Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - What a difference 30 years make: none in maths

Study finds basic understanding has not improved since 1970s
pupils are no better at aspects of basic maths today than they were in the 1970s, despite rising exam results, a major new study published this week by King’s College London has found.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 27 September

What a difference 30 years make: none in maths


Study finds basic understanding has not improved since 1970s pupils are no better at aspects of basic maths today than they were in the 1970s, despite rising exam results, a major new study published this week by King’s College London has found.

The proportion of pupils who understand algebra, ratios and fractions at the age of 14 has fallen since the 1970s, while the proportion who struggle with even the simplest concepts has increased. The findings are in contrast to the number of pupils gaining grade C or above in maths GCSE, which has risen every year since the exam was introduced.

Researchers claim the data, based on samples of 7,000 pupils, raises questions about how schools currently prepare children for exams. During 2008 and 2009, pupils were given test questions first used in a research project in 1976 and 1977 to compare how performance had changed.

Jeremy Hodgen, professor of maths education at King’s and the principal investigator on the four-year project, told a conference in London that there were wide-ranging problems in maths education.

“The biggest problem is that students don’t understand mathematics well enough,” Professor Hodgen said. “The second issue is the slow rate of growth in understanding. It is clear that learning maths, in terms of understanding maths, takes time"

“The third issue is that this data suggests we need to ban early entry to GCSE. It is a mad policy to encourage students to take GCSE to test aspects of…reasoning when we know students haven’t attained understanding.”

For more on this story, please see tomorrow’s TES magazine.





Related resources


Calculation strategies

  • Help pupils master maths basics with this collection of primary resources.

Collective memories

  • A problem shared is a problem halved, try these lesson ideas for maths group work.

Top 10 maths videos

  • Put down the calculators and turn the maths classroom into a cinema with these recommended videos.

Maths Jeopardy

  • Adding a little fun can make maths lessons more manageable, try this range of activities based on the popular game.

Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


Teachers in Kenya, East Africa, are returning to the classroom today following a three-week strike that forced school closures across the country.

Iran’s goverment has restricted access to Google’s email service and search engine, it has announced on state television.

The death of a giant panda cub one week after its birth has left staff at Smithsonian National Zoo “broken-hearted”.

Ration cards, threepenny stamps and a red brick bus stop are commonplace at a nursing home near Bristol where a 1950s street has been recreated to help residents with dementia.



In the news archive index