Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Experts to champion better maths

Experts to champion better maths

maths student
Teachers need to acquire greater skills in maths, report says

There is to be a renewed emphasis on mental mathematics in England's primary schools, with 13,000 maths specialists to spearhead better teaching.

The government accepts the findings of a review it commissioned from a team led by Sir Peter Williams.

It will take 10 years and £187m to train the specialists, expected to be drawn from existing teachers.

More help is proposed for youngsters who are struggling. Parents' support is seen as crucial to the whole scheme.

The proposed maths specialists would not necessarily be the existing mathematics coordinators in schools, and smaller schools might have to share.

The proposals assume that 3,000 specialists could be found straight away next year.

The extra 10,000 would complete the necessary training over the next 10 years - though the report acknowledges this would "result in inequalities".

The cost - averaging £20m a year - should be seen as an investment, the report argues.

And campaigners for better maths estimate there are returns of 10 to one on early investment in maths teaching and learning, in terms of long-term savings to the public purse.


Can you do Maths?

The main recommendations of the report are:
  • a maths specialist in every primary school in 10 years
  • young children should play with shapes, time, capacity and numbers
  • all children should be competent in basic maths by age seven
  • children should do more mental maths in the classroom
  • parents should work with teachers and help foster their child's interest in maths

The aim is to counter the prevailing culture in which, Sir Peter says, the UK remains one of the few advanced nations where it is socially acceptable - even fashionable - to profess an inability to cope with mathematics.

But his team's report concludes firmly that it is teachers, not parents, who determine what children learn - especially as the way mathematics is taught has changed greatly since most parents went to school.

Better training

Sir Peter says they saw some excellent teaching while visiting schools.

But children are highly attuned to uncertainty on the part of their teachers - who have a wide curriculum to get through in primary schools.


The report says the basic requirement of trainee teachers that they have a grade C GCSE in maths should stay for now but be reviewed, with a view to raising the hurdle.

Initial teacher training in maths is not good enough, it says.

But the most practical way forward is to improve the ongoing training of practising teachers.

The review team noted that English teachers get five days a year training.

In Scotland, teachers get the same plus another 35 hours - about a week - for personal "continuing professional development", and that should be a long-term aspiration for England too.

National strategies

The government will be pleased to hear the report say that the introduction of the National Numeracy Strategy in the late 1990s had transformed maths teaching.

In turn, the proportion of primary school leavers attaining Level 4 of the national curriculum in tests, as expected for their age, had risen from 59% in 1998 to 77% last year.

But the report calls into question the effectiveness of the revised national primary teaching frameworks and suggests they should be reconsidered and made more "user friendly" for teachers.

The report also argues for more qualified teachers in early years settings, to give pre-school children a better start in maths.

The Department for Children Schools and Families said it would now develop plans for training specialist maths teachers, with a "pathfinder" programme this autumn and full implementation in 2009.

No comments: