TV Dispatches Reveals Maths Disaster In Many Primary Schools

Opinion / February 16, 2010

The TV “Dispatches” documentary programme broadcast last night showed the alarming poor performance in maths learning in primary school. The recovery may lie in the recruitment of specialist maths teacher resources but this will take years to effect. In the meantime tens of thousands of children are moving up to secondary school each year with little hope of succeeding.

The teachers at the host school for the TV programme were honest and I expect highly typical of the hard working teams in our primary schools. But the revelation that none had any formal maths qualification was amazing. The correlation between the demands of the job content and a relevant qualification seemed to have slipped by the wayside. The introduction of a retired maths specialist by the headmaster served to equally enthral both children and teachers alike. But just as the momentum has commenced it came to an abrupt stop. The essential practice function promoted by the specialist as a key part of retention in learning abandoned! The reason; SAT’s were looming and of for the sake of the school target achievement the Headteacher understandably to keep his job, switched all teaching over to “Teach to Test.” Three months of valuable learning time forsaken, replaced by how to answer questions in SAT’s rather than understand them.

It made one wince. The efforts of the maths specialist teacher who brought educational maths games into the learning programme were inevitable to be lost. When the teachers were asked, along with a representative sample of teachers from other schools, to answer a past maths  SAT paper only 47% gained a pass mark. An astonishing number failed to any answer questions on fractions and only one teacher completed the whole test paper.

Interestingly Ed Balls, the School Secretary, declined when asked to sit the same test.  Evidence shows that a child’s performance in maths at primary level is indicative of their final performance at GCSE. The critical preparation in primary school is collapsing through the lack of qualified and trained maths teachers. This appalling situation leaves teachers trying to compensate  in other areas,  but results in  children inadequately prepared for secondary school. The thought that what little maths is promoted is sidelined for a three months SAT -blast is ludicrous. The documentary highlighted the plight of one bright girl, who excelled during the teaching excellence of the expert, but subsequently drifted after the maths was switched off leaves me shuddering.

The solution lies in the education hierarchy.  The recruitment of thousands of maths specialist teaching is under way.  But it could take years to effect. In the meantime it is perhaps a golden opportunity for parents to take a lead. There are numerous maths games that can be played at home to boost performance in school. At least the fun element of learning maths can be enjoyed and help provide the essential bedrock currently missing from many of our primary schools.

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