Over the last six years the cost to parents of a child’s education up to the age of 21 has risen by a staggering £20k to a total of £52k. There is some relief; in the last year the rate of increase has slowed to 1.6 per cent. But is this investment good value for money when we hear of failing schools and the huge number of children floundering in maths and numeracy?
Judging by this week’s Channel 4 TV “Dispatches” documentary “Kids don’t count,” the answer is probably not. Despite the huge cost increase to parents, and a government investment over the past 10 years costing billions, many of our primary schools are still failing to deliver in maths. Over 1500 schools are currently classed as failing. Twenty per cent of all children have inadequate competency in maths to cope with secondary school. In all, 30,000 children a year are failing in maths at primary school level. Worryingly the results in primacy school have been shown to reflect the probable performance at GCSE.
The government focus on numeracy was designed to give children 50 minutes of maths a day. Unfortunately this is largely taught by teachers without maths qualifications doing the best they can. Frequently the schedule is overridden, time tables are not learnt and fractions, which elude many teachers, are untouched. Consequently children drift. Practise exercises, the essential ingredient for learning retention are frugal. To cap it all new learning is suspended for 25% of the school year whilst children rehearse for the SAT’s test.
Whilst schools continue to be judged by target performance achievement they will understandably focus on this objective and defer new learning. The consequential gap that emerges is almost impossible to recover in school but this is an ideal opportunity for parents to step up to the plate. Playing maths educational games at home is a fun way to complete the lesson practice. They can lighten things up at home, allow parents to get practically involved and help a child to moving forwards throughout the year – especially during the SAT’s hiatus. Playing say maths games as a board game, bingo or CD-ROM revision quiz is fun, instructive and matched to the national curriculum. But watch out – you may get to enjoy them and learn a stack of maths yourself.
The Dispatches TV documentary focused on Barton Hill primary school in Bristol. The likeable Headteacher knew he had a problem with maths – both with his teaching staff and his personal ability. He called on a retired man specialist, Richard Dunn, to teach both children and teachers in how to get excited about maths. An objective achieved with impressive results in tests taken by the children. Unfortunately his efforts were curtailed during the SAT interregnum. His 16 weeks programme displaced for nine weeks whilst the SAT rehearsals took place. If only he was uninterrupted continue goodness knows what the final results could have been.
Richard summarised the national situation on maths saying “Parents should be worried about how maths is taught in school. Bringing maths alive will make all the difference to visualising maths.” The DCSF had already drafted specialist teachers to provide one to one maths support for struggling children but the revelation that 30,000 children needed assistance is a huge task. Without the support of these maths specialists and assuming they can be found, children failing in primary school can look forward to a similar fate in secondary school.
As adults, 25 per cent of us have maths and numeracy skills equivalent to an 11 year old. And 75 per cent of all adults have maths skills that are lower than GCSE. This is causing significant concern with employers who inherit the problem and find it essential to train new staff in maths. MacDonald’s and Sainsbury’s are part of a long list of retailers who run their own academies to teach maths to employees. A task they object to but have little alternative. The billions of pounds invested by the DCSF in maths education has predominantly been a waste of time and money. Notably only the UK makes maths compulsory up to the age of sixteen, most other countries extend maths on into higher education.
Children who failed numeracy in primary school will struggle significantly in secondary school unless there get a really strong maths teacher in the first year of secondary school. As secondary school teachers believe the problem should have been resolved in primary school the skills gap could fester. This could take some time to resolve so despite the increased educational cost to parents there is an essential need for them to step in the ring. And with the educational games and teaching resources now available they certainly have a very real and enjoyable chance to make a difference. After all 80 per cent of a child’s achievement in school is influenced by what they do at home.