Maths 'failures' learn to catch up

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Six-year-olds stuck at the bottom of the maths class can catch up after six weeks of one-to-one tuition, according to a Strathclyde University lecturer.

Victoria Quinn, who teaches in the primary department at its Jordanhill base, says that pupils can make remarkable gains when they are taught using a maths recovery scheme widely used in Australia.

"They no longer see themselves as failing," Dr Quinn told a seminar at the European Early Childhood Education Research Association conference in Glasgow.

After working with 50 children in five schools over the past 18 months, and training teachers in the methods, she says targeted pupils can be brought up to average ability with 15 30-minute lessons over five to six weeks.

Pupils who once struggled can move two stages forward, beginning to count on from a given number and count backwards, learning sequences, for example, from 1-30, and identifying numbers.

Dr Quinn said previous research showed that there can be a three-year gap between the highest and lowest performing pupils in number work when they enter school at the age of four and that can increase to seven years by the age of 10.

Studies in Scotland showed that early intervention strategies were not immediately narrowing the gap. But the maths recovery scheme gave teachers more skills and knowledge to help with young people's thinking about numbers.

"In Australia, gains have stuck with pupils after two to three years. It has a positive impact on children's attitudes and they start to enjoy their lessons," she said.

Dr Quinn believes the techniques can be used with larger groups and classes and is running a course at Jordanhill for teachers who are interested.

Meanwhile, fellow Strathclyde researcher, Catherine Ridler-Williams, warned that up to half of five-year-olds may be out of step with the early maths curriculum by the end of their first year in primary school.

Teachers were under pressure from the "top-down curriculum" to press ahead but half the pupils in her study could not understand that 5p could be reduced to five x 1p coins. "The curriculum should be devised from the basis of the children's development rather than the mathematical skills they are expected to reach by a certain stage," Mrs Ridler-Williams said.

Her study sampled 130 children in 12 primaries, half of whom were among the most able and half among the least able. Children were tested halfway through the year and at the end.

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