Top and bottom of maths problem

After the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik, the US designed many programmes to "drive up standards" in science education. Evaluation of these programmes came to the modest conclusion that students learned content that was in their particular science programme and did not learn content that was not taught. This phenomenon probably explains why literacy has not improved in England but numeracy has.

Primary teachers have always taught literacy but many did not like numeracy and probably did not spend much time teaching it. The Government's requirement that an hour a day has to be spent on numeracy has had an impact. Data from more than 31,000 pupils who took our Middle Years Information System (MidYIS) test on entry to the same secondary schools from 1998 to 2002 do show a rise in standards. It is a pleasure to congratulate the Government on an effective strategy.

Alas, other numeracy "standards" are not rising - indeed A-level maths competence is falling seriously as shown in data from our A-level Information Service and also by the Engineering Council report: Measuring the mathematics problem. The authors state "Evidence is presented of a serious decline in students' mastery of basic mathematical skills and level of preparation for mathematics-based degree courses."

Carol Taylor Fitz-Gibbon

Director, curriculum, evaluation and management centre

Durham University

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