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KEHS praises Countdown’s Rachel Riley for her campaign to get more girls into maths

Following the campaign by Countdown’s Rachel Riley to improve the image of Maths, Harry Kavanagh, Head of Maths at King Edward VI High School for Girls, Edgbaston, says that initiatives like his Maths Masterclass Club are vital to encourage more youngsters, particularly girls, to embrace the subject at the highest levels.

Riley, an Oxford Maths graduate best known for her role on Countdown and her appearance on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ told the Times Educational Supplement: “Maths is suffering from an image problem – and improving children’s perceptions of the subject starts with changing our own attitudes. It’s really important to stop saying that we are crap at maths and having it as a badge of honour. You wouldn’t say ‘I can’t read’ and have the same kind of flippant attitude towards it. But it is something that if you hear it enough – that’s how advertising works – you start to believe it.

“Rachel Riley is absolutely right that in many schools Maths is seen as a difficult subject,” said Harry Kavanagh “and one part of demystifying it is to make it ‘cool’ for young people to enjoy the subject and relish the challenge of tackling difficult problems. We enter girls for a huge array of Maths competitions including the highly competitive Olympiads. We also run an after school session every week for up to 50 gifted mathematicians from KEHS and other Birmingham schools: Camp Hill Girls and Boys, Nishkam School Great Barr, Small Heath and Sheldon Heath Academy. It’s a centre of excellence where the students extend their knowledge beyond A level, developing their problem-solving, creativity and high-level skills. It’s not teacher-led; our pupils interact with other bright mathematicians, tackling problems, enjoying group discussions and exploring fascinating areas of maths.”

While teachers across the country are predicting a major decline in the numbers of young people opting to take A level Maths in the future because of this summer’s new tougher GCSE maths exams, KEHS continues to buck the national trend.

“Women are generally under-represented in STEM subjects,” said KEHS Principal Ann Clark, “so it’s great to see a celebrity Maths enthusiast like Rachel Riley encouraging more students, particularly girls, to see it as a fascinating, useful subject, not to dread it. We’re proud that so many of our girls enjoy Maths and are successful – over 40% took Maths at A level last year and many go on to study maths, sciences and engineering at top universities.”

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