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Opinion8th February 2022

Enriching mathematical experiences for young people

One of our newest ventures is MESME (Mathematics Education for Social Mobility and Excellence), which exists to support students from all backgrounds to achieve mathematical excellence so that they go on to have a greater and richer range of future personal, employment and economic choices.

MESME has set the radical target of doubling the number of students undertaking PhDs in the mathematical sciences at UK universities while increasing the proportion of disadvantaged students represented in this group. The current situation in education is stark: students from disadvantaged backgrounds perform less well in school mathematics qualifications and progress to high-tariff universities at substantially lower rates.

Non-disadvantaged students are three times more likely to complete an A-Level in Further Mathematics, attain A*s at twice the rate of their disadvantaged peers and are as much as ten times more likely to secure a place on the most competitive undergraduate mathematics courses.

MESME intends for the increase in PhD students to include a representative proportion, at minimum, of students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds who went to school in the UK while enriching the mathematical experiences of everyone who participates in their programmes, enabling them to enjoy mathematics and identify as a mathematician. 

In 2021, MESME began piloting Maths Circles for secondary school students across the country. Maths Circles aim to develop students’ mathematical thinking and expand their mathematical curiosity. 

A Maths Circle takes place for one hour a week, with students from Year 7 to 9, and involves six students to one mentor. Mentors have higher-level academic experience in mathematical sciences and receive extensive training. Mentors support students to grapple with intriguing questions, discover and explore exciting ideas, and think like mathematicians.

MESME are delivering these sessions in schools, specialist maths hubs and online. The sessions allow students to see beyond ‘process-focused’ interpretations of maths and encourage them to explain their methods, justify mathematical claims, and cooperate and work as a team. More than 580 students completed the first pilot programme in the 2021 summer term, and 743 took part in the autumn term. More than 1,000 new students have joined this term, and eight Ark schools have taken part in MESME Maths Circles so far.

We spoke to three of our delivery partners to hear why they’re passionate about broadening the reach of Maths Circles.

Mareli Grady, Outreach Events Coordinator, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, said: “Oxford has a long-standing commitment to fostering a love of mathematics and encouraging excellence in mathematics among students of all ages. By joining MESME, we have expanded the range of activities we offer to allow younger students to develop their mathematical thinking. We are excited about the potential impact of the project on social mobility and representation in mathematics and thrilled to be a part of it at this early stage.”

Adam Alagiah-Glomseth, Chief Executive Officer at TalentEd, an organisation whose vision is a world where there is no gap between disadvantaged young people and their better-off peers, said: “We are proud to be delivering Maths Circles because we believe all young people with a passion for maths deserve to be stretched and challenged to help them realise their full potential. By offering high-quality tutoring to those who otherwise wouldn’t access this kind of support, we hope to increase the number and diversity of excellent mathematicians.”

Natalie Hughes-Crean, Team and Enrichment Senior Coordinator, UK Mathematics Trust (UKMT), said: “UK Mathematics Trust has been working to advance the education of young people in mathematics since 1996. As we celebrate our 25 year anniversary, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with MESME and further enrich the lives of young people through Maths Circles. Working with other students to solve a range of intriguing mathematical problems promotes teamwork and communication skills. We look forward to the year ahead and seeing the positive impact on young people.”

If you are interested in taking part in this programme, please register your interest here. For more information, please visit