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We love maths. . . now let's share our passion

Comment

It's official: maths education in the UK is not fit for purpose. Deficiencies in the curriculum mean that schools are simply not delivering pupils into higher education or employment with the skills that are required or expected.

Couple this with a desperate lack of specialist maths teachers working without professional support and resources. It goes beyond gloomy. This picture is desperate for the future of UK engineering.

The conclusions by Professor Adrian Smith of Queen Mary University London after his year-long inquiry into post-14 mathematics in the UK are unequivocal. His report highlights the bold fact that if UK science, engineering and technology is to continue to be world class, some radical review of the teaching of this important discipline is needed.

The overwhelming response to our Clever Clogs maths challenge in the last couple of weeks underlines the deep affection - and deep respect - that civil engineers have for mathematics. But it also underlines how much fun the subject can be.

Regardless of where you stand on the debate over the need for A level maths before taking a civil engineering degree, we are all one on the need for professionals to have very well grounded core maths skills.

Smith agrees and recognises the importance of maths 'for its own sake, as an intellectual discipline; for the knowledge economy; for science, technology and engineering; for the workplace and for the individual citizen'.

Crucially he also recommends that steps are taken to prune the curriculum to allow more time to really master the 'core mathematical concepts and operations', and remove time-consuming but perhaps peripheral subjects such as statistics to other disciplines.

Engineers must seize this report and its recommendations. It does much to set out and put in place the foundation of a system that can really boost the number of young people choosing careers in engineering. It sets out a route to placing mathematics back at the heart of the learning process.

But the profession will also be relieved to hear that Smith has no interest in dumbing down maths. It is a difficult subject and should remain so. While action is needed to excite and encourage all students studying maths, the most able should be stretched and rewarded with a highly valued qualification.

All of which is good news for civil engineering. Interest in a career in our profession will always start with an interest in core skills such as mathematics.

The poor state of maths teaching in the UK means there is a long road ahead. So when you've finished having fun with Clever Clogs this week, don't forget to spread the word - maths is vital, maths is fun, maths is rewarding.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

Footnote: A few readers contacted me last week to condemn the glaring grammatical error in the headline of my Comment.

My apologies. Rest assured that I am very aware that to be grammatically correct the headline should have read 'it's down to you and me'.

Maths and numeracy are vital but to me it is equally important that the standard of communication and written English in the profession is also improved. It is down to you and me to make that happen. You and I know how crucial these issues are.

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