The announcement that sent students reeling was launched at the beginning of the year: English and Maths will be made compulsory till the age of 18. 

As we approach the end of 2023, we start to question what this means.

Through the various stages of education, English and Maths are core subjects that are built on skill-by-skill. First, the alphabet and counting; a little later on, the Gruffalo and arithmetic becomes the moonstone around which your world revolves; soon, the biggest concern becomes Jane Eyre and trigonometry… Until you are 16. For some, that is the signal of freedom, away from the tyranny of subjects they hope to never meet with again.

Except for the persistent inevitability of English and Maths.

Maths can undoubtedly constitute a huge part of our lives, from buying capital goods to everyday expenses, like mapping out travel costs or choosing mobile phone plans, alongside developing your analytical abilities. Similarly, English is often renowned for maintaining a structure through essays and unleashing your creativity, both equal aspects to most jobs. This allows Maths and the Arts to be, in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s words, “complementary not contradictory”, as he stated in his speech on the 17th April, 2023.

On this end, the incorporation of these subjects into higher years of education ultimately appears to serve them in the long-term. However, the primary stakeholders in this transition are the teachers as well as the students. Can we ensure the benefits of this scheme will outweigh the disadvantages?

With these compulsory subjects introduced, students will be required to divide their time, energy and resources accordingly. Ari, in Year 10, expressed, “the increased workload may cause more stress for students and negative mental health issues.” This may lead to a steep rise in anxiety and fear of such a daunting enormity of subjects to multitask. 

Athithra in Year 11 explains: "Teachers are the ones who are going to feel the effects of English and Maths A-levels being compulsory… There are teachers who are forced to conduct… lessons in areas which they are not comfortable or confident in.” Making English and Maths compulsory till 18 must mean that the demand for teachers in the two subjects will heighten- a demand which must be tackled in some form. If not the aforementioned proposition, one which could potentially re-instigate the teacher strikes, there will need to be investment of significant funding to train teachers. Considering the fiscal aspect, Ari prompts a possible redirection within the education sector to “funding more into basic maths at primary school level”.

Ultimately, both core subjects have vital attributes that are necessary to carry forward. Therefore, it is difficult to perfectly evaluate the short-term risks against the overarching aim. With an increased level of knowledge in the specifics and the benefits being shared with students to understand and express their opinions about, we, as a society, could better formulate a clear statement on whether it will fulfil its purpose: to enrich the United Kingdom’s education system.