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Fantastic opportunity

Steve Abbott welcomes the KS3 numeracy strategy.

Your school may only now be appreciating the scope of the key stage 3 numeracy strategy. It is expected to audit its numeracy and literacy provision and begin to work for improvements in the planning and teaching of these subjects. As a busy teacher, you will register the extra demands and may not realise immediately what a fantastic opportunity is about to come your way. Of course, this puts a burden on you and your school, but the strategy empowers your department by thrusting maths to centre stage. Heads of department may suddenly find themselves pushing at open doors when they talk to their headteachers.

The challenge for this strategy is to transform the teaching of maths across the country, and their expectations of schools are high. At first reading, the implications for maths departments are daunting. Secondary and middle school heads of department who have let matters drift at KS3 will be concerned about the amount of ground to be covered. Even if you have been working for some time to improve maths at KS3, you might be worried that you are expected to start all over again and follow a tightly prescribed national scheme.

So much has been said about the "three-part lesson" that many teachers fear that nothing else will be allowed. While it is true that numeracy consultants will be encouraged to demonstrate such lessons, they will recognise that the key elements are: planning lessons within a framework; being clear about learning objectives; engaging all the students in mathematical thinking from the beginning of the lesson; providing activities that build on previous work to develop understanding; listening to pupils and adapting the teaching accordingly; maintaining pace and an appropriate balance of support and challenge; and reviewing to secure learning. A lesson that starts with a short written task, or that has two or three mini-plenaries, is equally valid.

The new Famework will not please everyone and it is easy to find aspects to criticise. In the Mathematical Association, we have some concerns about the KS3 strategy, mostly about the potential for misreading the Framework. For example, the term "Yearly teaching programme: Year 7" is used for a programme suitable for average Year 7 pupils. Though the Guide to the Framework makes it clear that a programme for able Year 7 pupils should incorporate work listed in the "Yearly teaching programme: Year 8", the terminology is unfortunate. Also, we think the level of challenge appropriate for able Year 7 students is higher than that exemplified for average Year 8 pupils, so we encourage you to draw on other sources that add depth (such as the OUP Maths Challenge series, or the old SMP 11-16 Stretchers).

But the strategy is based on good practice and the Mathematical Association believes that the overall thrust of the training and support is in the right direction. Your department is encouraged to plan collaboratively: you are encouraged to consider pedagogical issues and to discuss your teaching with colleagues. We support the strong emphasis on building pupils' understanding through rich activities and interactive teaching that engages all pupils. You are encouraged more than ever before to continually improve your own subject knowledge, and to use that knowledge to inform your teaching. The framework guides you away from the "transmission" model of teaching that encourages instrumental learning and towards the "connectionist" model, where you encourage pupils to think for themselves by making connections within mathematics.

The strategy could be your best chance of realising your true potential, both as an individual and within a team. Look at it as a way of increasing your job satisfaction.

Steve Abbott is immediate past president of the Mathematical Association, 259 London Road Leicester LE2 3BE Tel: 0116 221 0013. Web:

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