Playing the numbers game

10th July 1998 at 01:00
PUPILS IN the maths class at Wyndcliffe junior school in Birmingham rush to the front, all clutching cards. They then sit deep in thought as each attempts to be first with the mental arithmetic tasks set, doubling, then halving numbers.

The Government's national numeracy strategy, unveiled this week, wants children to learn to count in their heads first. It's all about raising standards of basic maths.

Wyndcliffe was chosen for the Government's two-year pilot. It put a bid in early 1997 and started in September. The Government is providing supervision throughout.

Anita Dee, the headteacher, decided improvements to maths teaching were needed on joining the school in September 1995.

The Government's new interactive approach allowed Ms Dee and Mike Tromans, the new maths co-ordinator, to escape a rigid book-led approach to maths.

Ms Dee recalled: "We got away from little Johnny or Imran just getting a load of little red ticks in their maths books."

Mr Tromans says the new approach requires children to analyse their own work, solve problems, correct themselves and relate it all to real life.

Pupils now have 50 minutes of maths every day, starting with an initial 10-minute oral and mental workout. This is followed by 30 minutes on a main objective. The final session revises what has been learnt, compares results and discusses problems.

Mr Tromans explains: "This way you get to know children's misconceptions, so you know where to go next. The lesson then becomes a tool for planning for the next class."

School results have improved in the national maths tests for 11-year-olds. Last year 44 per cent scored at level 4 or above. This year it is 61 per cent. Parents have helped, attending workshops to help their children practise maths at home.

For Ms Dee the pilot has wider implications: "It is clearly being seen as a model for other subjects. It is what the inspectorate wants and it is how we see it as well."

About 90 per cent of the school's pupils are from Birmingham's Pakistani community. There are about 10 mother tongues in the school. To all, English is a second language.

Ms Dee thinks the pilot is helping to tear down psychological barriers: "The children are being active and gain in confidence and self-analysis. As a result they become more eloquent."

The most mathematically challenged member of the class finally pipes up as the last mental arithmetic question is asked by teacher. He returns to his seat beaming. Even he knew that one.

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