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Improving maths education to change lives

20 February 2024

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plans for all pupils in England to study maths up to the age of 18 has reignited debate around the quality of mathematics education, enhancing numeracy and better equipping young people for the modern workplace.

The announcement is just the latest in proposals to improve numeracy in the UK, from a new, maths-focused curriculum in primary schools to driving up numbers of maths graduates and the introduction of data science degree apprenticeships.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have long played a leading role in informing this national debate around the quality of maths education, which is seen as a cornerstone of the UK’s future prosperity and competitiveness.

The establishment of the Observatory for Mathematical Education at Nottingham will generate data-driven research to support the national improvement of mathematics education, from the start of school to post-graduate level, with the potential to improve lives of people now and in future generations.

The Observatory brings together experts from our School of Education and School of Mathematical Sciences with specialists from across society. It hosts the first dedicated, Office of National Statistics (ONS)-secure data lab for mathematics education research in the country.

The School of Education’s Professor Andrew Noyes, the Observatory’s founding Director, said: "Mathematical education is high on the national agenda, and we are excited to play a role in shaping the mathematical futures of young people and of our society, building on the long tradition of outstanding research in mathematics education at the University.”

The Observatory was founded with the help of an £8m grant from XTX Markets, which also funded a report by the University of Nottingham on improving the mathematics pipeline in England.

The report prompted a £7m investment from charities to set up the Maths Excellence Fund, to promote maths attainment and progression, particularly among disadvantaged children, for whom studying maths can unlock significant opportunities, and a further £7m to fund a new partnership to conduct independent evaluations of maths interventions that aim to improve outcomes for 11 – 16-year-olds in secondary schools in England. 

The maths pipeline report will now underpin the Observatory’s mission to set out a comprehensive analysis of the mathematics education system to generate evidence-driven and policy-relevant research to understand, for example, why some students attain low grades and choose to drop maths at 16, while others attain top grades and go on to study maths at university, with the potential of careers in a skills-rich economy.

The Observatory team will integrate government data sets with their own large-scale longitudinal cohort studies across primary, secondary, and higher education and a suite of other research projects and evaluations. Put together, these insights from many thousands of children and young people in hundreds of schools and universities will enable educators and policymakers to better understand and support the improvement of mathematics education.

 This ten-year research programme will identify areas for future investment - either scaling up existing interventions or designing new ones – to help more students to achieve maths excellence, especially those from under-represented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds, with long-term benefits for individuals and society.

Discover more about the Observatory for Mathematical Education and opportunities to join the team