Positive feedback

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Peter Bland reports on his school's experience of the key stage 3 numeracy pilot.

The key stage 3 National Numeracy Strategy is coming soon to a school near you. Or it might be there already, working for substantial improvements in the way you deliver - and your pupils understand - the concepts behind numeracy. It has certainly had a profound effect on us at Huntington School, a large comprehensive on the outskirts of York.

Two years ago we became involved in the Gatesby Project, which provided funding for local primary schools to pilot the National Numeracy Strategy. Three of our feeder primaries were chosen for this venture, which gave us the opportunity to have first-hand knowledge, through liaison and visits, of what the strategy was trying to achieve, and provided us with the first cohort of pupils with improved mathematical abilities. We could certainly detect an improvement in these pupils - enhanced numeracy skills and mathematical confidence were clearly evident across a wide range.

Last year all the primary schools began using the strategy Framework and as a consequence we were able to arrange for the whole department to visit our feeder schools. This enabled staff to meet their colleagues in the primary schools and discuss the teaching of maths, and resulted in all staff reporting on the excellent progress being made. I remember ending up on one occasion at a table with a group of 10-year-olds doing a mental exercise: I shall not easily forget the pressure I was under to beat them to the answer!

In monitoring lessons I was impressed with the speed and depth of response to questions at all levels. In one lesson I watched as the teacher formed questions such as: "What is the square root of 25?" The answer given was:

"Positive or negative 5", and then to the question: "What is the square root of 2500?"; the answer: "Positive or negative 50" was offered. These were high-level responses that we woul not have expected from 11-year-old pupils before the advent of the numeracy strategy.

This year we worked to maintain the work begun in the primaries, and we too have become part of the numeracy strategy pilot scheme, providing training sessions with help and advice to staff.

We have followed the idea of number fans through at secondary school, using small white boards and a felt pen for the pupils to give answers. The feedback this gives staff within five minutes of having a new class is invaluable. We can instantly see who has answered the question correctly, who rushed and got it wrong, who looked to see what the others had written and who is genuinely struggling. In class discussion sessions, the requirement for pupils to verbalise their answers encourages the more able to broaden their knowledge, because we all know that to explain a question and concept to others improves our own understanding. This provides added support for the weaker pupils, who are also able to contribute and ask questions on new concepts. We have also invested in a new scheme of textbooks written for the strategy: Formula One Maths, of which I am editor, covers the three-part lesson (Hodder and Stoughton Educational. Web: www.formulaonemaths.co.uk).

The primary teachers are now visiting us to see the progress made by the pupils they taught. We have also held a tutorial for parents to explain the continuity in the mathematical education of their children from primary into secondary school.

The apparent improvement in the students we teach has certainly been confirmed by the monitoring of lessons and tracking of pupil progress. It is rewarding to see improvements in areas such as mental arithmetic, and we look forward to a future that incorporates the GCSE non-calculator paper - and A-level students no longer reach for a calculator to do simple arithmetic.

Peter M Bland is head of department at Huntington School, York

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