Mathematics teaching that doesn't add up

15th September 2006 at 01:00
As a current practitioner of mathematics with over 30 years of experience in the classroom, I read last week's issue with a mix of fascination and cynicism.

Talk about completing the circle. Jack McConnell is considering the value of the old O-grade arithmetic and the emphasis on arithmetical skills, while The TESS is busy talking to "insiders" to find out what those who do the teaching could have told them years ago - that passing exams is no measure of mental agility at arithmetic.

Then we have "one of Scotland's most influential education directors"

talking up 5-14 level D as a measure of basic competency in numeracy.

Somebody has obviously forgotten to advise Michael O'Neill regarding today's national test regime in mathematics. Currently, only two-thirds of any course is tested. To "pass", you only require two-thirds of the questions to be correct. Two-thirds of two-thirds gives a possible pass knowing less than 50 per cent of the course.

The target may have been achieved, but is it any wonder that numeracy standards are so abysmal?

My fear is that instead of completing the circle, we end up going round in circles. It seems to me that quality of advice is in inverse ratio to the number of voluntary and official bodies researchers offering the advice.

As long as the discourse is dominated by, for example, the Brian Boyds - that evangelist of individualised learning in the maths class which enriched the purveyors of Kent and SMP "teaching" systems but impoverished the mathematical education of tens of thousands of pupils in their early, formative years - then mathematical education in Scotland's schools will not improve one iota.

Hugh Humphries Tinto Road Glasgow

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