One commentator described the proposal to ensure all pupils continue to study maths until they are 18 as a ‘cringe-inducing lack of vision.’

As the NHS battles with its worse crisis ever, and people continue to struggle with the rising cost of living, the prime minister’s first major speech of 2023 and how he plans to alleviate the problems, was widely anticipated.

Announcing that his grand plan was to make all youngsters in England continue to study maths until they reach 18, unsurprisingly came as a shock. Saying he wanted people to “feel confident” when it came to finances, Sunak said the UK must “reimagine our approach to numeracy.”

The £45,936-a-year Winchester College-educated prime minister said: This is personal for me.

“Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive and it’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education.”

It remains unclear about how such a plan would be executed and the idea appears to be an inspiration rather than a developing policy.

However, that has not stopped the announcement being roundly condemned and ridiculed from virtually every direction.

Described as a “cringe-inducing lack of vision” by Scottish author Christopher Brookmyre, commentators, editors, the opposition, teachers, parents, and teaching groups, have been lining up to share their disbelief at the plan.   

Even the Tory press ripped into it. ‘Sunak’s maths plan is stupid and insulting’ was the headline of an article in the Telegraph.

Actor Simon Pegg launched a furious video attack on the PM’s plan to make maths compulsory for school-leavers. Letting his expletive-ridden thoughts known on Instagram, Pegg said: “What about arts and humanities in fostering this country’s amazing reputation for creativity and self-expression? What about that?

“What about the kids who don’t want to do maths?” I hated maths. I dropped maths as soon as I could. And I’ve never needed it other than the skill set I acquired at the age of 12,” he continued.


In failing to mention the major shortage of maths teachers in Britain, or how he intends to raise the number of those who teach the core subject, Kevin Courtney, the joint boss of the National Education Union, described the plan as “baffling.”

“What’s baffling to us is the prime minister just seems to be failing to notice that obstacle to doing it, that schools and colleges don’t have the teachers to deliver it.”

Talking to Radio 4’s The World At One, Courtney added: “The government has cut teacher pay every year since 2010 and his government’s policies for teacher recruitment aren’t bringing in maths teachers, or any other teachers, in sufficient numbers. They have missed their target for maths teachers in every one of the last 12 years.”

Meanwhile, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the prime minister “needs to show his working”, as “he cannot deliver this reheated, empty pledge without more maths teachers”.

“Yet the government has missed their target for new maths teachers year after year, with existing teachers leaving in their droves.

“Now, maths attainment gaps are widening yet Rishi Sunak as chancellor said the country had ‘maxed out’ on Covid recovery support for our children.

“Labour will end tax breaks for private schools and use the money to invest in 6,500 more teachers, including maths teachers, to drive up standards in this country,” Phillipson continued.


Twitter was quickly ablaze with astonishment towards the announcement, with the ‘maths to 18’ hashtag trending.

“No one denies maths is a fundamental subject. But in our current system, imposing maths would narrow student’s choices. As with so many headline-grabbing educational policies, I want to know about the evidence supporting this idea. Show us your working!, wrote Professor Alice Roberts.

Another user didn’t beat around the bush, tweeting:

“How on earth did maths for 16- to 18-year-olds get to the top of the PM’s in tray?”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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