Press release

Every pupil needs a good mathematics education

Mathematics: made to measure emphasises the importance for every pupil to have the best possible mathematics education.

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The report highlights a dramatic increase in the take-up of A level and further mathematics, and shows that the youngest children are doing better. GCSE and A-level results continue to rise as a result of the sustained efforts of teachers and students.

But the report finds 3 key areas in primary and secondary mathematics in schools in England, which need to be improved:

  • firstly, not enough is being done to help pupils catch up who fall behind early; the 10% who do not reach the expected standard at age 7 doubles to 20% by age 11, and nearly doubles again by age 16
  • secondly, inspection evidence shows that pupils in lower ability sets and younger pupils received the weakest teaching; inspectors regularly saw outstanding and satisfactory teaching, and sometimes inadequate too, within an individual school
  • thirdly, lots of the brightest pupils do not fulfil their potential when they get to secondary school; 37,000 of the highest attaining primary school pupils got no better than a grade C at GCSE in mathematics last year; schools which routinely enter students early for GCSE mathematics are hindering their ability to reach the highest grades

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

I want all children to have the best education they can and mathematics is a fundamental part of that. It is essential for everyday life and understanding of our world. Too many pupils do not fulfil their potential, including many of the most able, and those who get off to a poor mathematical start or fall behind in their learning never catch up.

We know it can be done. Over half of the schools visited in the survey were judged to be good or outstanding in mathematics, although even in these schools some inconsistencies in the quality of teaching need to be tackled.

We must all play our part to ensure that all pupils receive the best possible mathematics education. Ofsted will support schools to learn from the best, those with the best teaching and assessment and a well organised, mathematically rich, engaging curriculum.

Ofsted will produce support materials to help schools identify and remedy weaknesses in mathematics. It will raise ambition for the mathematics education of all pupils by placing greater emphasis in school inspection on:

  • how effectively schools tackle inconsistency in the quality of mathematics teaching
  • how well teaching fosters understanding
  • pupils’ skills in solving problems
  • challenging extensive use of early and repeated entry to GCSE examinations

The report recommends that the Department for Education should raise national mathematical ambition and take action to improve pupils’ mathematical knowledge and understanding. They should raise ambition for more-able pupils, in particular expecting those pupils who attained Level 5 at Key Stage 2 to gain A* or A grades at GCSE.

They should ensure end-of-key-stage assessments and GCSE and AS/A-level examinations require pupils to solve both familiar and unfamiliar problems and demonstrate fluency and accuracy in recalling and using essential knowledge and mathematical methods.

Welcoming the report, which contains good practice examples of mathematics teaching, National Numeracy’s chief executive, Mike Ellicock, said:

We believe every child can become a numerate adult – with skilful teaching in school and encouragement at home. This impressive report draws attention to the vital importance of numeracy and we hope its findings will be acted upon. It is essential that we all recognise the need for better support for those who struggle to catch up - at school and post-school.

Professor Celia Hoyles, Director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) said:

A deep understanding of mathematics and of subject-specific pedagogy is crucial for teachers of mathematics. The NCETM welcomes the recommendations Ofsted has made, and looks forward to helping to embed them as part of the professional development of all mathematics teachers.

Carol Vorderman MBE, Chair of the committee reporting last August to the Secretary of State for Education with the influential report A world class mathematics education for all our young people, said:

This report is most welcome as it highlights many of the issues, which our taskforce found consistently create an unequal playing field at all levels in school. Ofsted recognises that the teaching of mathematics and the training of teachers both need to improve. Primary initial teacher training has not addressed the lack of mathematical ability in graduates training to be teachers, almost all of whom gave up maths at GCSE level. My sadness is to see how marked the difference in achievement and education is for those students on free school meals. As a “free school meals kid” at a comprehensive myself it was only because of my superb maths teacher that I was able to get to Cambridge. It is time for change.

Neil Carberry, CBI Director of Employment and Skills, said:

Basic maths is essential for everyday life, as well as a key skill required in the workplace. That’s why it’s so troubling over a third of pupils did not gain grade C in GCSE maths in 2011. Employers want all staff to be numerate, which means being able to confidently handle numbers, work out percentages and make estimates. We strongly support the Ofsted recommendation to encourage more young people to continue maths education post-16.

Notes to editors

  1. The report is based predominantly on evidence from inspections of mathematics between January 2008 and July 2011 in maintained schools in England. Inspectors visited 160 primary and 160 secondary schools and observed more than 470 primary and 1,200 secondary mathematics lessons. The report is also informed by good practice visits to 11 primary schools, 1 secondary school and 2 sixth form colleges, but the evidence from these visits is not included in the proportions quoted in the report. The report draws attention to serious inequalities in pupils’ experiences and achievements. It includes examples of good practice that help avoid or overcome the inequalities and weaker practice that exacerbates them. It builds on the inspection findings and case studies of ‘prime practice’ and ‘weaker factors’ of the 2008 report, Mathematics: understanding the score. It is also informed by the evidence underpinning the report - Good practice in primary mathematics, published in 2011.

  2. Good practice examples are set out in the report.

  3. Schools judged as outstanding for mathematics and good practice examples (free school meals FSM % listed where above national average).

Primary (FSM national average 19.2%)

  • 102576 Coombe Hill Junior School - Kingston upon Thames
  • 117477 St Thomas More Roman Catholic Primary - Hertfordshire
  • 108672 Laygate Primary - South Tyneside (56.2%)
  • 111245 Willaston CofE Primary - Cheshire
  • 107617 Spring Grove Junior Infant and Nursery School - Kirklees (21.6%)
  • 131500 Waycroft Primary - City of Bristol
  • 108904 Redcliffe Early Years Centre (0 to 4 years) - City of Bristol
  • 109251 Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary - City of Bristol
  • 115653 Temple Guiting CofE School - Gloucestershire

Particularly recommended if media wish to refer to a best practice provider:

  • Coombe Hill Junior School (Years 3 to 6) - Kingston upon Thames
  • Waycroft Primary - Bristol
  • Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary - Bristol

Primary Good Practice survey

  • 106359 St Margaret Ward Catholic Primary - Sale (23.6%)
  • 112416 Heversham St Peter’s CofE Primary - Milnthorpe
  • 114080 Coxhoe Primary - Durham
  • 118679 Lyminge Church of England Primary - Folkestone
  • 118769 St Thomas More Roman Catholic Primary - Chatham
  • 109112 Mead Vale Community Primary - Weston-Super-Mare
  • 135600 ARK academy - Wembley (27.8%)
  • 100406 Grafton Primary - London N7 (44.3%)

Particularly recommended for media best practice example:

  • St Margaret Ward Catholic Primary - Sale, Cheshire
  • Grafton Primary School - London N7
  • Heversham St Peter’s CofE Primary School - Milnethorpe, Cumbria

Secondary (FSM national average 15.9%)

  • 101676 St Olave’s and St Saviour’s - Bromley
  • 104111 Arden School - Solihull
  • 115326 Chelmsford County High School for Girls - Essex
  • 101562 Alperton Community School - Brent (23.7%)
  • 118840 Simon Langton Girls - Kent
  • 112986 The Ecclesbourne School - Derbyshire
  • 131185 Shenley Brook End School - Milton Keynes
  • 104109 Tudor Grange School - Solihull
  • 131310 Elthorne Park HS - Ealing (17.9%)
  • 117573 Watford GS for Boys - Hertfordshire
  • 119814 Archbishop Temple School, CE Specialist College - Lancashire
  • 136355 Darrick Wood School - Bromley
  • 103554 King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys - Birmingham

Particularly recommended:

  • Alperton Community School, Brent
  • Elthorne Park High School, Ealing
  • Darrick Wood School, Bromley
  • King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, Birmingham (also good practice case study on Ofsted website)
  • Chelmsford County High School for Girls, Essex.

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Published 22 May 2012