Maths timescale doesn't add up;Letter

8th October 1999 at 01:00
IT IS good to see Michael Barber exhorting us to consider evidence when examining the work of primary teachers.

He claims, in reference to national test results, that "the evidence has buried" critics of their achievements. In this I'd agree, and would be the first to congratulate teachers on their hard work (though I'm not sure that they ever worked less hard or to less effect). However, I am less sure about the way in which Mr Barber chooses to interpret the evidence that he lays before us.

He claims that rises in maths scores are "tribute to the dedicated hard work and professional skill which teachers have invested in the (literacy and) numeracy strategies" and later that "the evidence that the strategies work should rekindle a sense of ambition". But hasn't he forgotten something? The numeracy strategy actually only began this September.

Thus, while he may be right to be positive about its future, it seems strange to claim it is the cause of higher tests scores.

A second, and far more significant, point is the claim that "overwhelmingly the most important facts about primary education are the key stage 2 test results". This is an indication of what is at the heart of many of the difficulties experienced in primary education today.

While some may consider it true, it is too often taken as axiomatic, with no thought given to what primary education is actually for in this country. Indeed, anyone bold enough to even ask questions about this assumption nowadays seems to be labelled subversive (usually under the guise that they care not about children's ability to read, write and calculate) and will soon be likely to pay financially too.

To me it is the one debate (ironically) that has been missing from the "progress" made in primary education in the past 10 years.

Perhaps the start of the numeracy strategy, which may hold so much potential, signals a time to begin such a debate.

Nick Pratt

Lecturer in maths education

Rolle School of Education

University of Plymouth

Douglas Avenue, Exmouth

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