Page last updated at 05:41 GMT, Tuesday, 11 May 2010 06:41 UK

'Lessons to learn' in numeracy teaching says Estyn


We tested people in Carmarthen to show off their mental arithmetic

Secondary schools can learn lessons from primary schools in Wales in how to stop pupils from falling behind in numeracy skills, says a new report.

Inspection body Estyn said secondary teachers do not place enough emphasis on mental and written calculation.

Even primary pupils overall can find it hard to recall basic maths and have problems with calculations, said Estyn.

Inspectors say pupils need to use maths in other classes to stop them falling behind.

In compiling the report, Estyn inspectors looked at four years of school inspection reports and, as well as national curriculum teacher assessments, they visited 21 schools and surveyed local authorities.

Schools should "exploit opportunities" for pupils to apply numeracy skills in non-maths subjects and "real life contexts"
Support pupils who make least progress, and making sure more-able pupils gain the higher assessment levels
More attention to improving pupils' skills in mental and written calculations
Clear policies for the appropriate use of calculators
Councils should monitor numeracy intervention programmes in schools more thoroughly
Better use of information about primary pupils' achievements in numeracy when they transfer to secondary schools
Welsh Assembly Government should continue to make funding available in grants
Ministers also need to impress on councils and schools the need to develop a strategic approach to planning numeracy intervention programmes
Source: Estyn/Improving Numeracy In Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3

They found a widening gap between pupils' performance when aged seven to 11 - at key stage 2 - with more reaching the expected level in maths than those in secondary schools aged 11 to 14 - at key stage 3.

Inspectors want pupils to improve their numeracy skills across the subject range, and in dealing with "real life" situations.

But they found too few secondary schools used other lessons to give chances for pupils to develop numeracy skills, or build on abilities in mental and written calculations made in primary school.

Standards in mathematics are often higher than when numeracy is applied across the curriculum because pupils "don't apply numeracy skills they have learned in maths well enough outside maths lessons".

Estyn praises Pillgwenlly Primary School in Newport, which brings in numeracy skills into classes ranging from history to religious education.

In a minority of lessons, teachers of other subjects had "too low expectations" and allowed pupils to use calculators for basic calculations that pupils should do mentally.

Inspectors also found the effectiveness of "catch-up" programmes for pupils struggling with numeracy varies between local authorities and between schools across Wales.

Ysgol Bryngwyn comprehensive school in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire is praised for using teaching assistants to run "catch-up" numeracy programmes with pupils, in their last year of primary school and first year of secondary school.

Research shows that 53% of adults in Wales have numeracy skills below the level expected of an 11-year-old
Ann Keane, Estyn chief inspector

Pupils at nine primary schools are involved in classes for an hour a week, with "catch up" classes also running for up to 30 pupils continuing in their first year of secondary school.

Dr Margaret Williams, Bryngwyn head teacher, said they run small groups in a room which showcases pupils' work and progress and provides a motivational setting.

"It's viewed very positively by both pupils and parents.

"Pupils are taking a great pride in what they're achieving and they're also enjoying it. They're encouraged to evaluate their own progress and indentify perhaps those areas where things maybe are moving a little too fast."

Maths mates

Inspectors also praised other examples of good practice, such as the use of numeracy "buddies" at Hawarden High School in Flintshire, with older pupils being trained to help coach younger pupils.

Ysgol Bryn Elian, Conwy runs a summer school for primary school pupils before they join.

Ann Keane, chief inspector of education and training at Estyn said: "Research shows that 53% of adults in Wales have numeracy skills below the level expected of an 11-year-old.

"This means they have difficulties with percentages, fractions and calculations.

"It is vital that schools continue to raise standards in numeracy by providing pupils with opportunities to develop their skills in a real life context in order to ensure they do not struggle once they get jobs and manage their own finances."

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