Better maths

12th December 1997 at 00:00
I notice that Tony Gardiner, president of the Mathematics Association, continues to assert that the reason that children are not doing better in mathematics stems from the explicit advice given by HM Inspectorate in the 1980s. This, he says, dissuaded teachers from insisting that children learnt their tables, used fractions and so on.

Dr Gardiner should himself take more care in reporting. Taking both ends of the 1980s, A View of the Curriculum in the HMI series, Matters for Discussion (HMSO, 1980), included this: "In mathematics, priority should be given (in primary schools) to acquiring familiarity with whole numbers up to 100 by gaining skills in relating them to one another - including the speedy recall of the commonly used addition, multiplication, subtraction and division facts - and by applying them to circumstances that occur in everyday life."

Leaping to the other end of the decade, the HMI report on mathematics key stages 1 and 3 (HMSO, 1991) for 198990 found pleasure that: "In the best practice the schools were planning to achieve a balance in number work which would enable pupils to learn essential facts, practise skills and develop understanding."

The issue is not whether children should be taught to remember and use some number combinations. Of course they should. The problem is how best to ensure that they do. Dr Gardiner and others would be better employed joining those who are giving their minds to that rather than in a search for scapegoats.


formerly HM chief inspector for primary education 19 Langley Way Watford Hertfordshire

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