School maths should be more practical, say teenagers

2 May 2012 Last updated at 14:03

By Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News Handwriting equations on boardMost teenagers agree they will need maths once they leave school

Maths lessons are seen as difficult, irrelevant and boring by about a third of teenagers, a survey suggests.

Some of the school pupils surveyed for vocational training providers City & Guilds also called for the subject to be geared more towards real life.

But most agreed that maths would be useful once they had left school.

Chris Jones of City & Guilds said: “We are not saying maths should be dumbed down, but it needs to be more relevant to the real world.”

Researchers for City and Guilds interviewed 3,000 school pupils aged from seven to 18 on their attitudes to employment and beliefs about future employment prospects.

The survey results showed that 69% of young people believed that as a subject, maths could help them become successful.

Among seven- to 11-year-olds, 85% agreed that maths would be useful once they left school – but a substantial minority of 16- to 18-year-olds said they found the subject boring (39%), difficult (36%) or irrelevant (30%).

Teenagers had clear ideas for how maths teaching could be improved, with 54% saying it should be geared more to practical scenarios.

One commented: “Show me how I can use maths in business, to do accounts or banking.”

Another said: “Somehow I doubt I’ll use trigonometry anytime in the future.”

Mr Jones said: “Our research shows young people are keen to learn maths and recognise the importance of the subject, but there needs to be more emphasis on the practical application of maths in schools to ensure young people have the skills employers need.”

Tim Stirrup from the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics commented: “Mathematics can be enjoyable as a subject in its own right.

“Introducing how mathematics is applied in the workplace is indeed a useful tool for teaching and learning mathematics.”

‘Ambitious and entrepreneurial’

The survey also looked at how optimistic pupils were about the future, finding that 61% of seven- to 11-year-olds were confident that they would succeed in life, rising to nearly three-quarters of 16- to 18-year-olds.

However, 23% of older teenagers were concerned about finding a job, and 63% worried about money.

The report suggests that today’s young people are ambitious and entrepreneurial, with almost half of the 16- to 18-year-olds questioned saying that they would like to run their own business.

Contact with employers was the most highly rated source of information on jobs, with 88% of 16- to 18-year-olds saying a visit to an employer had been useful.

However, the report also suggests that only a quarter of this age group had actually visited a potential employer.

The report says that most young people have done work experience, but many found their work placement irrelevant or of poor quality.

Mr Jones said: “More needs to be done to ensure young people get the advice and experience they deserve.”

Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

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