Mathematics

15th June 2001 at 01:00
SPECIAL NEEDS IN ORDINARY SCHOOL SERIES. Inclusive Mathematics 11-18. By Mike Ollerton and Anne Watson. pound;16.99. TES Direct pound;15.99. 10 copies pound;149.90.. INCLUSIVE MATHEMATICS 5-11. By Brian Robbins. pound;13.99. TESDirect pound;13.49. 10 copies pound;130.

Continuum Two factors are crucial in determining how far children with special needs are included in mathematics - the commitment of teachers and the quality of the support available to them. The government target is for 75 per cent of children to reach level 4 in maths by 2002; 85 per cent by 2004. My guess is it will be achieved, give or take a point or two. These books are about working with the other 15 per cent of our children.

Mike Ollerton and Anne Watson have taught low attainers in secondary schools successfully, and are in that great tradition of making mathematics accessible, typified by Better Mathematics, the Low Attainers in Mathematics project and the enthusiastic pioneering of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics. Some of the views put forward here, such as the notion that mathematics is a network of linked concepts rather than a series of linear steps, are no longer as controversial as they seem to believe, but a good deal of it may raise eyebrows even now.

More than a third of their book is devoted to practical and innovative ways of presenting and introducing mathematical topics inclusively. Trigonometry, aspects of shape, approximation, area, fractions and decimals, and geometrical proof, all get the Ollerton and Watson treatment. They don't tell us what they believe we ought to be doing; they show us.

Brian Robbins also believes passionately that all pupils can learn mathematics effectively. Never mind 85 per cent; he argues that a 100 per cent target is the logical long-term goal. His boo is inspirational and carries conviction because of its practical foundations: Robbins was head of two special schools and has a deep understanding of both special and mainstream contexts.

Both books take the view that when teachers believe something can be done, it gets done. They also recognise that not all the factors associated with low attainment in mathematics are within the school's control, but they share a respect for children as learners and a belief that all pupils need to be challenged.

Neither has any truck with reductionist approaches, condemning the school's least confident mathematicians to a diet restricted to "basic skills" in the name of utility or differentiation - not the sacred cow it once was.

The authors point out that some forms of differentiation perpetuate - indeed, predetermine - "separateness" and lower achievement. In this they are in tune with the notion of "controlled differentiation" advocated by the national numeracy strategy, the message being, don't overdo it or you make it impossible for strugglers to close the gap.

Forthcoming SEN guidance from the NNS will propose three principles for inclusion: setting suitable learning challenges; responding to pupils' diverse learning needs; and overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for particular groups and individuals. These books show that mathematics can be taught so that its inherent interest keeps children involved - no "fun" activities, slightly apologetic or patronising trickery here - and embody the notion that all students need challenges to construct their own understanding. Should you be inclined to snort at Robbins's 100 per cent target, read these books and be inspired.

Laurie Rousham is a numeracy consultant in Suffolk


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