To inspire a lifelong love of maths, subtract KS2 Sats

17th June 2011 at 01:00
Influential advisers claim preoccupation with tests turns pupils off by age 10

Key stage 2 Sats in maths must be overhauled because they turn pupils off the subject by the age of 10, an influential committee warned this week.

The country's long-term requirement for more skilled mathematicians is being undermined by the Government's commitment to short-term accountability, the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) said.

Its report cites evidence that, at primary level, the preparation for and pressure from Sats particularly hits middle-attaining children.

It goes on to attack tests that focus on procedure rather than underlying concepts, league tables that result in schools being obsessed by the C-D GCSE boundary, and textbooks that only cover what is needed for tests.

The report - which brought together 100 studies, as well as the results of meetings with policy-makers, teachers, academics and employers - said there is an urgent need for young people to know more maths and be more confident using it.

Research has shown that when children start school maths is one of their favourite subjects. But by Year 5 they are less keen, and their enjoyment wanes throughout secondary school, with a corresponding impact on achievement.

The committee's experts have already been in talks with the people running both the national curriculum review and the KS2 assessment review, which is expected to report this month.

Rob Eastaway, co-author of Maths for Mums and Dads, said: "I'm in favour of having more enrichment, more chances to explore and investigate maths - the things that are so difficult for state schools to do in Year 6 because, so long as the maths test is there, the teaching is going to be driven by it."

The report calls for a wider curriculum and for many more students to take a maths course up to age 18. This could trigger a virtuous circle, since it would mean that the primary teachers of the future would learn more maths before leaving school.

ACME chair Professor Dame Julia Higgins said: "The most central message we are trying to get over is that expectations ought to be there from employers and universities that more young people do more maths, and more children should be given the confidence to believe they can do that mathematics.

"Our underlying concern is that pupils believe a C grade at GCSE will equip you for life. It manifestly doesn't."

Education secretary Michael Gove has already announced that children who fail to achieve a C in GCSE maths will continue studying the subject until they are 18.

At secondary school, maths was found to be the subject least likely to involve group work or inviting people into school from outside.

But a study of low-attaining students who were taught with a range of methods found they were not turned off maths. The authors concluded: "It is not necessarily mathematics itself that is problematic, but rather the nature of the curriculum and the teaching methods and assessment regimes."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "Mindless drilling can take the pleasure out of the most stimulating subjects. Although there is a need to drill some maths skills such as learning times tables, if people can see how maths can be used to solve problems in their lives, they would get excited about it."

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