STEM vacancies could be filled twice over by talented maths pupils who ‘go missing’ every year

Posted on 16 Jan 2024 by The Manufacturer

The number of promising maths pupils who ‘go missing’ once they start secondary school is almost double the number of vacancies for STEM related jobs in England.

New research suggests around 30,000 talented maths pupils are ‘disappearing’ from our school system between the ages of 11 and 16, with half of top-performing disadvantaged pupils being ‘lost’.

These children are missing out on a £500,000 lifetime earnings premium, compared to those who continue studying maths to a high level with an additional significant impact on the UK economy.

The number of STEM vacancies currently stands at 16,000 according to new analysis of government statistics but is estimated to grow with the expansion and application of AI. The overall cost to the UK economy of a STEM skills gap is estimated to be at least £1.5bn per year.

This new research has been carried out by Axiom Maths, a new maths charity, which is offering to fund ‘Maths Champions’ in secondary schools to identify and nurture maths talent.

The findings indicate that top maths pupils in primary schools face a significant decline in interest and attainment particularly during the transition to secondary school. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced among disadvantaged pupils.

A shocking half of disadvantaged pupils who are top attainers in maths at the end of Year 6 don’t go on to get a Grade 7 or higher at GCSE. These students are missing out on a £500,000 lifetime earnings premium, compared to those who continue studying maths to a high level.

Axiom has surveyed thousands of pupils and their families to try to identify why and when high-attaining maths pupils are ‘lost’ as they progress through their education.

The study, which surveyed 2,000 parents and 2,000 pupils in Years 6-9, found that when high-attaining primary pupils transition into secondary school they become:

  • 25% less likely to say maths is fun
  • 40% more likely to say maths is not challenging enough
  • Twice as likely to say maths is boring

Axiom Maths is offering to pay for ‘Maths Champions’ in secondary schools to seize the critical window of opportunity as high-attainers start Year 7 and are at risk of falling off track in maths. It has today launched an appeal for schools to sign up for a fully funded package of support.

David Thomas, CEO of Axiom Maths, former maths teacher, secondary headteacher and Department for Education adviser, said: “There’s a crucial window of opportunity to stop young talent slipping through the net in Years 7 and 8. We’re finding and nurturing these young people, providing a like-minded social group and an exciting experience of maths. The aim is to make them feel special and valued at an uneasy time of transition, exciting them about the boundless places their talent can take them.

“Let’s be straight with young people – maths isn’t always easy but it is hugely rewarding for those who persist. We want to change the national perception of maths from being treated as a subject people ‘celebrate’ being bad at, to being seen as the SAS of subjects that unlocks the future, opening up opportunities in AI and the jobs of the future.

“The future success of our economy hinges on developing this talent to address the STEM skills shortage and to ensure the UK’s competitiveness on the global stage. Maths can give us a unique power. We’re here to help young mathematicians master that power, as we simply can’t afford to ‘lose’ them.”

Marc Warner, CEO and co-founder of Faculty AI one of the UK’s leading AI companies, said: “Helping children make the most of their talents is important in its own right, but also valuable for the wider economy. Maths is the language we use to describe our universe and increasingly large parts of ourselves and our society. If we could fix the gaps that Axiom has identified, the citizens of the UK would have a deeper understanding of our world, and more ability to affect it in positive directions; improving our security, wealth and health.”

Axiom Maths is inviting schools to sign up for a fully funded maths enrichment programme for high-attaining secondary students.

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