LONDON – U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to reverse an “anti-math” culture and require the subject be taught in England until students are adults, though he acknowledged Monday there aren't enough teachers to meet existing requirements.
Sunak said poor math skills in adults were holding back the economy, and students without a solid foundation in mathematics would be left behind in the working world.
He said an “anti-maths mindset" had made Britain one of the least numerate nations in the developed world.
“We say things like: ‘Oh, maths, I can’t do that, it’s not for me’ — and everyone laughs," Sunak said. "But we’d never make a joke like that about not being able to read.”
Critics pointed out that the government had cut its recruitment target for math teachers by nearly 40% since 2020 — and still failed to achieve those numbers.
“Parents and school staff will be left scratching their heads at this latest announcement from the prime minister," said Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union. "Taken as a whole, the government’s policies on education simply don’t add up.”
There aren't enough math teachers to meet existing requirements, never mind expanding the curriculum, said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, a union for principals and head teachers.
The announcement was made as teachers plan another walkout at the end of the month over low wages during a cost-of-living crisis with double-digit inflation that has led to high food and heating costs.
“It seems like an attempt to divert attention away from the most pressing matter in education in England which is the industrial dispute triggered by the erosion of teacher pay and conditions and the resulting crisis in recruiting and retaining enough staff,” Barton said.
Sunak acknowledged the teacher shortage, saying he wouldn't achieve his plan overnight.
An advisory group of experts will discuss how to implement the expanded math initiative and announce recommendations this summer.