Maths to become 'cool' for children in £4m campaign

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The Independent Online

A £4m campaign to make maths "cool" for pupils aged 11 to 14 will be unveiled today by the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson.

Lessons will be based on solving problems which "appeal to pupils", he will tell a conference on the future of maths teaching in Coventry. For instance, pupils could be asked to consider how many flats will have to be built in the Olympic village to cater for all the athletes taking part in the Games in 2012. Alternatively, there could be questions from the world of fashion - with youngsters being asked to design a dress and then estimate how many yards of material will be necessary to produce it for, say, 100 girls.

"The problems will be based around things which appeal to pupils - such as fashion, football and the Olympics," he will tell the conference.

The initiative is designed to address major problems with the teaching of mathematics highlighted in a government report by Professor Adrian Smith, principal of Queen Mary's College, University of London. Ministers acknowledged the depth of the crisis outlined in his report - with less than 15 per cent of those who take the subject at GCSE going on to take an A-level in it. Of that 15 per cent, only about 10 per cent then go on to study it at university. The report also showed that only half of teenagers get a minimum grade C in the subject at GCSE level.

Ministers recognise that most pupils switch off maths lessons in the early years of secondary school and that therefore their efforts should be concentrating on keeping as many as possible interested in the subject during these years.

"If they do lose interest then, they may never pick up a maths book again," Mr Johnson will argue, saying: "This has a knock-on effect right down the line: exacerbating our low share of maths A-level students and graduates - which are both well behind comparable nations - damaging our competitiveness and hampering our chances of producing maths teachers for the future."