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Why even movie stars need maths

In this article which was recently featured in FE News, David Redden explains why having a spotlight on maths can be an opportunity to ensure people are equipped with the essential skills they need to thrive.

Rarely has the English and maths sector been in such a high-profile national spotlight as it currently is.  

Rishi Sunak’s announcement on wanting all pupils to study maths to the age of 18 made it onto the front pages of the national press, featured in mainstream news programmes and flooded social media.

Not all the comments have been favourable – actor Simon Pegg’s views being one high profile example, stating that those in creative industries don’t want or need to learn maths. 

Whilst I can understand his argument, I think the issue is more about how the message was delivered. Personally, I think there’s a need to provide the right (and specific) maths skills in the right areas that will enhance individuals’ prospects and give them more tools to operate successfully in their environment.

By just stating ‘maths’ with no contextual information, people automatically revert to thinking about negative experiences in a maths classroom, such as doing equations or algebra, which held no relevance to them in the world they were moving into. Sunak himself recently spoke about an ‘anti-maths mindset’.

However, the essential everyday life numeracy skills that we’re talking about are critical to allow individuals to flourish. For example, whilst Simon Pegg states he doesn’t need to learn maths, having a greater understanding of numbers will help lots of entertainers when negotiating contracts for example.

These essential maths and numeracy skills are also what Multiply – Rishi Sunak’s other big maths policy – aims to provide. As a government-funded programme set up to support adults, the provision of these skills can help individuals to unlock job opportunities and lead to higher wages. But, again, they also apply to everyday life – as they can help people to budget or to support their children with their homework.

Challenges in delivering maths

There is an argument to say that if we’d already provided these core skills in the younger years, then we would not have to be taking retrospective action now to repair the damage – a huge challenge for the post-16 sector, which has only been exacerbated by the lost learning caused by the pandemic.

All of these new policies bring greater pressure on to the staff delivering the content – having to adapt and change their approach with a lack of time, resources and guidance. What’s more, in certain areas, such as the apprenticeship market, there is a distinct lack of specialist subject matter experts.

What's needed now

What is needed is fast action and support, giving colleges and providers a quick and accurate way of identifying a learner’s starting point, which also outlines the skills gaps that they need to plug. From there, centres need high-quality resources to deliver effectively – resources that support those with less experience and operate in a sequenced way.

This needs to be done centrally so it can be accessed remotely and outside of normal constraints in timetables, work and life. As well as this, it needs to be as cost-effective as possible and available for any learner who requires a starting point in English and maths.

At NCFE, we’re looking at solutions that will support the sector now, and in the future, and one of the early solutions we’ve brought to the market is FAST (Functional Assessment and Skills Together). We’ve also launched Teach, Share, Transform meet-ups which aim to bring together English, maths and digital skills staff from all sectors, informing and supplying them with new tools, techniques and ideas to transform the way they engage with students in these subjects.

Finally, our Assessment Innovation Fund is working on a number of maths and English products designed to change the future of teaching and learning in these areas. These ideas explore the use of Artificial Intelligence and how this can support teaching to improve student engagement.

What next for maths?

From compulsory maths until 18, to Multiply, to FAST – it’s clear that we need to seek effective solutions to the growing concerns around the provision of essential maths skills for individuals both in school and in the working world.

The thread of the argument for mandatory maths post-16 is a strong one – essential numeracy skills are critical in helping us to understand a world filled with data, figures and finances, especially during our current cost of living crisis.

We must now address how we can urgently and effectively equip people with these essential skills in order to help them thrive – and that includes movie stars!

You can learn more about the English and maths qualifications that we offer and our expertise in this area by visiting our English and maths webpage.


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