Letter: A generation to account for

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CHRISTOPHER Huhne pinpoints the skills crisis as going back to the decline in mathematics standards in schools between 1963 and 1981 ('Skill crisis runs too deep for self- help', Business, 31 October). I began working as a secretary in a grammar school in 1960 and the headmaster and mathematics staff had already noticed the drop in applications for mathematics and physics posts.

At that time, teachers reaching retirement age in grammar schools almost all had first-class degrees. There was little demand for degrees in industry before the war, but things changed afterwards. Technology developed during those years, particularly in America; our old industries were having to modernise; new industries were starting up. Graduates were needed, particularly in physics and mathematics. Teaching was no longer the main option and industry was offering much higher salaries.

Teaching standards were bound to decline as pupils were increasingly taught by those not so confident in their subject. So all except the mathematically brightest students felt more at ease with other subjects and did not choose to study mathematics or physics at university. This meant a shortage of engineering students too, who were also badly needed, and a still greater shortage of teachers highly qualified to teach mathematics.

Whatever is done, it will take a long time to make up for this last 30 years because a whole generation has been lost, and for many years there will not be enough mathematicians.

K Cox

Llandegfan, Anglesey