I am trained as an engineer. I believe that STEM related vocations are the most inspiring and important in modern society. I get the need to encourage young people into engineering and am firm supporter of the various efforts that many in and outside industry are making to inspire children down this route.
But to make studying maths until the age of 18 compulsory is not the answer. That was the proposal in George Osbourne’s budget and was such an isolated throwaway comment that I confess I would have missed it had I not had a budget response from the Institution of Engineering and Technology in which head of policy Paul Davies, should the maths plan come to fruition, called for ‘practical’ maths to be taught and also highlighted the lack of suitably qualified teachers.
On this last point it seems that teaching A level maths is going to require a much larger number of degree level maths graduates as teachers, which depletes the pool going into industry.
But my main objection, despite my STEM bias, is that with the best will in the world, if people are not interested in maths then shoving advanced maths down their throats is going to do no more than alienate them from maths and potentially the education system as a whole. Ensuring schoolchildren come away from school with a reasonable aptitude in numeracy is one thing – a good thing – but trying to force feed pure and applied mathematics on students with neither any use nor interest for them is a waste of their time and a school’s resources.
Far more would be achieved by making engineering a compulsory subject in its own right and teaching it from a much earlier age. That might make maths more relevant from the outset as well.