Are we equal to the challenge?

14th September 2007 at 01:00
We need to be numerate, but it should come about through inspiring teaching, not rote learning that panders to assessment schemes, says Jennie Golding

It would appear that the maths teachers who survive are those who embrace change. And there are a lot of changes to embrace: diplomas, GCSE 2, functional maths, and new statements of national curriculum, heralding changes on the horizon at all the key stages and beyond.

Of course it's right that in the classroom we reflect changes in the world now, as well as anticipating the needs of pupils in years to come. But how well are we doing that? Are we actually producing confidently numerate young people who are motivated and flexible in their use of mathematical processes, concepts and skills, and competent to use new tools as needed? And if not, why not?

The evidence is that pupils' mathematical experiences are still far too skewed by high stakes assessment largely high stakes to others, not to pupils themselves.

This needs to be tackled, but it is no excuse for dreary, sometimes rote driven teaching, often marginalising the needs of the least, as well as the most, able.

We see far too many young people entering adult life functionally innumerate, excluded by academic curricula and unimaginative classrooms. And we see far too few, of all abilities, excited by mathematics, with robust mathematical thinking skills and fluency with processes.

A dearth of experienced and effective maths teachers has meant that we have been in danger of slipping into a downward spiral where dull learning experiences encourage few to aspire to a career in a maths classroom. We can lie down and die, or we can respond to the challenge.

The next few years offer mathematics teachers at all levels an unrivalled opportunity, with the support of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), strategy advisers and professional associations, among others, to review teaching styles and embrace cultural change, and to make structural development the servant of that change rather than the master.

At the beginning of a new academic year, wouldn't it be great to have a vision of a maths classroom where every pupil and teacher is fully engaged and challenged in learning flexible and transferable processes, concepts and skills, confident and competent to work independently or as part of a group with whatever technology is appropriate, eager to crack problems, and where assessment is primarily a tool for learning.

Government, leadership teams and heads of department can support, but the only people who can make it happen are the mathematics teachers in the classroom. What a privilege

Jennie Golding is an Advanced Skills Teacher at Woodroffe School in Dorset and vice-chairwoman of the teaching committee of The Mathematical Association

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