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Skills in maths

There has been much criticism of key stage 3 Sats, especially from English teachers. The silence of maths teachers should not be seen as being in accord with this view. My advisory work in more than 150 secondaries suggests admiration for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and Sats developers for high-quality work.

KS3 maths questions are unpredictable, testing understanding, not superficial skill application, often in novel contexts. They are seen as fair and robust, providing more reliable data about pupils' progress than teacher assessment. Arguments about constraints stem from content and process polarities. Concern about curricular tedium and summative assessment is timely. Some of the gains of a more investigative approach to learning have declined as content concerns and shorter chunks of time spent on a topic have predominated.

In our school, we are looking at ways to achieve a fuller curriculum with multi-disciplinary tasks, involving some independent study supported by ICT, and we are thinking of changing Year 8 homework arrangements to "subject weeks".

A debate about the relative proportions of slog and creativity seems to be needed. Let us propose a minimum of 20 per cent creativity and a maximum of a third - recognising that sustained creativity needs underlying content skills for it to work.

Don Steward Shropshire

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