The devil in the detail

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
Peter Lacey of the ATM looks at the 'guidance' for KS3

If you are teaching Year 7 maths from September you might be referring to a number of documents to assist your planning. There is the new national curriculum and the National Numeracy Strategy framework, and you may have seen the numeracy strategy key stage 3 draft key objectives and teaching programmes. This proposes specific teaching programmes for Years 7, 8 and 9. Guidance that facilitates planning and supports effective teaching is welcome.

The numeracy strategy teaching programmes reform into objectives the elements of the national curriculum programme of study for KS3.

The programme of study specifies number and algebra; shape, space and measures; and handling data as three sections, with using and applying maths described in each. The teaching programmes, on the other hand, specify numbers and the number system; calculations; algebra; using and applying maths to solve problems; shape, space and measures; and handling data as the six areas for planning purposes.

It appears that the content of the programme of study is mapped on to the teaching programmes but elements have been shifted around. For example, "distinguish between practical demonstration, proof, conventions, facts, and derived properties" is shortened to "distinguish between demonstration and proof" in the Year 9 teaching programme and recommended as extension for more able pupils.

In breaking the programme of study into year chunks the teaching programmes propose consistent sub-categories in five of the six areas. (Using and applying mathematics is the exception.) This allows progression to be planned for. For example, in Year 7 is found "begin to add and subtract simple fractions..." and, in Year 8, is found "add and subtract fractions..." Some of these strands are very thin, for example "co-ordinates" in shape, space and measures. Other strands include subtleties, for example "compare two simple distributions using the range and one of the measures of average" in Year 7 leads to "compare two distributions using the range and one or more of the measures of average" in Year 8. Other strands leave me perplexed, for example, "use names and abbreviations of metric units to measure, estimate, calculate and solve problems in everyday contexts involving length, area, mass, capacity and time" in Year 7 leads to "use units of measurement to measure, estimate, calculate..." in Year 8.

There is a danger that detail obscures rather than clarifies. This document should be interpreted as informative rather than definitive. Teachers will need to use their knowledge and understanding of maths to knit together the objectives in ways that offer a range of progression pathways both across and through the subject. They will need to use their knowledge and understanding of their pupils to determine appropriate start and end points on these pathways.

Given the range of attainment on entry into KS3, teachers will need to select objectives from more than one year's teaching programme to both extend and consolidate the learning of groups of pupils. Reference back to the national curriculum programme of study might well give a clearer picture of the scope of maths to be covered.

The ingredients of success, so far, of the numeracy strategy at KS1 and 2 have been the opportunities and time provided for teachers to observe good lessons, discuss teaching strategies, develop skills in using assessment information to plan further progress, and gain deeper insights into the subject of maths. These factors, coupled with a new confidence in what has been taught in KS2, are more likely to affect success at KS3 than more words on more pages.

Peter Lacey is chair of the general council of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, 7 Shaftesbury Street, Derby DE23 8YB. Tel: 01332 346599. Web:

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