Decades of dumbing down in education have cost the economy £9 billion as hundreds of thousands of teenagers turn their backs on maths, a has report warned.
GCSE maths has become little more than a “tick-box test” with pupils needing under 20 per cent to gain a grade C in the top paper, the study by centre-right think-tank Reform said.
Every teenager who drops the subject at A level because it seems “geeky” misses out on £136,000 in lifetime earnings from top city jobs, according to the report.
Since 1990, a “lost generation” of nearly 440,000 pupils has given up maths after GCSEs, at a cost to the economy of £9 billion.
Elizabeth Truss, deputy director of Reform and a co-author of the report, said: “In today’s Britain it is acceptable to say that you can’t do maths, whereas people would be ashamed to admit they couldn’t read.
“We need a cultural revolution to transform maths from geek to chic.”
The report, The Value of Mathematics, said the top five per cent-10 per cent of maths graduates working in financial services use “power maths”, modelling derivatives and financial risk.
“These skills are at the pinnacle of the City hierarchy, making their practitioners the new ‘Masters of the Universe,”’ the report said.
At the core of the problem was “the diminution of the O-level/GCSE”.
These exams have gone from being “a key staging post” to a “tick-box test”, the report says.
The think-tank analysed maths GCSE and O-level papers over the past six decades.
“From 1951 to 1970 these were a rigorous test of thought and initiative in algebra, arithmetic and geometry. Students were required to think for themselves,” the report says.
“By 1980 questions were becoming simpler. Following the introduction of the GCSE there was a sharp drop in difficulty, with questions leading pupils step by step to a solution.
“Pass marks were lowered throughout the period.”
Moves to make GCSEs modular threaten to undermine maths education even further. The think-tank called for a reversal of the “inexorable drift towards modularising GCSE mathematics”.
Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove said: “India and China are producing four million graduates every year. The single largest area of graduate growth is mathematics, science and engineering.
“Asking students, as one exam board did last year, whether we look at the stars with a microscope or a telescope is not really equipping the next generation to compete with the products of Singaporean or Taiwanese schools.”
Schools Minister Jim Knight said: “We agree that our culture does not value maths and mathematical skill highly enough. Employers are increasingly demanding sound numeric knowledge. But we agree maths is of vital importance to the economy and it is a top Government priority to encourage more mathematicians in the future.”