Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Thursday, 20 March 2008

More primary maths experts needed

maths student
Pupils' maths performance has improved

Every primary school should have a maths specialist and parents should have a less negative attitude to the subject, a government review says.

An interim report by Sir Peter Williams says the UK is one of the few developed nations where it is acceptable to say you are "useless at maths".

Such attitudes will not help children see maths as an essential and rewarding part of their daily lives, it says.

The study criticises the amount of maths training teachers receive.

Most teachers had the basic requirement in maths for teacher training - one GCSE in the subject.

The report said parents needed to have a "can-do" attitude to maths and to learn the modern techniques their children were using to help them and give them a love of maths.

"Social issues surrounding the subject affect learners at all levels, including the very young," it says.

Why is it that this is one of the few countries where it is acceptable, fashionable even, to declare that you are useless at maths?
Jim Knight, Schools Minister

"The United Kingdom remains one of the few advanced nations where it is socially acceptable to profess an inability to cope with mathematics.

"That is hardly conducive to a home environment in which mathematics is seen by children as an essential and rewarding part of their everyday lives."

That view was endorsed by England's Schools Minister Jim Knight: "Why is it that this is one of the few countries where it is acceptable, fashionable even, to declare that you are useless at maths?

"Maths is central to giving children the best start and the right skills for life.

"If children can't add up, and if maths isn't valued or seen as being important, how can we expect them in secondary school to understand science, or manage their own finances when they go to college."

Improved results

The report says children's achievement in maths has improved, particularly since the introduction of the National Numeracy Strategy in 1998.

"The percentage of 11-year-olds attaining level 4 and above at Key Stage 2 has risen from 59% to over 77%" (since then), it says.

"In its recently announced Children's Plan, the government has set out further ambitious goals to maintain the progress secured so far. Central to the achievement of these goals will be the quality of teaching in our schools and settings."

The report recommended better training for maths teachers and for trials of intensive tuition in groups of three for pupils who are struggling with maths.

Sir Peter was critical of the minimum maths requirement for teacher training (GCSE grade C) and of the general provision of continued professional development (extra training).

Key recommendations
Maths specialist in every primary school
Better continued training
More targeted help for struggling pupils

In recent years teachers have also had to sit a maths test to receive their professional qualification (Qualified Teacher Status), but Sir Peter pointed out that this could be taken as many times as required.

"On average a trainee teacher will receive only 15 to 30 days' further education in the subject during his or her course," he said.

"Worse, there is no register or tracking system to follow the professional career development of the primary teacher.

"This is in sharp contrast with the engineering, legal and medical professions, in all of which continuing professional development is an integral and essential part of all practitioners' lives."

Sir Peter, the chancellor of Leicester University, was appointed to review maths education in primary schools. His interim report is now out for consultation.

'Too gloomy'

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "There is every argument for all primary schools to each have a trained specialist mathematics teacher.

"However, there will need to be significant extra funding for primary schools to pay for both training and the additional pay responsibility points for new specialists.

"As the report says, there is much good work on mathematics taking place in primary schools. Nevertheless it is too gloomy about teachers' qualifications.

"The report omits the fact that all trainee teachers have had to take skills tests in mathematics for the last few years as well as GCSE maths".

Professor Michael Reiss, of the Royal Society, said: "We cannot hope to succeed in life as individuals or as a nation if we do not have a good grasp of maths.

"Despite some encouraging recent signs, there is still a pressing need to improve the quality of mathematics education for primary school children.

"This interim report is to be welcomed as a significant step in the right direction. By placing teachers at its heart it has the potential to inspire teachers and in turn their pupils."

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