Wednesday, 20 February 2013

High-quality mathematics education

The latest draft of the proposed new National Curriculum framework is now published for consultation.

Clearly, my interest lies mainly in the proposals for mathematics in Key Stages 1 and 2. Herein lies one of the greatest inconsistencies I have ever observed in a curriculum document!

The mathematics curriculum section begins with an excellent statement of the purpose of studying mathematics, including:

A high-quality mathematics education ... provides a foundation for understanding the world, the ability to reason mathematically, and a sense of enjoyment and curiosity about the subject.

And then three Aims are stated, that the curriculum aims to ensure that all pupils:

 become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics, including through varied and frequent practice with increasingly complex problems over time, so that pupils have conceptual understanding and are able to recall and apply their knowledge rapidly and accurately to problems  
 reason mathematically by following a line of enquiry, conjecturing relationships and generalisations, and developing an argument, justification or proof using mathematical language 
 can solve problems by applying their mathematics to a variety of routine and non- routine problems with increasing sophistication, including breaking down problems into a series of simpler steps and persevering in seeking solutions.

This all sounds great! All the right words are there: understanding the world, reason mathematically, enjoyment, curiosity, conceptual understanding, enquiry, conjecturing, relationships, generalizations, justification and proof, problem solving, applying mathematics ... whoopee!

But then look at the actual programmes of study for Key Stages 1 and 2! There is hardly anything here that seems designed to promote these laudable aims. The programmes of study are dull, lacking in genuine application and problem solving, and out of touch with the real world; they ignore the development of mathematical reasoning, and focus principally on mastery of routines rather than conceptual understanding.  And the problem is that these statutory requirement are what teachers will use in practice to plan their teaching - and the requirements are so packed with demands for practice and mastery of abstract, formal arithmetic calculations that there is very little chance that teachers will give time to providing pupils with experiences that will contribute to the purpose of study and aims stated at the beginning. The only part of an 'aim' that looks likely to get a look-in is the the bit about 'varied and frequent practice', and this will be principally practice of formal, written methods of calculation. 

Schools will be judged on how well children do in national tests. The national tests for mathematics will presumably test only the 'statutory requirements'. So, teachers will, I fear, teach only the statutory requirements. This means that all the stuff that warms my heart in the opening statements in the mathematics curriculum will probably have no effect at all on the actual experience of children learning mathematics in primary schools. 

Unless we can get Mr Gove to change his mind ... there is a consultation going on. The link above will get you to it!

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