Saturday, 27 November 2010

Core arithmetical functions

Did you spot this little gem in Michael Gove's White Paper, the Importance of Teaching, published this week? In paragraph 4.19:

“As part of the review of the National Curriculum, we will also make sure that children are expected to master the core arithmetical functions by the time they leave primary school.”

Core arithmetical functions? Now there's an interesting concept! I wonder what he has in mind? I don't actually – to be honest, I think I know what he has in mind. I have heard rumours from three reliable sources that there are plans afoot to require teachers to teach children in primary schools formal, written, standard algorithms. Less of all this informal, mental stuff and ad hoc strategies based on number lines and understanding. And out with the dreaded 'grid method' for multiplication, so scorned by that expert on primary mathematics teaching, Carol Vordeman. We shall get back to the 'core functions' of arithmetic: column addition and subtraction for 7-year-olds, and the condensed form of long multiplication and long division for 11-year-olds. It's all based on thorough research, of course – namely, this is what we were taught when we were at prep school and it never did us any harm.

The phrase 'core arithmetical functions' is a new one on me. It's actually an appealing idea and I'll offer a few suggestions for things that ought to qualify under this heading in a subsequent post. I have a feeling that long division is not going to be near the top of my list, or – since I really cannot remember when I last needed to do a long division calculation – even on it.

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