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On 4 January 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out his priorities for 2023 and announced all children and young people will study maths in some form to 18.

On 17 April 2023, the Prime Minister made a speech on improving maths attainment, in which he argued poor numeracy was socially acceptable and maths needed to be made more accessible so children did not fear it. The Prime Minister committed to:  

  • A new advisory group to advise on the ‘maths to 18’ plan
  • The expansion of ‘Maths Hubs’ across England
  • A new professional qualification for those teaching maths in primary schools

Rishi Sunak has confirmed the reforms associated with these interventions are unlikely to be implemented fully until at least the end of the current parliament (2025).

In October 2023, the Prime Minister announced the ‘Advanced British Standard’ would replace current post-16 qualifications and include maths in some form for all students.

Government policy

Expert advisory group

As part of his ambition for all children to study maths until 18, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced in April 2023 the establishment of a new advisory group of mathematicians, education leaders, and business representatives to advise the Government on “the core maths content that students need to succeed in future”.

According to the group’s terms of reference (PDF), between April and July 2023, the advisory panel collected and examined evidence from countries with high numeracy rates and employers across England. It was also expected to offer advice on the potential for a new maths qualification for people aged 16 to 18.

Maths Hubs

In July 2014, Maths Hubs were launched across England by the Coalition Government. The current network of 40 Maths Hubs supports schools and colleges to improve maths education. It is coordinated by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics.

The approach to maths across Maths Hubs is ‘teaching for mastery’. There are several principles that underpin this approach, including ensuring teachers can continually develop their specialist knowledge for teaching maths and designing a curriculum with coherent and detailed content that supports sustained progression over time.

The Government has committed to extending the Maths Hubs Teaching for Mastery programme to 75% of primary schools and 65% of secondary schools by 2025.

Advanced British Standard

On 4 October 2023, Rishi Sunak announced the ‘Advanced British Standard’ at the Conservative Party Conference.

A Department for Education policy paper explained the Advanced British Standard would be “a new Baccalaureate-style qualification that takes the best of A levels and T levels and brings them together into a single qualification.” The Advanced British Standard would consist of:

  • A common core in which all students would study English and maths at an appropriate level and depth.
  • A choice of academic and technical subjects that come in different sizes. This would be a mix of bigger and smaller subjects, called ‘majors’ and ‘minors’, with students typically doing three major subjects and two minor subjects.
  • Non-qualification time which would include enrichment, pastoral, and employability activities for all students, and an industry placement where relevant.

Maths will be available at different levels and depths with a clear minimum expectation for all students at age 16. This will be done by ensuring one of a student’s subjects include maths to at least minor level.

The Government has said it will take around a decade to implement the Advanced British Standard fully. It will launch a formal consultation on the approach and design of the new qualification in autumn 2023. This will inform a White Paper due to be published in 2024.


To achieve the aims of the Advanced British Standard, the Department for Education October 2023 policy paper set out associated funding of £600 million over two years. Much of this funding was focussed on maths and boosting teacher recruitment and retention, including:

  • An additional £60 million of funding to expand the reach of Maths Hubs, increase the Core Maths and Advanced Maths Premium, and invest in a digital platform for tutoring in Core Maths.
  • An investment of around £100 million a year to provide a tax-free bonus of up to £6,000 a year to teachers in the first five years of their career who are teaching “key shortage subjects”, including maths, and working in disadvantaged schools and all further education colleges.
  • An additional £150 million each year to increase investment for students retaking English and maths GCSEs, as well as for apprentices who have not gained their level 2 qualification in these subjects.

Reaction and issues

Much of the reaction to the Government’s plans for extending maths to 18 focused on how this ambition could be undermined by a shortage of specialist maths teachers. Responding to the Prime Minister’s April 2023 speech, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said:

Once again, the prime minister needs to show his working: he cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers. But after 13 years of failing our children, the Tory government repeatedly misses their target for new maths teachers, with maths attainment gaps widening and existing teachers leaving in their droves.

Similarly, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, Munira Wilson, described the plan as an “empty promise” until teacher recruitment and retention is addressed by the Government. The Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, Mary Bousted, argued although “a laudable aim”, the “workforce crisis in education” meant the plan was unworkable.

Other criticism came from the Association of Colleges chief executive, David Hughes, who said the focus on ages 16 to 18 was “short-sighted” and action was needed to improve numeracy from early ages through to 16.

The General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Geoff Barton, criticised the Prime Minister for not consulting with school and college leaders ahead of his initial announcement and questioned the rationale for the plan. This is because A Level Maths is the most popular A Level choice and students who do not achieve at least a Grade 4/C in GCSE maths are already required to continue to study either functional skills or GCSE maths during their post-16 courses.

Education Committee scrutiny

The House of Commons Education Committee considered the Government’s plans for Maths to 18 in an evidence session in February 2023 and an accountability session with the then-Schools Minister Nick Gibb in July 2023. In both sessions the committee raised concerns about the lack of specialist maths teachers, pupils’ enjoyment of maths, and the issue of persistent maths GCSE resits.

In April 2023, the Commons Education Committee published a report on the future of post-16 qualifications and how effectively they prepare young people for the world of work. The report noted England was unusual among comparative economies for not requiring the study of maths beyond 16 and said there were good reasons for introducing such a requirement, both for individuals and the economy. However, it also said making maths compulsory up to age 18 would present significant challenges in recruiting sufficient maths teachers.

The issue of maths teacher supply has also featured in the Education Committee’s inquiry into teacher recruitment, training, and retention.

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