Mathematics

The real impact of “one size fits all” on education

Working for an education charity delivering numeracy and literacy programmes in primary schools, I’m only too aware of the problems associated with the “one size fits all” approach Sir Michael Wilshaw referred to last week.

The Ofsted chief criticised the government regarding the youth unemployment record and said the system for supporting children who do not succeed at 16 is “inadequate at best and non-existent at worst”. 

The government must recognise something quite basic: the foundations for successful outcomes are inextricably linked to confidence. Once confidence is developed it leads to an enthusiasm for learning, which in turn leads to attainment. Particularly when it comes to numeracy, the initial perceptions students have of themselves regarding whether they are good at maths or not are often set in stone at a very early age. 

This is a difficult thing to measure, but I see evidence of it all the time when I visit primary schools to introduce the National Number Partners programme. I often hear students say “I’m rubbish at sums” or “maths is my weak subject”. Indeed, I myself remember feeling the same at an early age. Despite being in one of the top sets later on, I seriously doubted my ability all the way through. This was because the seeds of self-doubt were sown during my early experiences of dealing with numbers, and it took a long time to convince myself otherwise.

Thanks to the government’s pre-occupation with assessments, the introduction of new marking schemes and tougher papers teachers are under enormous pressure to simply plough through the curriculum, even though some children will not have mastered the basics. Some Year 6 pupils I met with recently asked if I knew if it was true that the SATs would be much harder for them this year. 

Aside from this issue, the curriculum leaves little or no time to do two key things to ensure that maths teaching is effective: making it fun in order to engage and inspire children, and consolidating what has been covered. This is where Number Partners comes in. Trained volunteers from local businesses go into primary schools on a weekly basis to spend half an hour at lunchtime playing simple number games with students from Reception upwards. The aim is to improve a student’s confidence and enthusiasm for maths, which in turn impacts their ability to meet individual numeracy targets. 

Contact with people from the world of work is also a major factor in the effectiveness of Number Partners. It not only gives children the opportunity to find out about different professions and the world of work in general, but it provides a chance for them to explore the practical reasons for learning maths. Volunteers are able to illustrate real-life scenarios in which the ability to work out fractions or the percentage of something is needed. Indeed, all the Number Partner games are geared around real life. 

I visited a primary school last week for a maths morning, and had an interesting conversation with a teacher there about the need to encourage more “maths talk”. We discussed the ways that the principles of Number Partners are about making maths part of the vernacular through discussing answers, building problem solving, and communication through team work. 

In line with this, it’s important to remember that learning doesn’t just happen in school. Parents often find it difficult to support their children with maths homework, as teaching methods have changed - number partitioning is a good example. Parents who did not grow up in the British education system face even greater challenges. Making “maths talk” part of the fabric of everyday life can help to demystify maths for children and parents alike, and helps combat the challenges each face when it comes to homework. 

If the government is serious about education, it needs to reconsider what the point of going to school is. Surely it is to provide us with the skills and attitude for adult life, rather than ensure we can pass countless tests from the age of 7?  Especially when it comes to maths, the government needs to focus on how to use the curriculum to build confidence and enthusiasm in children in order to get better results and better outcomes at 16. Until then, it will be the role of organisations such as Tower Hamlet Education Business Partnership to bridge the gap between education and life.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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