Ability should set the pace in maths

13th October 2000 at 01:00
TONY Gardiner from Birmingham University always has challenging and stimulating opinions about mathematics education in schools but his views on the undesirability of an accelerated pace for able students cannot go unchallenged ("Not so fast", Maths Curriculum Special, September 22).

Tony Gardiner says that acceleration presents students with work "months or years ahead of time". I would ask ahead of whose time?

Evidence from eastern Europe and the Pacific Rim countries clearly shows that pupils there are quite capable of undertaking topics long before their peers here. Low expectations, it seems to me, breed low attainment.

The alternative to acceleration, he claims, is enrichment, which "challenges, extends and builds on curriculum work".

Well, I thought that all good maths teachers would do this for all their pupils, not just for the most able. Surely this is an entitlement for all? Those of us who have tried enrichment with able children, without a parallel development of a more advanced curriculum, soon find that the pupils, and their parents, regard the activity as simply marking time.

GCSE higher level and the new A-level courses provide as reasonably broad and balanced an introduction as any to mathematics for able students.

So why should a Year 9 puil, say, who is already achieving a good standard at GCSE, be denied access to calculus, for example, and have to wait until the mystical age of 16-plus to enter the secret garden of sixth-form mathematics?

Doing post-GCSE work before the age of 16, Tony Gardiner maintains, "guarantees that there is no appropriate maths programme for them to follow" in the sixth form.

May I draw a parallel here? Can you imagine the outcry if Year 7 teachers refused to build on the undoubted gains that the national numeracy strategy will bring to key stage 2 attainment levels?

Come on now, Tony, is this not just an attempt to safeguard the territory of 16-19 education, or even perhaps your own in your university?

As for his points about disruption to the curriculum, pupils doing maths "on their own" and taking children out of their peer group, it makes me wonder if he has been in many secondary schools recently.

He is very welcome to visit any top maths set in my (very typical) secondary school or, I am quite sure, many hundreds of others around the country which are presenting a stimulating, challenging and advanced curriculum to our most able pupils and consequently achieving very good results.

Norman Edwards

8 Pentylands Close

Highworth

Wiltshire


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