Guru calls for swift reform in maths

25th July 2003 at 01:00
Critic of post-14 inquiry offers a 'modest proposal' for change that could cause a stir in Whitehall. Genevra Fletcher reports

PROFESSOR David Burghes, director of the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching, has a "modest proposal" for developing the subject in schools.

Allow only primary teachers with a grade A in GCSE maths to teach the subject, he says. And make some study of maths at degree level mandatory for those teaching the subject in secondary schools.

Furthermore, if you want to stop pupils being mathematically demotivated, sending them home is a better option than calling in a supply teacher, he says.

Professor Burghes sets out his suggestions in his paper, Response to key issues raised in the post-14 mathematics inquiry.

The Government announced the inquiry last year in response to complaints from employers that school-leavers were underachieveing in the subject. The number of students applying to do maths degrees had dropped by 5.9 per cent in one year following a slump in interest at A-level.

Professor Burghes' subtitle for his paper - "a modest proposal for the development of school mathematics"- suggests that, in the spirit of Jonathan Swift's call for the Irish to eat their own children, he expects to create a bit of a stir.

For good measure, he says the Government should scrap the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, axe the Office for Standards in Education and close down the Teacher Training Agency.

His assessment of mature trainee teachers and his criticism of the Government's recruitment programme may also rock the boat.

"The Government's initiative to attract more people into teaching, which in sheer numbers appears successful, might well be causing long-term damage," he says.

"Much of the increase in numbers is due to mature students who have failed at a particular job or career and are looking for another avenue of employment, or to younger students entering to pay off their student debt and not intending to stay more than a few years in the profession.

"The Government's current response is to almost bribe potential applicants into training. Supply cover causes yet more damage to pupils' mathematical motivation and attainment.

"Evidence from the Kassel Project (an international research scheme to improve mathematics teaching) points to the fact that it is better for pupils to be sent home rather than have supply cover."

Professor Burghes wants Ofsted replaced by regionally-based inspectors with a record of expertise in teaching and subject specialisation.

"Inspectors should be allowed to visit schools, without notice, at any time, and to go anywhere in the school," he says.

So what does Professor Adrian Smith, chairman of the post-14 inquiry, make of the proposals?

"I've noted with interest Dr Burghes' submissions and will be meeting him to try to explore some of his ideas further," he said. "But I've got to keep uppermost in my mind my responsibility to come up with practical recommendations."

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