Maths not just about the money

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
The answer to Britain's maths crisis is not as easy as 2 plus 2. The Government is responding to Professor Adrian Smith's recommendations in a number of steps which, it is to be hoped, will add up to something substantial.

This week, Education Secretary Charles Clarke took on teacher supply. His plans for pay rises and bigger bursaries for maths specialists are a signal that Westminster is taking the issue seriously. Cardiff has yet to respond but any rises may have less effect than expected. Not only will the proposals affect few teachers (see page 6), but maths teachers already earn more. Extra money is making some difference to recruitment, but the fact remains that mathematicians can still earn far more in industry.

Perhaps the bigger issue is the content of the maths curriculum and what sort of person should teach it. Do we need to distinguish more clearly between higher mathematics and numeracy? Are the two confused in the present curriculum? How are children to distinguish the type of maths they need for daily life and work from the aspects which, although they help sharpen the brain, will only be used in post-school life in certain fields? Do teachers teaching them need the same qualifications?

It could be that a teacher who has struggled to gain a maths GCSE would be better at deconstructing percentages for a class of 12-year-olds than someone with an instinctive feel for the subject. That teacher might also be better at finding numeracy's many connections across the curriculum than one who loves the beauty of mathematics for itself. As with most problems, the earlier caught the better. This week, new research suggests that primary children's fear of maths can be nipped in the bud with small bursts of individual teaching aimed at their specific difficulties.

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