Professor Jeremy Hodgen and Dr Rachel Marks review the literature on maths in the workplace for the Sutton Trust.
1. It is vital that all students have a solid understanding of basic mathematics. For those not taking A-level mathematics, a new pathway should be developed for students covering fluency, modelling and statistics for those who already have at least a Grade C in GCSE maths, based on the mathematical needs for employment rather than on covering more advanced topics.
2. Changes in workplace practices – particularly an increased focus on efficiency measures – have resulted in mathematical application and understanding becoming an essential skill for all people in the workplace, even in relatively unskilled jobs. People in the workplace need to be able to make sense of the mathematics they are using if they are to avoid making mistakes in the workplace.
3. All young people should continue to study maths until the age of 18. The Government has introduced this expectation only for young people who don’t gain a GCSE Grade C at 16. Continued study of maths should focus on its application, so that it is relevant to university courses and a growing number of modern jobs.
4. It is critical that alternatives to the traditional GCSE mathematics pathway are developed that are rigorous, engaging for students, provide sufficient breadth and are valued by employers. Mathematics is a critical skill for all, including to those who have not achieved a Grade C at GCSE by age 16.1
5. In general, students with at least a grade C at GCSE have already covered the critical mathematical techniques and concepts, but they do need to understand what they already know better. Any specialist mathematical techniques can be learnt in the workplace, provided students understand and can apply GCSE mathematics. The curriculum should also include more “simple maths in complex settings”, by providing students with problem-solving opportunities involving “messy” contexts that do not have straightforward solutions. Students should have many more opportunities to collaborate and discuss, working together to understand, interpret and communicate the mathematics they are involved in.
6. To allow students to more easily transfer their mathematical skills into the workplace they should use computers extensively, particularly spreadsheets and computer-generated graphs, to apply and learn mathematics. Competence in these skills matters in the workplace.