A maths teacher has slammed Rishi Sunak’s policy to make the subject compulsory until the age of 18 for pupils in England.
The Prime Minister announced his plans to tackle innumeracy in his speech at the Olympic Park in east London on Wednesday.
But critics and opposition politicians have criticised the education plan for a ‘lack of detail’ as well as its timing.
Rachael Chong, a maths teacher in Ealing, has described the idea as “unoriginal” and said the Prime Minister needs to first tackle the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.
“Whilst I like the intention behind Sunak’s recent announcement - to improve mathematics engagement and attainment nationally, which of course is important - as a secondary maths teacher who has been teaching the subject for the past decade, this certainly feels like an empty pledge,” Ms Chong told LondonWorld.
The PM said he will pledge to tackle the ‘long-term issue’ of low numeracy rates as part of a bid to improve the UK’s education system.
The PM said that with the “right plan”, he sees “no reason” why “we cannot rival the best education systems in the world”.
The government says work towards delivering the pledge will begin in this Parliament and will be completed after the next general election.
By implementing the policy, it says it would bring the UK in line with other economic powerhouses, including France, Germany and the USA.
However Ms Chong said this plan is “not an original idea” and that copying other countries who have a maths curriculum till 18 “isn’t a simple fix.”
“The causes of high performance are very difficult to identify, you cannot borrow one element of another country’s model of education and expect it to work with your own - national educational policy systems are complex and need to be developed holistically within their social and cultural context,” she explained.
“This plan requires a lot more thought and research.”
She also added that the PM needs to fix the teacher recruitment and retention crisis first.
“Schools, including my own, are struggling to employ and retain maths teachers as is - there aren’t enough teachers currently, and there certainly wouldn’t be enough if the subject were to be made mandatory until 18.
“His plan is simply untenable under these circumstances - and it’s this current crisis which needs to be addressed first.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “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 Sunak needs to show the plan is “based on solid research and is not a pet project”.
He said: “We would also want to hear how such a policy would avoid exacerbating the already-chronic national shortage of maths teachers.”
About 8 million adults in England have the numeracy skills of primary schoolchildren, according to government figures.
Currently only around half of 16-19 year-olds study any maths at all, and the problem is particularly chronic for disadvantaged pupils, 60% of whom do not have basic maths skills at age 16.