Conflicting sides of the QTS maths equation

5th May 2000 at 01:00
PASSING THE NUMERACY SKILLS TEST. By Mark Patmore. Learning Matters pound;6.99.

Though we might lose sight of it amid the hectic throes of teaching practice, achieving Qualified Teacher Status is the target. From this month, all trainee teachers will have to pass the Numeracy Skills Test to achieve this.

The prospect fills many non-mathematicians with dread, but Mark Patmore's guide to passing the test should go a long way to assuaging this fear. It offers a clear explanation of the different elements of the test and highlights the mathematical skills and knowledge required to tackle them successfully.

The test consists of five areas: mental arithmetic, general arithmetic, handling and using statistical information, practical applications of measurement, and algebra. The author devotes a section to each after an initial basic revision section.

The key knowledge and vocabulary of each area are addressed and then incorporated into the examples and practice questions. Full answers are provided. You can then bring together the skills and knowledge to attempt the mock test.

The range of questions in each section is this book's obvious strength. In all mathematical areas, the questions are education based, dealing with contexts such as budgets, examination data and timetables.

Some of the language will invariably be unfamiliar to trainee teachers. Yet, working through the 15 to 20 practice questions in each section allows you to sharpen the numeracy skills required. The layout makes this easy. The questions are not crammed on to the pages, and tables and graphs can be quickly interpreted.

Answers are easily checked (or found) at the back. They are often accompanied by "key point" reminders, such as "Remember to work out the brackets first", that invariably identify the point at which you went wrong when you rushed into the question.

You should buy this book for the questions, but you need to look elsewhere for the subject knowledge required to answer them. In some sections, notably Practical Applications of Measurement and Algebra, the explanatory notes are very brief.

This is not the case in the Handling and Using Statistical Information section - hardly surprising, as the author tells us one of the main aims of the test is ensuring teachers can interpret educational reports and data. I found the notes helpful as I have little confidence in this area.

At 64 pages, this is a short bok. Few will read it cover to cover - as the author himself asserts in his introduction, there will be sections you will not need to look at.

However, it will give an invaluable boost to your confidence the night before the test when you cannot remember how to work out a percentage, what a median is, or how to interpret the upper quartile in a line graph.

Stephen Fulton

Stephen Fulton has an English degree and is studying for a PGCE in primary education at the Institute of Education

* Now keep calm. I am not making this up. The following question caused a group of my colleagues to roll about the floor in hysterical laughter. "A group of parents want to paint the walls on both sides of a corridor in a school. The corridor is 15m long and 2.3m high. Assume a 2-litre tin of paint will cover 5 square metres. How many tins will they need?" Art teacher: "It depends. How many coats?" English teacher: "But what if they did finger painting? Or a dappled effect with a sponge?" Economics teacher: "Who are these parents, and how can I find them?" Mark Patmore is a lecturer in maths education at Nottingham Trent and an experienced examiner. He has clearly spent too long writing for mathematicians and not enough time communicating with the rest of humanity. Too often, the maths presented is comprehensible only on second reading - upper quartiles and medians are the top 25 per cent or the middle 50 per cent under a flashy name. Why must mathematicians wrap things in such obscure terms?

I'm not some arts-and-humanities teacher unable to cope with maths. My O-level maths has served me well. Yes, you do have to work out test percentages and school trip costs, but I have never measured the capacity of a cup to work out how many cartons of orange juice to buy for a class, and I don't intend to start now.

And when it comes to interpreting Ofsted and league table data - the reason given for introducing the wretched test - there is a simple answer: there are people called deputies and heads who are trained to deal with this.

The American humorist Fran Lebowitz advised teenagers to "stand firm in your refusal to remain conscious during algebra. In real life there is no such thing."

She was right. This test, and this book, are an unnecessary and insulting imposition on an already much-abused profession.

Sean Lang

Sean Lang is head of history at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge

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