Education Secretary Michael Gove is funding the development of a new programme to improve standards of maths teaching after evidence that pupils’ knowledge of algebra, fractions, decimals, percentages and ratios had not risen in 30 years.
The ICCAMS study at King’s College London said that these key concepts held the key both to basic numeracy and to subsequent progression. But it concluded that the proportion of pupils aged 11 to 14 performing at the lowest level had increased significantly since the mid-1970s.
The results for the latest TIMSS tests, published in December, show England has plateaued in maths at age 14 between 2007 and 2011. Analysis comparing the position of England’s primary-aged pupils in 2007 with the performance of secondary pupils in 2011 indicated that England does not capitalise on success in the early primary years in the way other countries, like Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Russian Federation and the US, do.
Ofsted found last year that the teaching of maths to 11- to 14-year-old pupils is the weakest subject area in schools – with only 38% of lessons rated good or better, and 12% rated inadequate. Inspectors added that less experienced, temporary and non-specialist teachers were more likely to teach lower sets or younger pupils in this age bracket.
The Department for Education is now funding the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) to develop a 1-year professional development programme for maths teachers at key stage 3, when pupils are aged 11 to 14.
The £300,000 project will focus on building effective teaching of ‘multiplicative reasoning’, which includes fractions, decimals, percentages and ratios.
Schools taking part in the programme will have the opportunity to develop 2 members of staff, including at least 1 with a management role at key stage 3.
The programme, which will start in July, will include the following elements:
- an immersive phase of up 4 days in July, possibly residential
- a follow-up session, with participating teachers spending at least 1 day working together in their school
- tuition delivered throughout the year and possible evening sessions
- another 1 or 2 days in January out of school
- a final event at the end of the course
Schools will be expected to commit time to allow teachers who have taken part in the programme to spread what they have learned to other maths teachers in their school.
The project will run as a trial this year and will be rolled out as a large-scale programme if there is evidence to support it.
The trial will be accompanied by a robust independent evaluation, possibly including a randomised controlled trial (RCT). The NCETM will be supported by an advisory group consisting of mathematics educators, officials and research experts.
The findings of the trial will be reported in early 2014. If the evidence is strong, a procurement process will be started for a large-scale programme through a competitive tender.
NCETM director Charlie Stripp said:
The NCETM is very pleased to have the opportunity to work on this exciting project.
We know there is a lot of excellent mathematics teaching at key stage 3 but some teachers struggle to give their students the in-depth knowledge and understanding they need to succeed later on.
Key stage 3 is a vital period for pupils learning mathematics. They need to consolidate the mathematics they learned at primary school, building on their understanding in fractions, decimals and percentages to develop fluency in multiplicative reasoning, which is essential for future GCSE success.
This is a great opportunity to develop a substantial programme of professional development that will really make a difference to teachers and pupils.
A Department for Education spokesman said:
Improving maths is crucial for education and our economy. Getting more children to develop advanced problem-solving skills requires big improvements in basic skills. It is terrible that basic skills in fractions have actually declined since the 1970s. We also should evaluate training programmes properly with randomised trials so we can build on reliable information about what works. If this trial works, then we will be able to expand it knowing that taxpayers’ money is being well spent on a fundamental priority.
The TIMSS study also said that students in England do less well compared to the best in the world in number at primary level and study too much data, which is holding pupils back.
This is why arithmetic is at the heart of the new primary curriculum, and why calculators will be banned in maths tests for 11-year-olds from 2014. The government is placing a high priority on providing a solid grounding in the basics early in primary schools to drive up standards. Pupils will then be able to progress at secondary school to more complex problems including algebra and geometry. We are also encouraging more new primary teachers to specialise in maths by prioritising funding for graduates with a 2:1 or first class degree in the subject.
Notes to editors
The ICCAMS project, based at King’s College London, investigated ways of raising students’ attainment and engagement by using formative assessment to inform teaching and learning of mathematics in secondary school. ICCAMS stands for Increasing Student Competence and Confidence in Algebra and Multiplicative Structures. The study can be found on the Targeted Initiative on Science and Mathematics Education website.
TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) is a worldwide research project, taking place every 4 years and providing data about trends in mathematics and science achievement over time. It assesses the knowledge and skills of pupils aged 9 to 10 and 13 to 14 around the world. The latest report was published in December and is available on the National Foundation for Educational Research website.
The Ofsted report ‘Made to measure’ was published in May 2012. It is available on Ofsted’s website.