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Not a numbers game

The majority of young people are opposed to the Prime Minister's plan to make maths compulsory until the age of 18 in England. What does this mean for the future of academic study?

Andréanne Orsier Divisional Director, Higher Education 19/01/2023
I am wary that the compulsory maths A-Levels will have a detrimental effect on young people's motivations and confidence to pursue their academic path.

In his first speech of 2023, the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to ensure all pupils in England study maths until the age of 18 – and the announcement has been met with mixed public reaction.

The PM’s intention is to ensure England has greater education around how to manage finances. He wants people to ‘feel confident’ when it comes to finance.

In research conducted for the London Institute of Banking and Finance for the Young Persons’ Money Index 2022 report*, we found that anxiety in young people about finance has increased to 81% – up 14% on the previous year.

Overall, 72% secondary school students said they want to learn more about money in school and that rises to 85% among 17-18s.

Sunak said in his speech: “In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, letting our children out into that world without those skills is letting our children down.”

But many are not in favour of the plan. Actor Simon Pegg has publicly critisized the Prime Minister on his social media, saying: “What a pr***. What about Arts and Humanities, and fostering this country’s amazing reputation for creativity and self-expression?

“What about that? What about the kids that don’t want to do maths? I hated maths, I dropped maths as soon as I could, and I’ve never needed it other than the skill set I acquired at the age of 12.”

The student view

We asked the people who are most affected. In our survey with 16-24-year-olds from our youth panel (N=256) the majority (37%) are opposed to the plan, whilst three in 10 respondents (30%) felt it is a good idea.

A further 28% felt it has potential but more thought is needed to it’s implementation and only 7% didn’t feel strongly either way.

The negative sentiment towards the plan was higher in female participants than males, with 83% of females opposing compared to just 14% of males.

Director of Higher Education research at Savanta, Andréanne Orsier, commented: “I am wary that the compulsory maths A-Levels will have a detrimental effect on young people’s motivations and confidence to pursue their academic path.”

We zoned in on our data to understand how sentiment differs between students by their chosen subject areas. Those studying STEM and scientific based subjects felt more positively about the plan (81%) compared to creative arts and design students (only 4% were in favour).

Andréanne continues: “we’ve conducted a dozen research projects with art institutions in the past couple of years with applicants who are totally passionate about their chosen subjects – maths doesn’t always have a role to play in setting people up for success.”

The verdict?

Whilst young people in past research have called out for greater education around financial management, is A-Level maths truly the solution they’re looking for?

Taking away students’ choice could be detrimental and will possibly further cement their distrust in the government (80% of Gen Z say their distrust in the government is at an all time high – State of the Youth Nation). The lasting impact could discredit art and design courses, and diminish students applying to these courses.

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*research conducted by YouthSight, which is now part of Savanta

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