Is the UK an outlier in upper secondary maths education?

Researchers: Professor Jeremy Hodgen | David Pepper ...

Project overview


It is often said that the British education system is unusual in requiring or enabling so few of its young people to continue studying mathematics after the age of 16.

In order to gather evidence on upper secondary mathematics education both in the UK and other countries, we commissioned Dr Jeremy Hodgen to undertake an international survey. The findings were published in December 2010, in a report entitled ‘Is the UK an outlier? An international comparison of upper secondary mathematics education.

Dr Hodgen has now written a follow-on report which looks in more detail at a smaller number of ‘mathematically successful’ education systems across the world.

Key findings

  • In a survey of 24 countries, England, Wales and Northern Ireland had the lowest levels of participation in upper secondary mathematics.
  • They were the only countries in which fewer than 20% of upper secondary students study maths. This includes all mathematics qualifications at this level, but excludes GCSE retakes.
  • Scotland does slightly better, with just under half of upper secondary students studying maths. This is still below average.
  • In the majority of countries surveyed (18 out of 24), at least 50% of upper secondary students study maths.
  • In eight countries, practically all students in this group study maths. Unsurprisingly, these are countries that make mathematics at this level compulsory for all students.
  • England, Wales and Northern Ireland also have comparatively low rates of participation in advanced mathematics (equivalent to AS Level). Between 11-15% of upper secondary students study mathematics A level. Countries with similar levels of participation are Germany, Ireland, Russia and Spain. All other countries for which data were available have higher levels of participation.
  • England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are four of only six countries that do not require compulsory participation in mathematics at upper secondary for any students. Mathematics is compulsory in all other countries surveyed for at least some students in general or vocational education.

Latest on this project


Team


  • Professor Jeremy Hodgen
    King's College London
  • David Pepper
    King's College London
  • Linda Sturman
    National Foundation for Educational Research
  • Graham Ruddock
    National Foundation for Educational Research

  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
New

Education | 2020

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
New

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
Male-teacher-teaches-teenagers-in-secondary-school-lesson-Autonomous-schools-and-the-teacher-labour-market-Evidence-from-academies-PROJ
New

Education | 2020

Autonomous schools and the teacher labour market: Evidence from academies

View project
Young-boy-uses-tablet-with-mother-for-maths-learning-Can-maths-apps-add-value-to-learning-PROJ
New

Education | 2020 - 2022

Can maths apps add value to learning?

View project
New

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Young-child-blurred-in-background-plays-with-abacus-in-foreground-Early-years-employment-pathways-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2019 - 2020

A systematic review of early years degrees and employment pathways

View project
New

Education | 2020 - 2020

The impact of COVID-19 on mainstream schools in England

View project
Young-boy-wearing-glasses-watches-laptop-school-lesson-with-notepad-The-effects-COVID-19-on-families-time-use-child-development-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The effects of COVID-19 on families’ time-use and child development

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Post-16 educational trajectories and social inequalities in political engagement

View project
New

Justice | 2020 - 2022

Youth custody: Educational influences and labour market consequences

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Competitive effects of free schools on student outcomes in neighbouring schools

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Comparisons of cognitive skills and educational attainment across the UK

View project
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2020

Measuring the disadvantage attainment gap in 16-19 education

View project
Early years worker sitting at table with children
New

Education | 2020 - 2021

The ‘common elements’ approach: improving outcomes in early childhood education

View project
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

Teacher supply, shortages and working conditions in England and Wales

View project
Teenage-pupil-wearing-woolly-hat-writes-on-whiteboard-The-influence-of-headteachers-on-their-schools-PROJ
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2022

The influence of headteachers on their schools

View project
Two young girls being taught fractions and decimals, learning from a school workbook together
In progress

Education | 2020 - 2021

Teaching fractions and decimals to children aged 3 to 11

View project
Maths resit students taking exam
Reported

Education | 2019 - 2020

A new mathematics GCSE curriculum for post-16 resit students

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2018

GCSE and A-level results day project

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2020

Teaching reading: an integrated programme for deaf & hearing children

View project
Reported

Education | 2018 - 2019

Developing a sustainable intervention for disadvantaged children

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

Growing up digital

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2020

Educational attainment of children in need & children in care

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2020

Mathematics in Further Education Colleges (MiFEC)

View project
Reported

Education | Welfare | 2017 - 2019

Undermatch in higher education: prevalence, drivers and outcomes

View project
Teacher and young schoolgirl in classroom look at building blocks brain training game together
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2019

Trialling an executive function training intervention for preschoolers

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2018

The effect of retention and turnover on the teaching workforce

View project
Reported

Education | 2017 - 2019

Secondary school choice and academic attainment

View project
Reported

Education | 2016 - 2019

A follow up survey of break and lunch times in schools

View project
Search projects

We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.

Profile

COVID-19 response

Nuffield-funded social scientists are conducting COVID-19 research in real-time, to capture people’s experiences of the social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic.