Top maths students struggling with numeracy

Many students struggle without a calculator, and numeracy problems exist even at the highest level of maths studied in Scotland

Henry Hepburn

Top maths students struggling with numeracy

Many pupils taking maths to the highest possible level in Scottish schools are struggling with numeracy, according to a new report.

It also finds that many students are toiling with exam papers for which they cannot use a calculator.

The findings appear in Education Scotland analysis of the 2019 Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams, published by the Scottish government last night.


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Education Scotland – one of several national bodies that contribute to the report – finds that in both the maths and applications of mathematics National 5 exams, "candidates' weak numeracy too often undermined success on the non-calculator paper".

At maths Higher, the level above National 5, "weak numeracy skills continue to undermine the performance of many candidates".

And at Advanced Higher – the highest level of study in Scottish schools – the same observation is made for maths, mechanics of mathematics and statistics: "Candidates’ weak numeracy can undermine success."

In 2018, Tes Scotland reported that teachers had been told to spend more time working on pupils’ basic maths skills amid concerns over performance in exams, and that students needed more practice working without a calculator.

The SQA’s 2018 course report for Higher maths stated: “In the non-calculator paper, candidates made a significant number of numerical inaccuracies in their working...Teachers and lecturers should consider how best to maintain and practise non-calculator mathematical skills when preparing candidates for the course assessment.”

Earlier that year, research showed that children's maths skills were not harmed by using calculators in the classroom and that this could even improve calculation skills. A report commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Nuffield Foundation suggested that while primary pupils should not use calculators every day those at secondary school should have "more frequent unrestricted access" to them.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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