Maths and careers

A theme running through the reports, and perhaps particularly highlighted by two of the reports on STEM, is the need to provide young people with appropriate careers advice and guidance.  It seems that, in making decisions about pursuing post-compulsory mathematics, students are influenced by their perceptions of the usefulness and value of mathematics. For example, the Towards universal participation report, quoting Matthews and Pepper (2007), stated that “students’ perceptions of the usefulness of mathematics for university and careers was a crucial factor in their choice of A level Mathematics.” (p. 29). The same report, quoting Mujtaba et al., (in preparation) suggest that “[s]tudents who understand the value of mathematics in increasing job prospects, earnings and access to higher education are more likely to participate in advanced mathematics options.”

However, at the same time, “[m]any students are currently unaware of the career advantages that strong quantitative skills will provide” (Solving the maths problem, p. 10) and they ” tend not to be aware of how useful these skills will be to their employability” (Society counts, p. 4). Further, students “fail to see the relevance of mathematics for their future learning and careers.” (Rational numbers, p. 28)

A number of reports argue that there is a need to provide career advice or even “explicit teaching about STEM-related career opportunities” (Aspires report, p. 1). As the Society counts report suggests, “[t]he value of quantitative skills for future employment needs to be actively communicated to students. (p. 4) and “[s]tudents need to be aware of the personal benefits of choosing mathematics in ‘keeping options open’. (Towards universal participation, p. 31) and the report Rational numbers says, “[a]ny encouragement or interventions designed to increase the number of learners taking mathematics at level 3 who will then pursue a degree in the STEM sector must be supported with appropriate advice and encouragement to ensure that larger numbers find work in the STEM sector and, importantly, remain working in STEM careers. (p. 24)

It seems, however, that careers advice in schools is “poor” and that the government “fail to articulate how they intend to convey to students the benefits of STEM postgraduate study” (Higher Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, p. 2). Interestingly, in 2011 the government introduced a statutory duty on schools in England to secure access to independent, impartial careers guidance for their pupils in years 9-11, but in a report published in January 2013, the House of Commons Select Committee on Education stated:

The Government’s decision to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools is regrettable. We have concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people. We heard evidence that there is already a worrying deterioration in the overall level of provision for young people. Urgent steps need to be taken by the Government to ensure that young people’s needs are met…. Independent careers advice and guidance has never been as important for young people as it is today. Too many schools lack the skills, incentives or capacity to fulfil the duty put upon them without a number of changes being made. (p. 4)


2 Responses to Maths and careers

  1. behrfacts says:

    Helpful analysis of a key policy issue which I and many others are very concerned about. My blog at goes into more detail about some of the careers-related issues currently going on.

  2. Marie says:

    Hi, thanks for this. I have had a look on your blog, and certainly see the resonances. Interestingly, in the many reports about maths education parents are not mentioned at all often. Concerns about equity don’t feature much at all either (although there are some where equity is mentioned, such as the Royal Society (2011), ACME’s Raising the Bar and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology report).

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