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'Real-life' maths for sixth-formers

The Department for Education is funding the development of new-style lessons designed to teach teenagers about the practical application of maths at home and the workplace to boost standards of numeracy.

The courses – for sixth-formers and college students in England – will focus on areas such as spreadsheets, risk, estimation, statistics, interpretation of graphs and exponential growth and decay.

They will be introduced to encourage more 16- to 18-year-olds to continue studying maths, even if they decide against taking a full A-level in the subject.

It comes amid fears that schoolchildren are currently less likely to study maths beyond the age of 16 than in many other developed nations. At the moment, only one-in-eight teenagers in England studies maths in the sixth-form. This compares with between 50 and 100% in other countries, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Japan and Korea.

The new curriculum will be developed by the charity Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI), which has been awarded a £275,000 grant by the DfE to carry out the work over the next three years.

It said that “addressing real-world problems” would be “primary focus” of the new-style lessons, which will be based on ideas drawn up by Sir Timothy Gowers, the Cambridge University mathematician.

Charlie Stripp, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We need to educate young people to be problem-solvers in the real world and to understand how mathematical skills are a vital part of this. Many students are turned off maths because they can’t see the point of learning maths techniques to answer textbook questions that seem irrelevant to real life. We hope this course will motivate many more young people to take maths post-16.”

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