Why Study Maths?

Today, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to “reimagine our approach to numeracy” as part of his first speech of 2023 and announced his plan for pupils in England to study Mathematics up until the age of 18. Here, our Head of Mathematics, Catherine Ramsay writes about why she believes children should study the subject.


As a Maths teacher you inevitably face a lot of questions every day. Where’s the square root button on the calculator? Where did that x come from? Do I have to show all my working?

A question you hear often, is of course the dreaded, when are we ever going to use this?

It’s a question that Maths teachers get disproportionately, and I think a little unfairly. I never asked my Music teacher when my knowledge of the term ‘ostinato’ was going to net me a profit, or my English teacher when several verses of studiously memorised Larkin might help me in my everyday life. Somehow, as we rumbled along the road of education, pupils and parents developed the idea that Maths was something very practical, that the equations learned in S1, the trigonometry in S2, the calculus in S5, could appear at any moment in the form of a practical task. Building a shed, baking a pie.

It’s the case, like any subject in school, that Maths has its fair share of practical skills. Baking a pie is an obvious example. Accuracy, measurement, ratio and proportion. These are all useful when baking a pie, especially if you have extra apples and you want to scale it up. But these numeracy skills are not unique to Mathematics. In 2010, as part of Curriculum for Excellence, it was determined that numeracy was the responsibility of all subjects. You measure in Graphics. Use ratio in Music. Work accurately in Chemistry.

The answer is, like with any subject, not as obvious as it seems. Anyone over the age of twenty-five can tell you that quadratic graphs are not always found in the office. The exponential function doesn’t necessarily lurk in a lawyer’s briefcases. Vets don’t usually bring out the calculator to do some trigonometry. The detail of the Maths curriculum might fade into obscurity for most people. This may be the case for many school subjects that lie outside their sphere of work and life.

But learning Mathematics is good for you all the same. Just like it’s good, if sometimes a little depressing to learn all those Larkin verses, and good, if frustrating to teach your clumsy fingers to play Für Elise with both hands. It’s good to learn to draw, even if your portraits look like potato men, and it’s good to drag yourself into your trainers and run around the track, even if your best time for a 5k looks like the cooking time on a Christmas turkey. Each of these technical, practical skills bring with them other, more fundamental ones. Resilience, organisation, persistence, critical thought. Each of these different subjects allow you a chance to succeed and to feel proud of that success.

Good mathematicians are not good because they can factorise. Good mathematicians spot patterns and can organise information. They aren’t afraid of challenge and can break down complicated problems into manageable tasks. These skills aren’t just for the Mathematicians who get As in Advanced Higher Pure Maths. These skills are for those who leave school proud with a B in National 5. For S1 students as they begin their Maths journey, and for S6 who might be at the end of it.

Rishi Sunak says that every school pupil should learn Mathematics to age 18. That, “in a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, our children’s jobs will require more analytical skills than ever before.” He’s not wrong. Exponentials might not hide in a lawyer’s briefcase, but complex information, difficult challenges, the need to evaluate, the need to make choices based on data? That does.

Here at Hutchie, pupils learn to think analytically in every classroom. They tackle data in Geography, statistics in Biology. They learn to tackle problems creatively in Art and Drama. They learn to communicate, to succinctly express complex ideas, in English and Modern Languages. They find challenge and inspiration in each classroom, and their experiences follow them into their Maths classroom, and then out into the world.

In the Maths department, this allows us freedom. It means that everything we do is supported by the rest of the school. It means that we don’t alone bear the burden of making pupils numerate. It gives us the freedom, when pupils ask us: why should I study mathematics?  to answer, Study Maths because you like it.



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