A-Level maths receives less per capita funding than media studies, psychology and the sciences, says Elizabeth Truss MP.
With 16-18 year old take-up of maths below 20 per cent in England, fewer students are studying maths post-16 than in any of our leading competitors. In Japan, Korea, Russia and Sweden all students take maths until 18, in France it is 90 per cent, in Canada it is 80 per cent. This is at a time when Britain's overall performance in the subject is poor, coming 28th in the world PISA rankings. And low maths take-up at state schools is a major cause of poor social mobility. Students at comprehensive school are half as likely to study maths, and only a third as likely to study further maths, as their private school peers. With only half of comprehensive sixth forms offering further maths many students are put out of contention to study science and maths at top universities.
In a world of work where good mathematical knowledge is increasingly a "must have" getting more students to take maths post-16 is a necessity. Yet how to do this? A major issue is funding – there is little financial incentive for schools to encourage students to take maths post-16. Despite the fact that maths is where Britain performs worst in international rankings and experiences the greatest teacher shortage A-Level Mathematics receives less per capita funding than media studies, psychology and the sciences.
Sixth form subjects are currently funded by the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA) where under the funding formula A-Level media Studies, psychology, physics and biology receive twelve percent more funding than Maths and English. Non A-level subjects with more practical content are given even higher weightings (floristry and bricklaying for example). The ostensible reason is that these subjects are more expensive to deliver because of the equipment required. However this does not take into account teaching cost. With more vacancies for high school maths teachers than in any subject schools often end up paying a premium.
A subject premium would solve this by injecting extra funding into maths that could be used to recruit teachers and drive take-up in schools. This could be done through the YPLA mechanism giving mathematics a thirty percent uplift. An additional fifty percent premium on Further Mathematics would give state schools a strong incentive to run a further maths course, giving more students the chance of studying maths and science at top universities. This would not cost any more money but rather rebalance incentives between different subjects. The government should also look at a new mid-tier option for students studying maths from 16-18, along with A-Level mathematics and A-Level further mathematics to encourage more non-mathematicians to take the subject.