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Strategy 'out of step with Blair'

ONE OF the Government's senior maths advisers has claimed that the national numeracy strategy is underpinned by "predominantly Victorian" values.

Professor Margaret Brown of King's College, London, a leading member of the Government's numeracy task force, said that the strategy is seriously out of step with Tony Blair's general philosophy.

"It seems that although the strategy is an amalgamation of the values of many people (indeed I have written parts of the framework and the task force reports myself), its core values lie nearest to the Secretary of State who fits neatly into the 'industrial trainer' category," Professor Brown told the British Educational Research Association conference in Brighton last weekend.

"Thus the driving values are predominantly Victorian, emphasising mathematics as a set of skills to be mastered by the whole class by hard work and continual practice under the control of an authoritarian teacher...

"This would seem to have its roots in ignorance of the subject and of how mathematical ideas are currently used in commerce and industry, combined with espousal of a protestant work ethic which believes that learning is more drill than joy."

Professor Brown said that when she examined the numeracy strategy she discerned the "shadowy presence" of the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead. The initiatives that had resulted in the national literacy and numeracy projects had been mainly driven by him.

"It is clear that through the Office for Standards in Education representative and less directly through his influence on the Department for Education and Employment's standards unit, his narrow views on numeracy, not dissimilar to those of David Blunkett, held considerable sway over the detail of the framework and the strategy."

Professor Brown praised Anita Straker, director of both the numeracy project and strategy. "It is to her credit that the strategy has emerged as much less traditionalist on the ground than might have been the case if someone with less assertiveness had been appointed."

She was also pleased that teachers were imposing their own humanistic values on the numeracy strategy. If they did not, the consequences might be disastrous, she said.

"We might look forward to a generation of pupils who are reluctant to engage with mathematical thinking, cannot apply mathematics in contexts beyond the classroom, and discontinue study of the subject beyond what is strictly required.

"Pretty much in fact the situation that pertained 30 years ago and more."

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