Spurious points hide maths issue

15th December 2000 at 00:00
I have no objection to Karen Gold playing devil's advocate but her article (TES, November 24) was so full of spurious arguments and contradictions that it is difficult to determine the real issues.

As a head of maths for the past six years I have been involved in appointing a number of staff. Of these, four did not have a maths degree but were appointed on perceived strengths as maths teachers. I think that teacher-training colleges are selecting postgraduates for their PGCE courses, but the selection is based on whether they would make good maths teachers - not, as was suggested, on the nature of their degree.

"My experience as a teacher trainer is that we often end up with people who 50 per cent understand a lot of very complicated maths, and what you need is people who 100 per cent understand a lot of very easy maths".

This quote, from Professor Dylan Wiliam, is also interesting because these two are not mutuallyexclusive. What is wrong with having half or more of those joining the profession understanding more complicated maths?

For Professor John White to repeat an old adage about the usefulness of "higher" mathematics is to misunderstand education. To suggest that all the maths which is necessary in later life is learnt by the end of primary school is probably true. Why should students not give up maths by the age of 14?

I believe for the same reason they should study Shakespeare if they wish to be a mathematician, learn about wildlife if they wish to be an accountant. Maths is about a way of thinking. Algebra is a means of understanding logic which can be applied to many situations. Statistics is becoming important in developing interpretation skills. I hope that he would not suggest we abandon teaching statistics because few of us ever have to draw a pie chart after 16.

N Bradford Severus Avenue Acomb, York


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