Consultation on Key Stage 4 mathematics

The government response to consultation for key stage 4 English and mathematics on December 2nd 2013 can be found here; pdf.

DfE are now consulting on the draft Order and Regulations that will give effect to the new programmes of study for English and mathematics at key stage 4 from September 2015 and to extend the disapplication of the key stage 4 science programme of study for a further school year (2015/16).

Correlation for schoolchildren

A few comments on MEI‘s draft “Critical Maths” Curriculum. They list

Glossary of terms which students are expected to know and be able to use [...]

Association: A tendency for two events to occur together.

Correlation: An association between two variables which is approximately linear.

This definition of correlation seems rather odd.  If $latex y = x^2$  aren’t $latex x$ and $latex y$  correlated?   What does “an association” mean here?  The suggested definition of association given above is for events, not “variables”.   Presumably the authors have in mind random variables.
There is a serious problem here in the use of language.  It needs to be made clear whether the notion being described is an intuitive one or a mathematical definition. I am not a statistician, but it seems to me that there are (at least) three common distinct types of usage of the word “correlation”,  none of which is captured by the “definition” proposed:
(1)  The vernacular usage. The  Merriam-Webster dictionary gives
  “a relation existing between phenomena or things or between mathematical or statistical variables which tend to vary, be associated, or occur together in a way not expected on the basis of chance alone”
which seems to me a reasonable description of the vernacular or intuitive non-mathematical meaning of the term.    This is clearly much broader than the meaning suggested above.
(2)  The intended meaning proposed seems to correspond closest to the use of the  (Pearson) correlation coefficient  in statistics, although even then it is not  accurate, since  the correlation coefficient is not always a  reliable indicator of the existence of a linear relationship.   This meaning is that which tends to be used by a large class of people who have had some minimal exposure to statistics.
(3)  More generally correlation can be used to indicate a variety of mathematical measures of probabilistic interdependence  (e.g. mutual information).
On a separate point the very heavy concentration on statistical reasoning to the exclusion of other mathematics (including perhaps more elementary logical reasoning such as manipulation of quantifiers and logical connectives) rather worries me, since it may encourage the idea that  almost the only practical applications of mathematics are statistical.
Another  serious danger in my opinion is that statistics at this level tends to be more  like cookery than mathematics and it would have to be extremely well taught by a gifted and highly educated teacher if  conceptual precision is not going to be completely lost.  The danger is partially raised by Gowers in Objection 5 listed in his blog (though he doesn’t mention cookery), but I think his own answer is rather optimistic.
Somewhat in this connection there is an interesting passage in Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong where Noam Chomsky is interviewed on various topics concerning science, in particular AI and  cognitive science, and what he clearly regards as a modern deviation from the classical scientific method, which has been indirectly caused by the power of modern computers .  The article is quite long, but I found his example of “how to justify the abolition of physics departments” very nice;  it could  equally well used to justify closing down everything in mathematics departments except statistics.

Rebecca Hanson: 2014 Primary Mathematics Curriculum is Not Fit for Purpose

Re-posted from Authentic Maths.

Rebecca Hanson:

Following the writing of my first report on the 2014 Primary National Curriculum in December I have been corresponding with the key people involved in its development.

As a results of their comments I have written a second report which calls for the immediate suspension of the implementation of the 2014 Primary National Curriculum for Mathematics. This new report dated 6 Jan 2014 can be downloaded here: Fundamental Problems with the 2014 Primary National Curriculum for Mathematics.

The press release which accompanies this report can be downloaded here:
Call for Suspension of New Primary Mathematics Curriculum.

6 JAN FAULT: If you experience problems downloading the report an alternative version (without hyperlinks) can be downloaded from the Times Educational Supplement site.

Tony Gardiner: National curriculum – Comments and suggested necessary changes

Published today:

A. D. Gardiner, National curriculum (England), September 2013; Attainment targets and programmes of study (key stages 1–3). Comments and suggested necessary changes. The De Morgan Gazette 4 , no. 3 (2013), 13-57

From the Introduction:

The Education Order 2013 was “made” on 5 September 2013. The relevant details were “laid before parliament” on 11 September 2013, and will come into effect on 1 September 2014. Some of the details for GCSE were published on 1 November 2013. Further elaboration of GCSE assessment structure, and curriculum guidance for Key Stage 4 (Years 10–11, ages 14–16) are awaited.

It is generally agreed that the curriculum review process adopted over the last 3–4 years has been seriously flawed. Those involved worked hard, often under very difficult conditions. But the overall approach (of relying on civil servants and drafters whose responsibilities and constraints remained inscrutable) has merely demonstrated that drafting and maintaining curricula is a specialist task, requiring dedicated professionals with specialist experience.

Whatever flaws there may have been in the process, we will all have to live with the new curriculum for some years. So it is important to have an open discussion of the likely difficulties. This article is an attempt to indicate aspects of the National curriculum in England: mathematics programmes of study that will need to be handled with considerable care, and revised in the light of experience.

After three years of widespread unease about the process of the curriculum review and its apparent direction, it is remarkable that there has been almost no media coverage, and no clear professional response to the final mathematics programmes of study for ages 5–14. There is therefore a real danger that insights that emerged along the way will simply be forgotten, and that the same mistakes may then be made next time. [...]

The details laid before parliament are `statutory’; but they incorporate basic flaws, and significant contradictions between the statutory list of content (which could all-too-easily be imposed uncritically) and the declared over-arching “aims” (which could get forgotten, or ignored). Given these flaws, the fate of the new programmes of study will depend on how sensitively their implementation is handled—whether slavishly, or intelligently. Teachers—and Ofsted, senior management, etc.—need to be alert to those aspects of the stated programmes of study that incorporate predictable pitfalls.

We summarise here what seem to be the two most important flaws.

Some material in Key Stage 1 and 2 is very poorly specified (especially from Year 4 onwards).

Some items are listed unnecessarily and unrealistically early, and so may be introduced at a stage:

  • where they are not yet needed,
  • where they will not be understood,
  • where they will be badly taught, and
  • where – if the relevant requirements were relaxed – the premature material could easily be delayed without causing any subsequent problems.

The listing of content for Key Stage 3 is in some ways reasonable, but too many things are left implicit. The programme of study is less structured than, and contains less detail than, that for Key Stages 1 and 2. Hence the details of the Key Stage 3 programme need interpretation. At present:

  • the words of each bullet point are rarely elaborated;
  • the connections between themes are mostly suppressed; and
  • there is no mention of essential preliminaries.

In addition

  • the Key Stage 3 programme has no accompanying `Notes and guidance’.

In summary, if the declared goals for Key Stage 4 are to be realised,

  • we need some way of clarifying the specified content and relaxing the unnecessary and potentially damaging pressures built in to the Key Stage 1–2 curriculum as it stands; and
  • the centrally prescribed curriculum for Key Stage 3 needs to be much more clearly structured to help schools understand what it is that is currently missing at this level—initially by providing suitable non-statutory `Notes and guidance’.

GCSE: Higher level content

Reformed GCSE subject content includes three types of content: standard, underlined and bold. In the words of he document,

The expectation is that:

  • All students will develop confidence and competence with the content identified by standard type
  • All students will be assessed on the content identified by the standard and the underlined [here, for technical reasons, emphasised -- AB] type; more highly attaining students will develop confidence and competence with all of this content
  • Only the more highly attaining students will be assessed on the content identified by bold type. The highest attaining students will develop confidence and competence with the bold content.

The distinction between standard, underlined and bold type applies to the content statements only, not to the assessment objectives or to the mathematical formulae in the appendix.

What follows is the list of items in the  Mathematics GCSE subject content and assessment objectives which contain bold type, higher content.I think this short lists clearly marks the boundaries of GCSE — AB

Continue reading

Reformed GCSE subject content consultation – Government response

From the Department for Education:

Following the GCSE subject content consultation that closed on 20 August 2013, the Secretary of State has today published revised subject content for English language, English literature and mathematics, as well as the Government’s response to the consultation. The Secretary of State has also made a Written Ministerial Statement, which can be read here.

Ofqual has also published reforms to the design requirements for new GCSEs, including on arrangements for controlled assessment, tiering and new grading. Its summary of these reforms can be found here.

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.

Content and method

Three letters published in a recent issue of TES  (1 Feb 2013) under the heading

The junking of chunking is bad news for maths pupils highlight what, in my opinion, remains, a serious flaw in the current debate on mathematics education: confusion between the content and methods of teaching.

Letter 1:

The recent speech by education minister Elizabeth Truss and subsequent articles about mathematics (“Time to knock chunks out of KS2 maths, minister says“, 25 January) fill me with fear for the next generation of primary children.

Her straw man argument mischievously rubbishes well-tested methods currently being taught. So-called “gridding” and “chunking” are logical learning developments which help children later to understand formal written long multiplication and long division respectively. Teaching these new methods has relieved the problem of the failed maths teaching of the past century: many children who were taught traditional methods of calculation, without understanding how they worked, had little confidence in their arithmetic and became fearful of maths.

I would instead draw ministers’ attention to the most significant problem facing maths education now – the lack of high-quality maths teachers who are willing to enter and stay in a profession which is endlessly dictated to according to the career aspirations of rising ministers, eager to impress their political masters.

Ralph Manning, Lecturer in primary mathematics education, University of East Anglia, and primary teacher.

 Letter 2:

It would be very optimistic, or educationally naive, to imagine that we could find one definitive method for multiplication and division and that all children could successfully learn it that way.

Finding the most “efficient” method may be an easier task, but there is a difference between efficient and effective when one considers the individuality of pupils. The chunking method often requires more steps but that may be a trade-off for other disadvantages that some children experience, most notably the tendency not to try the task at all if it is considered “too hard”.

That was the less worrying part of the article. The bit that is truly fascinating is the way in which children and teachers will be encouraged to take a narrow view of learning maths. Children’s efforts will be judged on a basis that can be summed up as “no marks for thinking differently from me”. I feel that we are entering an almost Orwellian world where “Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think”.

Steve Chinn, Bath.

Letter 3:

Your article on primary maths raises the issue once again of whether or not politicians should be able to prescribe teaching methods. The legal situation is unclear. The Education Reform Act 1988 does proscribe the education secretary from prescribing teaching methods. But there is an ambiguity. Is doing long multiplication by traditional methods part of the content of the proposed new curriculum or is it one of the methodologies by which that curriculum is taught? If the former, then it can be prescribed  by the government. If the latter, it cannot.

If challenged, Michael Gove would probably say that he won’t be prescribing how traditional long multiplication is taught but that it will be taught. I’m afraid the system lost the chance to challenge this issue when it capitulated on synthetic phonics.

Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria.

Children to be marked up for using long division in maths

By   in The Telegraph:

Long division and multiplication will make a return to maths exams as part of a Government drive to boost standards in primary schools, it will be announced today.

Pupils aged 11 will be given extra marks for employing traditional methods of calculation in end-of-year Sats tests, it emerged.

Children who get the wrong answer but attempt sums using long and short multiplication or adding and subtracting in columns will be rewarded with additional points.

Ministers insisted the changes – being introduced from 2016 – were intended to stop pupils using “clumsy, confusing and time-consuming” methods of working out. [...]

Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister, will outline the plans in a speech to the North of England Education Conference in Sheffield on Thursday.

Speaking before the address, she said: “Chunking and gridding are tortured techniques but they have become the norm in recent years. Children just end up repeatedly adding or subtracting numbers, and batches of numbers.

“They may give the right answer but they are not quick, efficient methods, nor are they methods children can build on, and apply to more complicated problems.

“Column methods of addition and subtraction, short and long multiplication and division are far simpler, far quicker, far more effective and allow children to understand properly the calculation and therefore move on to more advanced problems.”