not address major problems in the wider education system.

Headteacher Glyn Potts
(Image: Manchester Evening News)

Mr Potts told The Mancunian Way newsletter there are, frankly, more pressing issues facing schools post-pandemic. “There is no detail so we don’t know how it is going to be done,” he said.

“And then you’ve got to think that these are the kids who have had the most disturbed period of education since World War Two. It’s not one of my educational silver bullets.”

He added: “I don’t see where this announcement fits in. I firmly believe maths makes a difference in children’s lives but so does Art and P.E. and English.”

Schools across the country are currently facing huge challenges with recruitment. Department for Education figures show targets for recruiting maths teachers into Initial Teacher Training (ITT) have not been met for several years.

Just 65 per cent of the maths teacher target was met for the school year 2019/20, followed by 84 per cent for 2020/2021 and 90 per cent for 2021/2022. Although the shortfall gap has been closing over the four years, the targets themselves have been reduced.

Mr Potts says schools can’t recruit maths teachers ‘for love nor money’ as salaries have not kept pace with other jobs. “If you have got a maths degree why would you go into education? And it’s not necessarily about pay, it’s about conditions”, he said.

The Prime Minister wanted to express his gratitude for the “sacrifices” made after an “extraordinary year”
The Prime Minister wants all pupils to learn some form of Maths until the age of 18
(Image: Getty Images)

“If KPMG will pick you up after a degree, you’ll have a nice office, a laptop. When you finish work each day, you’ll really be finished. In education the conditions are poor, salaries are still less than in industry and you get slurs from government ministers about education. Why would you go into that environment?”

Mr Sunak says he sees ‘no reason’ why ‘we cannot rival the best education systems in the world’. Glyn says the maths department at Newman RC College is the best performing in his school and the children love the subject.

But he says there is already an ‘opportunity gap’ in classrooms and a huge divide separating those in the North and those in the South. He said: “If we’re running 100m everyone should be at the same starting point. But they’re not. Some are running in school shoes and others are running in trainers.

“I want our pupils to do maths, but at the moment, we’re feeding them, and that’s more important.”

What the PM has to say

In his speech announcing the plans to make maths compulsory until 18, Rishi Sunak said: “One of the biggest changes in mindset we need in education today is to reimagine our approach to numeracy. Right now, just half of all 16–19-year-olds study any maths at all.

“Yet in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before. And letting our children out into the world without those skills, is letting our children down”.

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Manchester Evening News – Oldham