Bright pupils ‘falling two years behind peers in Far East’

An Institute of Education working paper by John Jerrim and Alvaro Choi The mathematics skills of school children: How does England compare to the high performing East Asian jurisdictions? generated a number of responses in the media: The Telegraph (from where the title of this post was borrowed), The Guardian, BBC, The Independent.

A quote from the paper, p. 19:

[A]lthough we maintain that policymakers should focus on the earlier stages of young people’s educational career, some important changes are needed to improve aspects of mathematics provision during secondary school. The most pressing issue is to ensure that the curriculum stretches the best young mathematicians enough, and that they are motivated (and incentivised) to fully develop their already accumulated academic skill. Evidence presented in this paper has suggested that the gap between the highest achieving children in England and the highest achieving children in East Asia widens between ages 10 and 16 (at least in mathematics). This is something that needs to be corrected as highly skilled individuals are likely to be important for the continuing success of certain major British industries (e.g. financial services) and to foster the technological innovation needed for long-run economic growth (Bean and Brown 2005, Toner 2011). One possible explanation for this finding is the widespread use of private tuition by East Asian families for both remedial and enrichment purposes (Ono, 2007; Sohn et al., 2010). This helps to boost the performance of all pupils, including those already performing well at school. In comparison, private tutoring in England is mainly undertaken by a relatively small selection of children from affluent backgrounds, often for remedial purposes. While a large proportion of East Asian families are willing to personally finance such activities through the private sector, the same is unlikely to hold true in the foreseeable future within England. Consequently, the state may need to intervene.

Mathematical Study Without Pen and Paper

Mathematical Study Without Pen and Paper: Experiences, Impacts and Options, a workshop at the Manchester Metropolitan University, 20 March 2013.

From the workshop advertisement:

Courses with mathematical content pose specific accessibility challenges due to the nature of the visual and two-dimensional structures through which Mathematics is typically communicated. For many, handwritten working supports memory, verbal communication and mathematical thinking. However, not everyone is able to use a pen and paper effectively. This workshop aims to bring together staff who use or teach Mathematics and Statistics, disabled students who are studying mathematical subjects, and a range of support professionals including Disability Advisers, Needs Assessors, Specialist Tutors and Amanuenses and Assistive Technology Advisers. The discussion will focus on the experiences of disabled students who are studying mathematical subjects. In particular, the impact of working without a pen and paper and the available options will be considered.

A related link: Maxtract,

a tool for converting PDF into formats such as LaTeX, MathML and text. The aims are to provide translation services into standard mathematical markup languages and to add accessibility to mathematical documents on multiple levels.

A TUGBoat paper by Ross Moore, Ongoing efforts to generate “tagged PDF” using pdfTeX. 

[With thanks to Emma Cliffe]

Open Access: a game changer?

US Congress has introduced a bill that would mandate public access to publicly-funded federal research. The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) was introduced in Congress February 14 on a bi-partisan basis. The bill would require that federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from publicly-funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. If enacted in law, the Act will have impact on academic publishing, including mathematics education research, all over the world.

Some quotes from the Act

Continue reading

Russel Group’s comment on AS level reform

From the statement by Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group:

“Results from AS-levels taken in Year 12 are useful to universities in the admissions process, especially in considering applications for the most competitive courses. [...]

“Whilst we have welcomed the Government’s review of the modular structure of the A-level, we do not believe this need be extended to the complete removal of the AS examination from the A-level.”

Primary maths pupils to be measured against top Asian countries?

From The Telegraph:

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum on maths, Stefano Pozzi, the assistant director of the national curriculum review division at the Department for Education, said [...] [r]eferring to the maths curriculum [...]: “Really, we are setting a much higher benchmark than we currently do now.

“How we’ve done that is in part through benchmarking against the expectations in high performing countries. Basically, politicians ask – and they’re right to – why we are expecting less of our young than they expect in other countries where kids do well?”

Speaking after the forum, [...] [h]e added: “If you look at what we’re expecting kids to do with fractions – that’s the most obvious thing that we’re doing and proportional reasoning. That stuff kids find hard and adults find hard.”

Divided over long division

From an article by  in The Guardian:

Gove’s decision on the EBCs took attention away – initially at least – from another big announcement made on the same day, as England’s helter-skelter reform programme continues: the detail of the entire draft the new national curriculum for first teaching from 2014.

But it is a fair bet that controversy on that front is not going to let up. One person seriously unhappy with one aspect of the proposed primary maths curriculum is Anne Watson, professor of maths education at the University of Oxford.

Watson was involved in the drafting of the document, but says that concerns about the inclusion of long division in the new programmes of study, registered by her and most of the maths teaching community including the overarching Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, have been ignored by ministers.

Writing to the Guardian, Watson argues that long division is a “ping pong between the government and maths educators”, most of the latter believing that specifying it in the curriculum is not the best way of preparing children for secondary education.

“Why on earth is a government interfering at this level with the teaching of a subject?” she asks, adding that there appears to have been a “blatant disregard” for what is known about how children learn maths by either ministers, their advisers, or both. The government has defended long division as the “most efficient” calculation method.

National Curriculum Consultation, KS 1-3

National Curriculum Consultation, KS 1-3, announced today. Closing date: Tuesday 16 April 2013

Published for information only:

From other news:

The Education Secretary has dropped proposals to replace existing exams with new English Baccalaureate Certificates as part of a compromise deal between the Coalition parties, it emerged.

A move to axe competition between exam boards – forcing each body to bid for a “franchise” to run one subject – has also been abandoned amid fears it will fall foul of EU procurement laws.

Curriculum, exam and accountability reform: Michael Gove’s Oral Statement in the Parliament.

Michael Gove: "The Progressive Betrayal"

Michael Gove’s speech, “The Progressive Betrayal”  to the Social Market Foundation – 5th February 2013. Some random quotes related to mathematics:

This approach [...]  was called progressive because it moved away from a set hierarchy of knowledge – literary canons, mathematical proofs, scientific laws, musical exercises and artistic traditions towards a new emphasis on “learning to learn”.

The EBacc squeezed out creativity, some claimed. So does that mean scientists from Rutherford to Dawkins are arid and uncreative mechanics? Mathematicians from Pythagoras to Turing are enemies of creativity?

[...] unless you have knowledge – historical, cultural, scientific, mathematic[al] – all you will find on Google is babble.

So our new curriculum affirms – at every point – the critical importance of knowledge acquisition. [...] There is new and detailed content on the mathematical processes every child should master – including early memorisation of tables, written methods of long division and calculations with fractions – which was either absent or obscure before.