Whole-class teaching of maths questioned

18th June 1999 at 01:00
research which calls into question the value of whole-class teaching in primary maths has been ignored by government advisers.

Whole-class teaching is central to Labour's national numeracy strategy due to start in primary schools in September.

The analysis, carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research, found that children who worked in pairs or small groups did worst in maths tests, closely followed by those who were taught as a whole class.

The advisers on the Government's numeracy task force commissioned the analysis. They decided to ignore its findings which were contradicted by other research on teacher effectiveness and questioned the accuracy of its data.

The foundation's analysis also raises doubts about the wisdom of using computers in primary maths. Some schools use maths software in place of textbooks.

Children who worked alone in maths lessons and those who used pocket calculators as opposed to computers achieved the best results, according to the analysis.

The numeracy strategy asks teachers to "devote a high proportion of lesson time to direct teaching of whole classes and groups" and recommends the use of information and communications technology - computers.

But the task force hoped the analysis would help it to discover how other factors influenced pupils' maths performance.

The foundation's researchers examined the maths results in specially-designed analysis of data from the Third International Maths and Science Study of 6,000 nine-year-olds. They asked teachers about their strategies and pupils about their experiences and background to see which factors were linked to high achievement.

The task force questioned the accuracy of the reported data and would have preferred researchers to observe lessons for themselves.

Professor David Reynolds , who headed the numeracy task force, said: "I am very surprised at some of these results. On whole-class teaching, the world's great teacher effectiveness knowledge base shows its positive effects."

He said the negative finding on ICT was due to poor teacher training and inadequate software. The children who use computers most tend to be of lower ability.

"The task force reviewed this study with many hundreds more. I am certain that our recommended methods are effective."

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