Call to boost primary teachers' maths skills

7th September 2012 at 01:00
They must improve if Curriculum for Excellence is to work, claims expert

Primary teachers will have to improve their maths knowledge if Curriculum for Excellence is to be a success, according to a University of Dundee maths specialist.

Sheila Henderson, an academic in the university's school of education, compares the "clear detail" of the former 5-14 guidance with the "vagueness" of the CfE experiences and outcomes in maths, and concludes that teachers need the former to "prompt and augment" their own knowledge.

Curriculum reform which attempts to increase teachers' autonomy in how they teach a subject but does not address their subject knowledge will have "little chance of success", she warns.

Dr Henderson recently suggested that two-thirds of students entering primary teacher training at Dundee lacked the basic maths skills required to teach the subject.

In Why the journey to mathematical excellence may be long in Scotland's primary schools, published in the Scottish Educational Review, she advocates:

- the creation of a Higher-level mathematics qualification relevant to primary teaching that would drop areas such as calculus and logarithms, which are "simply too advanced" to be relevant in primary, but include in- depth inquiry into primary topics such as the Fibonacci sequence (in which each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two - 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 .);

- a consistent Scotland-wide approach to addressing mathematics subject knowledge during initial teacher education, more akin to practice in English teacher education institutions which audits students' maths knowledge and requires newly qualified teachers to pass an online numeracy assessment;

- the introduction of a mathematics specialist teacher programme similar to those offered at some English universities.


Maths specialist Sheila Henderson uses the following example to argue that a clear progression of knowledge under 5-14 has been replaced by "vagueness" under CfE.

5-14 progression of rounding numbers

Level B

Round 2-digit whole numbers to the nearest 10

Level C

Round 3-digit whole numbers to the nearest 10 (e.g when estimating)

Level D

Round any number to the nearest appropriate whole number, ten or hundred

Level E

Round any number to one decimal place

Level F

Round to the required number of decimal places and to a required number of significant figures

CfE progression of rounding numbers

First Level

I can share ideas with others to develop ways of estimating the answer to a calculation or problem, work out the actual answer, then check my solution by comparing it with the estimate.

Second Level

I can use my knowledge of rounding to routinely estimate the answer to a problem then, after calculating, decide if my answer is reasonable, sharing my solution with others.

Third Level

I can round a number using an appropriate degree of accuracy, having taken into account the context of the problem.

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