Maths project starts to add up

15th January 1999 at 00:00
Most schools testing out the Government's numeracy strategy made significant gains. Geraldine Hackett reports.

PRIMARY schools with a poor record in maths have seen significant improvements since joining the national numeracy pilot scheme, according to the Office for Standards in Education.

But the Government is being warned that a substantial minority of schools will require greater support.

Overall, the 600 schools in the pilot made substantial gains in maths, says the OFSTEDreport. The greatest progress was made by eight and nine-year-old children, who were on average getting results 12 to 16 months ahead of the scores previously being achieved in the same schools.

However, the report notes a wide gap between the best and worst schools in the project.

In the London borough of Lewisham one primary improved the proportion of pupils attaining the national target for their age by more than 30 percentage points. But results in another decreased by 29 points.

The Government's target for numeracy standards in 2002 assume a 5 per cent improvement by schools each year. But the report warns the variation in performance in the pilot is likely to be replicated across the country.

"A much greater degree of support and intervention will be required in the small but significant minority of schools where deep-seated weaknesses in leadership, management and the quality of teaching reduce the impact of the project."

All schools are being encouraged to introduce a daily numeracy session of 45 minutes, which like the literacy strategy, follows a prescribed pattern.

The project is judged to have improved mental arithmetic teaching and provided a much-needed structure for maths lessons. However, OFSTED says that a significant minority of teachers did not improve enough.

A separate report compiled by the National Numeracy Project suggests pupils in classes of more than 32 made significantly less progress and, on average, boys did slightly better than girls.

It also shows that the improvement in maths was greater at the top end of primary schools, the stage where there is most concern about standards.

Anita Straker, the director of the National Numeracy Project, believes the results demonstrate the potential for raising standards nationally.

"The schools in the project are not representative. The schools had a higher-than-average intake of children on free school meals.

According to David Reynolds, professor of education at Newcastle University, who headed the Government's numeracy task force, the quality of teaching has a greater impact on results in maths than other subjects.

The concentration on numeracy appears to have improved results in national tests in English and science.

Overall, schools in the project showed a 9 per cent improvement in the proportion of children achieving the expected level in maths at age 11, compared with a national improvement of 4 per cent.

However, the improvement in English in those schools was also above the national average.

Teachers said that they had begun to apply the principles of inter-active teaching in other subjects.

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