Not the review maths needs

14th January 2000 at 00:00
MANY of your readers will have seen the draft National Numeracy Strategy Extension that gives advice to secondary schools following on from the primary framework. It seems to be just a hasty re-assembly of the primary version with few new ideas to take account of the needs and different "culture" of secondary schools.

In particular it ignores the fact that secondary maths teachers are, for the most part, well-qualified, trained teachers of mathematics - specialists in their field.

It takes no account of the "seven year gap" of attainment at the age of 11, identified in the Cockcroft Report.

It forgets that secondary schools, almost without exception, set children for maths during or shortly after Year 7 and that secondary schools always have used many of the approaches advocated by the strategy, like dedicated maths lessons and controlled differentiation.

Secondaries have for some years been increasing the amount of whole-class interactive teaching - a method firmly supported by research evidence from around the world. The framework advocates the "three-part lesson". This may be fine for helping primary teachers to move away from the routine of their published scheme workbooks but, if adopted in secondaries, would seriously restrict the variety of teaching already found there.

Most secondary schools already have numeracypolicies and strategies in place which plan a coherent approach to the teaching of mental arithmetic and formal and informal methods for calculation - not simply a numeracy recovery programme in Year 7.

The "bottom up" approach of the extension simply tries to push strategies which are thought to be appropriate (but which still have to be proved effective) at key stages 1 and 2 into key stage 3. Secondary mathematics departments, on the other hand, have to plan for continuity and progression not only from primary but also throughout all the secondary years. This cannot be done starting at Year 7, just hoping that it will lead somewhere.

The last attempt at national advice for maths teaching was the non-statutory guidance that followed the original national curriculum, more than 10 years ago. Secondary maths teaching is certainly due for re-examination, but this is not a worthy effort.

There is still time to think again. Our pupils deserve better than this in the Year of Mathematics. Let us abandon this tired, "cut and paste" attempt at reform and set up a team of expert, practising teachers who can build on any successes which may emerge from primary mathematics and prepare an appropriate and coherent strategy for the whole of the secondary years.

Norman Edwards

8 Pentylands Close



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