Labour will tackle ‘chronic’ problem with maths through primary school reforms

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson during a visit to the Sydney Russell School in Dagenham (PA)
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson during a visit to the Sydney Russell School in Dagenham (PA)

A Labour government will tackle the “chronic cultural problem with maths” by making sure it is taught better to children from a younger age, the shadow education secretary will say.

Bridget Phillipson will set out the party’s plans to boost “real world” maths teaching in primary schools and early intervention to encourage stronger lifelong numeracy.

In a speech to the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, Ms Phillipson will say she wants practical numeracy skills that are required at work and in daily life to be part of learning “right from the start”.

Labour’s plan will centre on upskilling primary school teachers so they can deliver high quality maths teaching, and it will also launch an expert-led review to drive high standards in education.

The party said it would task its Curriculum Review with bringing maths to life and directing teachers to show children how numeracy is used in the world around them – such as through household budgeting, currency exchange rates when going on holiday, sports league tables and cookery recipes.

This would include bringing elements of financial literacy into maths teaching, such as using the concept of Individual Savings Accounts to teach about percentages.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to introduce the Advanced British Standard (ABS) – a new single post-16 qualification which will eventually replace A-levels and T-levels.

Under the long-term reforms, 16 to 19-year-olds in England will typically study five subjects and they will be required to study some form of English and mathematics until the age of 18.

Labour’s intervention would seek to target problems with childhood numeracy that persist into adulthood – such as the inability to analyse basic graphs and calculate the value of supermarket offers.

In a speech on Wednesday, Ms Phillipson is expected to say: “In every part of our system, in every year of children’s lives, in every corner of our country, we will be the party of high and rising standards.

“Maths is the language of the universe, the underpinning of our collective understanding. It cannot be left till the last years of school.

“It’s why I’m proud to tell you today, that we’ll tackle our chronic cultural problem with maths, by making sure it’s better taught at six, never mind 16.

“I am determined that Labour will bring maths to life for the next generation. I want the numeracy all our young people need – for life and for work, to earn and to spend, to understand and to challenge. I want that to be part of their learning right from the start.”

A Labour government would reform Mr Sunak’s Maths to 18 working group so it focuses on primary maths and investigates the maths equivalent to phonics.

It would also work with nurseries to develop trained “Maths champions” who can support early learning in childcare settings, the party said,

The party plans to upskill primary school teachers to deliver high quality maths teaching through its proposed “Teacher Training Entitlement” – which will be paid for through Labour’s proposals to end private schools’ tax breaks.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We welcome this focus on numeracy, which is a vital skill for all young people to learn, but it is important to recognise that maths teaching in primary schools is already of a high standard.

“Any interventions should seek to support schools in building on the good work that is already being done, rather than looking to overhaul it and start again from scratch.

“Ensuring that primary schools have the funding for the resources they need, and that primary teachers have the time and capacity to develop their maths expertise, is vital to improving attainment.

“Focusing on how numeracy is used in the outside world is sensible, particularly as students get older, and we support plans for a curriculum review to ensure pupils are being taught the skills that are most required in daily life.”