Maths advisers accused of dictating strategy

Julie Henry

KS3 advisers have been telling schools to drop successful maths scheme, claims professor. Julie Henry reports

OVER-ZEALOUS Government consultants are telling schools to drop a successful maths project because it does not fit to the letter of the law the new strategy to overhaul secondary maths.

The Mathematics Enhancement Project (MEP) was developed by Professor David Burghes, a member of the Government's own numeracy task force. It adopts classroom practice from Hungary, where whole-class teaching, mental arithmetic and practical application of maths produce superior results.

His ideas became embedded in the national numeracy strategy, which the Government credits for rising standards in primary maths.

About 80 secondaries across the country have been using the MEP at key stage 3 for about three years and have been impressed with the results.

But now a number of the schools in the North of England have been told by KS3 strategy consultants that the project is not compatible with the new maths framework which will be introduced nationally next term.

The 90-page framework document gives precise advice about how maths should be taught. A typical lesson should consist of 10 minutes' mental arithmetic, 25 to 40 minutes of whole-class, group or pair working, and a 15-minute plenary session to summarise what pupils have learnt.

Professor Burghes, head of the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching at Exeter University, said a number of heavy-handed consultants were effectively trying to ban MEP because some of its main elements are not in the framework.

One of the chief sticking points is the practice of pupils tackling sums on the board in front of the class. It is not part of the strategy but is commonly done in many high-performing countries. MEP also involves homework after every class, while the KS3 strategy recommends "regular" homework.

Professor Burghes said: "In most areas there has been a more liberal interpretation. However, a few schools have consultants who seem to have taken against MEP and literally told them not to do it."

He claims their dictatorial approach ignores research findings. Evaluation in 1996 of 100 schools using the project at KS4 found, on average, a 6 per cent increase in the number of pupils gaining A to C grades at GCSE.

The professor's concerns about prescription mirrors earlier criticisms by schools and local authorities involved in the strategy pilot which has been running for a year.

A Department for Eduation and Skills spokeswoman said: "Flexibility is our watchword when it comes to KS3. The consultants are newly appointed and perhaps have not yet had the chance to take in all of the strategy.

"We will now be writing to remind them that there should be flexibility. If a school is using a scheme and standards are improving, it should be integrated into KS3."

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Julie Henry

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