Wales joins the numeracy drive

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Assembly embraces Catch Up maths scheme as progress falters at primary school level

Assembly embraces Catch Up maths scheme as progress falters at primary school level

Pupils in Wales outperformed England's 11-year-olds in maths for the seventh consecutive year in 2007, latest comparative figures reveal. But one-in-five children in Wales is struggling and lacks confidence in the subject at the end of primary school.

A new Britain-wide numeracy strategy for six to 13-year-olds, launched in Cardiff last week by the educational charity Catch Up, has been endorsed by the Assembly government. Extra funding has been provided this year in the strategic intervention grants, given to local authorities for basic skills training.

Supporters say just two short 15-minute bursts of one-to-one catch-up classes every week will add almost a year to a pupil's maths age.

But with England looking to place specialist maths teachers in every primary school within 10 years, there are fears that more should be done in Wales to raise standards. There are particular concerns at key stage 3, where maths standards fell last year.

Following recommendations in the Williams Report, teachers in England will be given an pound;8,000 incentive over five years to train as maths experts during summer holidays and other down time.

But Julie Lawes, director of the Catch Up numeracy scheme, said the Assembly government was actually ahead of the game with its new curriculum, starting this September. Children will learn about numbers through practical tasks within the foundation phase for under-sevens, while older pupils are encouraged to "talk maths" rather than writing it down.

According to new figures made public last week, maths performance under teacher assessment in Wales at KS2 has been consistently better than England since devolution. In 2007, 80 per cent achieved the expected standard in Wales compared with 78 per cent over the border.

However, it does not add up later, as 14-year-olds in Wales are overtaken by their English peers with a huge margin. Last year the gap was the greatest since devolution, with a 9 percentage point difference. In 2000, it was 2 per cent.

A two-year pilot involving seven local authorities and 84 children in Wales was undertaken by Catch Up. An independent assessment of the scheme, by Alan Evans of Cardiff University's school of social sciences, discovered it raised pupil self-esteem and confidence.

"Catch Up makes maths more interesting, more enjoyable, and more `do-able' for children who struggle," said Ms Lawes.

But under the scheme, schools have to pay pound;299 to train a teacher or teaching assistant. The charity says each trained teacher usually works with five children a year, making the cost pound;60 per pupil.

Nigel Kinsey, head of St David's Primary in Colwinston, Vale of Glamorgan, took part in the first round of pilots.

He said: "We selected five children whose scores were below target and they all benefited. We've found interventions work best when pupils are taken out of class."

But Peter Bates, head of maths at Ysgol Dinas Bran in Llangollen, Denbighshire, said: "We run to bells and timetables, so we'd be hauling children out of other lessons, which wouldn't be popular."

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "We are phasing in a revised curriculum for three to 11-year-olds from September 2008. For 7-14s we have introduced a skills framework. We also have optional skills assessment materials for teachers and learners in Year 5, and a programme to support teacher assessment."

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