Our teaching resources in primary and secondary schools are motivated and rewarded by attaining targets. Time in the classroom can be absorbed by the process of selecting the range of children who potentially will generate the maximum points in tests and exams. Gifted children and the slower learner are often discounted by the law of classroom averages. A recent survey by the Institute Of Education in London (IoE) has shown this can induce teachers to go against their better judgement and play educational games with the learning opportunity of the class especially by manipulating exam results especially it seems, in maths.
The SATs tests and GCSE exam results is proving our overall performance in maths is suspect. The improved exam results are not only being linked to the potential of an easy exam. The pass rate may seem to be improving but the quality of learning in maths is often declared mournful and unfit for service. Numerous captains of industry and commerce claim the standard of maths ability in children seeking employment is woefully inadequate requiring remedial support before school leavers can start work.
A review of maths tests in the national curriculum has shown children apparently able to add and subtract in their head without understanding the times tables. On the surface that this would seem a positive achievement, but some teachers, conscious of hitting targets, are manipulating the results.
Children have been so well groomed they can answer many questions without understanding how the answer is actually calculated. Professor Richard Cowan who completed the study for the IoE said “The goal to have children able to calculate the answer to basic calculations by year three will be unlikely to be achieved without a substantial change in the way children are taught”.
Ironically the incomplete knowledge of maths is not a total stalling point. Some children can grasp the answer without a thorough understanding of it should be calculated. The misguided energy involved with attaining targets sacrifices confidence in maths to the detriment of the children and the teachers. Although the IoE survey found the reports on a child’s performance in maths could have been manipulated to meet targets and make the school look better there is a happy medium. If all children in the class where to feature as the collective measure of teaching proficiency rather that the achievement of targets the incentive to manipulate results will be largely removed.
It seems such a simple enough strategy that is hard to believe this is not the case already. The government initiatives such as “Every child a reader” and “No child left behind” may have stood a better chance if targets had been modified and the whole class, year or school were judged in the statistics. This would reveal the overall merits of a school and indeed a government initiative. At the moment we are playing games by manipulating the figures merely to improve the achievement of a school to get Ofsted off their backs.