Editor's comment

10th September 2010 at 01:00

First, it was primary teachers' competence in modern languages that caused concern; then science took them out of their comfort zone. Now, it seems aspiring primary teachers are heading for the classroom not only ill-prepared to handle maths but "unconscious of their own incompetence" in the subject (p1). These latest findings, from Dundee University's Dr Sheila Henderson, cannot be lightly dismissed: they are the product of much research and active investigation with students, from someone with 30 years' experience of teaching maths. The Donaldson inquiry into teacher education is not short of hot topics (p21)

This is not about turning primary teachers into subject specialists, nor about ratcheting up entrance qualifications. The issues are more complex. The Dundee study echoes other findings which suggest the level of maths qualification is not what matters, but that the subject knowledge students have is what Dr Henderson calls "deep, thorough and connected". So students being prepared for the broad primary curriculum do not need to be versed in the rarefied elements of maths: they ought, however, to have some in-depth knowledge of the ground they are likely to have to cover as primary teachers.

The challenge is one for schools as well as for teacher education institutions. It may be that students' insecure knowledge of maths has its origins in poor maths teaching: how often have we heard it said that "he was brilliant at maths - he just couldn't teach it". Dr Henderson certainly found negative attitudes towards maths among her students.

There appears to be a disconnectedness here, between the experiences new teachers bring into training and the demands of the primary curriculum. This is likely to increase if schools go their own way with Curriculum for Excellence. TEIs may have to get used to taking remedial action, "teaching the content as well as how to teach the content".

Neil Munro editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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