Back to basics: Another year of maths is good, but not good enough

As the routine complaints of employers make depressingly clear, many British teenagers still leave school with sub-standard skills

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Amid the Education Secretary’s many attempts to improve the skills of Britain’s young people, his latest proposal is one of the more eye-catching. As the school-leaving age rises to 17 with the academic year now about to start, so those teenagers who do not manage a C-grade or above in their maths and English GCSEs will be required to continue studying the subjects.

Quite right, too. As the routine complaints of employers make depressingly clear, many British teenagers still leave school with substandard skills. Basic literacy and numeracy are demanded in nearly every walk of life, but are sadly often lacking. Not only is the economy suffering, so are the individuals.

Michael Gove has done much to try to improve the situation, railing against the “poverty of ambition” that can blight schools in less affluent areas, drawing up a newly rigorous national curriculum and reforming the GCSE system. All are constructive measures, notwithstanding their advocate’s sometimes unhelpfully caustic style.

Such efforts are worth little, however, if those who do not achieve even the most basic skills are simply ejected from the system without them. That said, difficulties with maths and English at 16 are often the result of falling behind at a much earlier age – and it is tricky to see how a single extra year will resolve them. Mr Gove’s plan is not a bad one. But it alone will not solve the problem.

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