"Mathematics: made to measure, an Ofsted report launched today, emphasises the importance for every pupil to have the best possible mathematics education.
"The report highlights a dramatic increase in the take-up of A-level and further mathematics, and shows that the youngest children are doing better. GCSE and A level results continue to rise as a result of the sustained efforts of teachers and students.
"But the report finds three key areas in primary and secondary mathematics in schools in England which need to be improved."
and to the report itself:
"The overall effectiveness of schools' work in mathematics was judged good or outstanding in 57% of the primary schools and 52% of the secondary schools. In most cases, the judgements for achievement, teaching, and leadership and management matched the overall effectiveness grades. In around a fifth of schools, the curriculum and/or use of assessment were relatively weak. In September 2010, Ofsted published supplementary guidance on judging each of these aspects."
So how did the media report this? True to form, there were headlines" such as "bright children failed by poor maths lessons", that are "damaging", with a need for a "crackdown", and even "most children are not being taught maths as well as they should be" (The Today programme) (despite 57% and 52%, ie the "majority", being "good or outstanding", or that "four out five children are reaching the level expected of them at the end of primary school, and a third of 11-year-olds are reaching the standard expected of a 13-year-old".
The report also finds that:
"A further change to GCSE mathematics has been the removal of a coursework component. Pupils typically therefore have no experience of tackling extended mathematical tasks in this key stage".
He has also announced his intention to "discourage" the "damaging trend" of struggling pupils taking GCSEs early, because it encourages teachers to "teach to the test" rather than give pupils broader knowledge of a subject.
In the report, Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw warns that
“the extensive use of early GCSE entry puts too much emphasis on attaining a grade C”
(the benchmark grade used for schools’ headline league table measures) but the quest for this grade
“is at the expense of adequate understanding and mastery of mathematics needed to succeed at A level and beyond".
Faced with a demanding exam results and league table-led regime, is it any wonder that "teaching to the (early) test" can be the result?
However, when plans to end the modularisation of GCSEs and move towards a single final exam were announced in 2010, Voice General Secretary Philip Parkin commented:
"While Voice would welcome fewer exams in total, there are advantages to modular exams and to coursework. They give a more accurate assessment of where pupils are at different parts of a course and encourage pupils to focus throughout a course rather than just prepare for exams."
"Is the Education Secretary once again going against his own policies? If he believes that modular exams encourage teachers to "teach to the test", to the detriment of a broader subject knowledge, isn't the same true and even more so of final, linear exams, where everything depends on one set of tests at the end of a course, making that the ultimate priority? Could ending the modular system have the opposite effect to the one Mr Gove hopes to achieve?
"Is taking GCSEs early really 'damaging' and 'detrimental'? Some argue that sitting exams early can be beneficial for both the most able and struggling pupils.
"Isn't making these decisions, and asking Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw to look at how the practice of early GCSEs can be 'discouraged', going against his own policies of supposedly giving more 'freedoms' to teachers and to academies and free schools over what and how they teach?"
'The president of the National Association of Mathematics Advisers, Lynn Churchman, says like most of her generation, she was taught maths in a “very didactic way. It’s as if they cut off my head and poured knowledge in then stuck it back on again. "The problem with this is that when they get to the point where their heads are filled up they can start to struggle because they’re not getting that conceptual understanding."
‘Rob Eastaway, co-author of “Maths for Mums and Dads” and a former president of the Mathematical Association 'says old methods of multiplication and division are “a bit like a black box – you put a number in and you get another number out.” With methods like chunking and partitioning, children get to understand what is going on.'
'As Ms Churchman explains, modern maths teaching focuses on the key concepts, and a renewed emphasis on mental methods and strategies as opposed to recall.
'Schools Minister Nick Gibb has stated publicly that he favours the older methods that he himself was taught by, and that he believes it is not an issue if children do not understand why they work.
'Ms Churchman says: “Mr Gibb believes that you can teach standard traditional algorithms and rules, and that it doesn’t matter that children don’t understand the concepts behind it. If he drives through changes backed by that philosophy, that could set primary maths achievement back years.”
'Mr Eastaway also says there are significant risks associated with returning to the old methods, as many children just “didn’t get them”.
'The Department for Education did not wish to comment on the concerns, saying its curriculum review due shortly would set out its plans for mathematics and other subjects.’
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