Rishi Sunak is to unveil his plan to ensure all pupils in England study maths until aged 18 as the country needs to “reimagine our approach to numeracy” to keep up with the “best education systems in the world”.
In his first speech of 2023, the prime minister on Wednesday will outline a new mission driven by the belief that “data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job”.
The UK remains one of the only countries in the world that does not require children to study some form of maths up to the age of 18.
Sunak is expected to say: “This is personal for me. Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive.
“And it’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education.
“Thanks to the reforms we’ve introduced since 2010, and the hard work of so many excellent teachers, we’ve made incredible progress.
“With the right plan – the right commitment to excellence – I see no reason why we cannot rival the best education systems in the world.”
Sunak is expected to commit to starting the work of introducing maths to 18 in this parliament and finishing it in the next.
He will put emphasis on the importance of numeracy, stressing “our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills”.
The prime minister will say: “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 to 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.”
The government does not apparently envisage making maths A-level compulsory for all 16-year-olds and further detail will be set out in due course.
Ministers are instead exploring existing routes, such as the core maths qualifications and T-levels, as well as other options.
Labour leader Keir Starmer is also expected to deliver a major speech on Thursday.
Commenting on the speech trail, a Labour source said: “In their desperation to ensure Sunak’s speech doesn’t happen after Keir’s, No 10 have revealed they have nothing to offer the country except… double maths.
“As the health service falls to pieces after 12 years of Tory rule, criminals terrorise the streets, and working people worry how their wages will last the month, the country is entitled to ask: is this it?”
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the prime minister “needs to show his working”, as “he cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers”.
She added: “Yet the government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year, with existing teachers leaving in their droves.
“Now, maths attainment gaps are widening yet Rishi Sunak as chancellor said the country had ‘maxed out’ on Covid recovery support for our children.
“Labour will end tax breaks for private schools and use the money to invest in 6,500 more teachers, including maths teachers, to drive up standards in this country.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the prime minister needs to show the plan is “based on solid research and is not a pet project”.
He added: “We would also want to hear how such a policy would avoid exacerbating the already-chronic national shortage of maths teachers.”