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Alarm at surge in use of ready-made lessons

Are primary teachers becoming too reliant on government maths materials downloaded from the Web? Helen Ward reports

TEACHERS are downloading up to 1,700 minute-by-minute government maths lesson plans from the Web a day.

As ministers introduce more plans for a wider range of pupils, there are fears that teachers could become too reliant on the free, state-sponsored materials.

The existing off-the-peg plans cover numeracy strategy units in maths for Years 4 and 6 and have been piloted in more than 90 authorities.

Now more than 1,000 a day are being downloaded from the pilot website; the peak was 1,680 on a day in April. Plans for Year 5 classes will be available on the Internet from September alongside updated Years 4 and 6 plans. A trial of pre-prepared plans for Years 1, 2 and 3 starts in the autumn.

Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard, TES Teacher magazine's Mathagony Aunt, said: "A lot of primary teachers are not that confident in maths and these plans can give them a structured way of explaining it. But maths is a creative subject and you need to draw on fresh ideas and look for new ways of doing it. There is a danger if plans become too prescriptive."

Each unit is a series of lessons, covering a particular topic in maths. The Year 6 unit plan on reasoning about shapes, for example, has plans for five daily lessons. Activities include children guessing what shape the teacher is thinking of by asking questions that can only be answered yes or no.

The pre-prepared plans were introduced after the Office for Standards in Education warned maths was slipping down primary heads' priority lists.

Tim Coulson, National Numeracy Strategy director, said: "They give teachers space to think more carefully about what they are teaching rather than getting bound up in creating activities and lessons".

A MORI poll for the Department for Education and Skills found that 88 per cent of teachers felt the plans were good or very good, though more than one in four thought that there was too much to cover in each.

They were welcomed by the Mathematical Association, but Barry Lewis, its president, said: "What we do not want is for maths to be battered into a corner with over-prescriptive plans."

Denis Hayes, lecturer in education at Plymouth University, said: "New teachers and student teachers will lap them up. I don't blame any teacher for using whatever information they can. What is less helpful is when what starts off as a suggestion becomes a recommendation and then a requirement. It is fine to have guidelines, but don't lose the creativity."

Liz Paver, former president of the National Association of Head Teachers and head of Intake primary in Doncaster, said: "We should not all be reinventing the wheel. Any good teacher will take a structure and deliver the lesson in their own style."

The lesson plans are at www.standards.dfes.gov.uknumeracy

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