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Maths professors fight curriculum 'flab'

Mathematics professors are preparing to call for extensive revisions to the national curriculum, even before schools have implemented the newest version.

They are concerned about students' lack of basic mathematical knowledge, and want a return to more traditional approaches. "What is in place is not suitable for a developed country," says Tony Gardiner, professor of mathematics at Birmingham University.

The London Mathematical Society, the national learned body for the subject, is preparing a document asking for action on the curriculum. It envisages a five-year timetable to fit in with the Government's promise of a five-year moratorium on change.

"It is necessary for the mathematics community to put some skeleton, some bones, some framework into a flabby prose document," says Professor Gardiner, who is a member of the society's council and its education committee. He says the maths national curriculum is "all waffle", arguing that it sets out general "opportunities" children should have, but does not contain specifics such as "learn tables" or "factorise quadratics". There has been a change in the climate over the past 30 years, which is reflected in the curriculum. Problem-solving and learning how to learn are important, but children no longer have technical fluency, he says.

But Professor Margaret Brown, chair of the Joint Mathematical Council, which represents all sectors of the mathematical world from primary teachers to university professors, says teaching in a traditional way is not necessarily more effective, and calls for more research into pedagogy. She points out that students entering university have not studied the national curriculum, and were taught by more traditional methods.

She says fewer top students are taking maths at university because they have a greater choice of subjects, such as computer studies.

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