Rishi Sunak has said an “anti-maths mindset” is holding the economy back, as he announced a review of the subject in England. A group of advisers are set to consider whether a new maths qualification is necessary.

‘What is needed is a much deeper investigation into why intellectual curiosity, mental flexibility and problem-solving skills are not nurtured more in our school system.’

‘That said, as someone who teaches maths to first year students – straight out of school – with and without A-level maths in a very quantitative field, I do agree that there is an issue with numeracy and mathematical ability by the time students arrive at university, and this then affects their career prospects. However, in my experience, what I generally observe in students is a lack of problem-solving skills, imagination, creative thinking, critical thinking, etc. The reason that these issues crop up as ‘being bad at maths’ is that (a) assessing failure or success in maths is easier than in other fields and (b) these mental skills are precisely the ones that get nurtured by a good maths education. But I’ve seen plenty of students with maths A-level that aren’t actually very good at maths, because the education they individually received didn’t foster these key curiosity/problem-solving skills, just focusing instead on learning by rote and cramming for exams.

‘I’ve also had bright students with no maths background but a good general education who are able to catch up very quickly because they already have these core skills. I suspect that the causes of this are complex, and they fall outside of my area of expertise (I’m not an expert in the UK secondary education system), but I do think that addressing this issue will take more than just a focus on forcing more students into taking maths for longer during secondary schooling. Instead my feeling is that what is needed is a much deeper investigation into why intellectual curiosity, mental flexibility and problem-solving skills are not nurtured more in our school system. Sort that out, and the maths issue will take care of itself!’