Humberside gives a boost to primary basics

Cathy Byrne

Prompted by concern over standards of basic numeracy, in the summer of 1993 the maths adviser for Humberside invited several primary schools to take part in a numeracy initiative funded by the LEA. It was designed to diagnose weaknesses in numeracy and remedy them. Seventeen schools took part in 199394 and following its success it is being repeated for 21 schools.

The inner city primary school where I teach volunteered partly because of our concern over standards and partly because the costs would be covered - supply cover for the co-ordinator to attend the training and feedback sessions, supply cover for a further two days to work in school and Pounds 800 to spend on maths equipment.

In September, our maths co-ordinator used one of her two school-based supply days to undertake the testing of Years 2, 4 and 6 using different standardised maths tests supplemented with one-minute tests for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The initiative has these results as a baseline and by comparing them with further tests to be undertaken in July will be able to measure the effectiveness of the scheme.

At meetings in October, participating schools were asked to undertake a variety of activities designed to improve numeracy skills: o Registration activities. Each morning children spend 15 minutes on differentiated activities involving computation. The activities do not require quality marking - they can either be checked by the child, who could use a calculator, or by the teacher with a simple tick at the end of the whole piece of work.

o Ten minutes of mental work every morning. This requires mainly oral responses with a variety of different approaches. The aim is to improve mental agility not by "quick fire" responses but rather by encouraging children to think.

o A modular approach. Teachers in participating schools are expected to produce schemes of work on maths-based topics each half term.

The co-ordinator introduced the ideas to teachers at staff meetings, disseminated resources and listened to feedback. The initiative relies on the commitment of the whole staff in each school to carry out the numeracy activities in a systematic and rigorous way.

Apart from the money intended to supplement the school's resources, the curriculum support teachers leading the feedback sessions suggested appropriate tasks and supplied resources in the form of photocopiable number grids, "dartboards", and other number tasks which are simple to use yet versatile. It was suggested that parents help with the colouring-in and laminating.

The maths adviser is now putting together a booklet to summarise the initiative, which will include all the resource sheets that have been used. She is delighted that the Dearing report for maths reinforces the importance of AT2 and thus validates the work already in place.

Teachers at one of the schools in last year's initiative say that overall it has been very useful as, together with an earlier reading initiative, it focused the whole school's attention on maths and English. They used staff meetings and training days to analyse and evaluate resources and practice, identify strengths and weaknesses and plan the way forward. It gave a welcome impetus to maths teaching overall.

The emphasis of the initiative has been on co-ordinators and staff adapting the ideas for their schools and trialling new ideas of their own. The feedback sessions allow for modification of tasks and sharing of successful ideas. The results of the first year show substantial improvements in numeracy, better in some schools than others but significant in all.

This effectiveness is expected to be reinforced by the outcome of July's tests and the expansion of the initiative to other schools in the county will depend, like everything else, on finance.

Cathy Byrne is a primary teacher in Humberside.

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