It is socially acceptable, cool even, to claim that you are “no good at maths” whereas people would be ashamed to admit they couldn’t read. This culture is endemic in Britain, pervading politics and the media. Years of reduction in examination standards and teaching to the test from the early 1980s onwards has served to increase the perception that maths is boring, difficult and geeky. The economic results are now emerging. Fifty percent of UK employers are dissatisfied with the basic numeracy of school leavers. There is also a massive gap being created in high level mathematics, with City firms disproportionately recruiting non-UK graduates. This, as Michael Gove has recognised, has significant implications for the wider economy: mathematics is vital for economic growth.
The modern economy is a “maths economy” in which mathematical skills drive value in industries from energy to financial services. The new “Masters of the Universe” in the City are no longer traders doing deals; they are the “power mathematicians” who model future trends. Yet, despite this country’s strong record of producing Nobel prizewinners and Fields medalists, the UK is under threat from new competitors entering this market.