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An extract from BBC News 8 August 2011 – An interview with Carol Vorderman.

“School pupils in England should study maths up to the age of 18, a report for the Conservative Party has said.

It says radical change is needed to give children the mathematical skills needed to succeed in a workplace where numeracy is increasingly important.

The report, by TV presenter Carol Vorderman, said the current system was failing young people.

Almost half of 16-year-olds fail to achieve grade C at GCSE, with just 15% studying maths beyond that level.

This compares to almost all other industrialised countries, the report says, where either all, or nearly all, students study maths to the age of 18.

Ms Vorderman led a “maths task force” to produce the report, which was commissioned by Education Secretary Michael Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron when they were in opposition in 2009.

She said more than 300,000 16-year-olds each year completed their education without enough understanding of maths to function properly in their work or private lives.

She said 24% of economically active adults were “functionally innumerate”, and universities and employers complained that school-leavers did not have necessary maths skills.

Ms Vorderman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that pupils who did not achieve the expected standard – level 4 – in the national curriculum tests known as Sats at age 11 faced a “catastrophe”.

Some 90% of them go on to fail to get a C at GCSE, she said.

“If you’re on the scrap heap by 11, you will remain mathematically on the scrap heap,” she said.

She recommended that the maths Sats, or national curriculum test, be scrapped, as it led schools to narrow their teaching to focus on the tests.

The test brought “no benefit to the children taking it,” the report concluded.”

See the interview: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14437665

Read the Report “A world-class mathematics education for all our young people”: http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2011/08/~/media/Files/Downloadable%20Files/Vorderman%20maths%20report.ashx

Comments on: "School pupils in England should study maths up to the age of 18" (1)

  1. Some quotes from the Report:

    “The mathematics subject knowledge of primary school teachers and new trainees urgently needs to be improved. In 2006, only 2% of those graduates studying PGCE (to become primary school teachers) had a STEM degree; few had studied mathematics beyond GCSE. Many do not feel confident in the subject. This is not a criticism of them as teachers, but of a system which has allowed this situation to occur in a subject which is so critically important to the nation. It must be recognised that a child’s entire subsequent mathematical education, and therefore their prospects as adults, is largely determined by the age of 11. Therefore, if the mathematical needs of primary school teachers are not addressed appropriately then little else will fundamentally change.”

    “The crucial role of parents in a child’s primary education is well documented. This must be encouraged with mathematics particularly, and help should be offered to parents, many of whom have a fear of mathematics themselves. A number of schools do this already, and this is to be commended.”

    “Children in primary school should continue to have a daily mathematics lesson, but mathematics must also be actively encouraged in other areas of their daily routine in school. English (at primary level, largely reading and writing) is practised constantly throughout the normal school day, but mathematics often is not. This needs to be addressed so that children can practise number work more consistently and in an interesting, less formal, manner. It is only with constant practice that confidence and understanding of numbers is created.”

    “By age 16, there is a 10-year learning gap in mathematics between the highest and lowest achieving students. It is simply not possible for this hugely disparate group of students to be tested using one qualification. The present system for GCSE Mathematics, including the tiering arrangements for Foundation and Higher, is not fit for purpose.”

    “The first recommendation of the two is that the present GCSE Mathematics system should be replaced by one offering two GCSEs (as exists for English Language and English Literature) as soon as possible. The design of this new system must not be constrained by the present statutory framework. The syllabuses must be allowed to reward students who are able to achieve a higher standard in a smaller area of the curriculum, rather than a low standard across a much wider curriculum.”

    “The first recommendation of the two is that the present GCSE Mathematics system should be replaced by one offering two GCSEs (as exists for English Language and English Literature) as soon as possible. The design of this new system must not be constrained by the present statutory framework. The syllabuses must be allowed to reward students who are able to achieve a higher standard in a smaller area of the curriculum, rather than a low standard across a much wider curriculum.”

    “Government agencies exert ultimate influence on the education system. Ofqual is responsible for regulation, and Ofsted for inspection. The impact of the culture, based on centralised control through micro-management, within both of these organisations must not be underestimated. We believe that major changes are needed in the working methods of both organisations.”

    “Throughout the report we give examples of how general regulations, imposed by Ofqual (or its predecessor bodies) have damaged our mathematics provision. We believe that a new system in which the examination boards act collectively, under the supervision of a Mathematics Steering Committee, could provide more robust regulation, at lower cost, and could foster the development of higher quality syllabuses.”

    “The cumulative effect of changes to the Ofsted Framework has caused a decline in the rigour of inspecting and reporting mathematics in schools. We welcome moves to introduce a new inspection framework for Ofsted in which there is detailed inspection of mathematics teaching.”

    “In June 2010, over 300,000 students (almost half of the cohort) who took GCSE Mathematics came out with a grade below C. These students have been taught mathematics for at least 11 years but have not learnt enough to pass what is a simple examination. Worse still, after all the time and effort involved, many of them have learnt little, if any, mathematics that will be useful to them.”

    “The long-term solution has to lie in improving teachers’ mathematics background.”

    “Grade inflation: The analysis of 3000 secondary pupils’ performance in algebra, ratio and decimals tests conducted last year suggests that there has been little overall change in maths attainment since 1976. Exam pass rates, by contrast, have risen dramatically during that period. In the early 1980s, only 22 per cent of pupils obtained a GCE O level grade C or above in maths. Last year over 55 per cent gained a GCSE grade C or above in the subject.”

    “Design of the twin GCSEs: The twin GCSEs are called Applications of Mathematics and Methods in Mathematics.

    Proficiency in basic techniques is equally important for both syllabuses and so there is a core of common content, but most topics are in one or the other.

    Applications of Mathematics is designed to address the lack of functionality and engagement of many students. Much of the work is in context, addressing real-world problems. So the content includes items like financial mathematics and data handling; it often requires basic mathematical modelling. This syllabus will help to prepare students for future life and employment and for using mathematics in the many subjects which require it but not to any great depth.

    By contrast, the emphasis in Methods in Mathematics is on the more formal aspects of the subject that students will need when they take it further, particularly to AS and A level. So there is a strong emphasis on algebra,
    and on reasoning and proof, conveyed through the medium of Euclidean geometry.”

    “On the present timescale the pilot ends in 2013 and there will then be a two-year gap until the twin GCSEs are generally available in 2015. Much better arrangements need to be put in place that allow a smooth transition from the pilot to its successor. At that time the existing single GCSE should be withdrawn.”

    “Teachers are absolutely key in determining whether a young person succeeds or fails in mathematics. However, we do not currently have enough specialist mathematics teachers in our secondary schools and many students are being taught by people whose own knowledge of the subject is uncertain.”

    “Ofqual: Ofqual is responsible for accrediting qualifications and ensuring that they represent reliable and consistent levels of attainment11.1. However, we have concerns about three related aspects of Ofqual’s operation: accountability, remit and methodology. At many places in this report, but particularly in Section 7, we have emphasised the need for mathematics education to respond to changes in our economic and social environment. The ongoing process of understanding national needs and keeping our mathematics provision up to date with them requires input from a much wider cross-section of society than a narrowly-focused body such as Ofqual. We do not believe that the present arrangements can result in high-calibre qualifications.”

    “This raises the critical questions of whether Ofqual’s methodology for ensuring standards can be relied on within subjects and over time. This uncertainty should not be allowed to continue. There should be an open and independent review of Ofqual’s working methods and this should also address the question of whether the concept of a regulatory body is a viable one.”

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