Report from Demos: Detoxifying school accountability

A report from Demos, published today. From Executive Summary:

This report strongly argues that the current model of accountability is profoundly toxic and is failing to achieve its stated goal of improving education. It sets out an alternative
regime, which would allow all children to achieve their potential, while ensuring the quality of education in schools is of a high standard. […]

Continue reading

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.

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.”

Who wrote the KS 1-2 mathematics curriculum?

Adapted from ‘s article in The Guardian:

The coalition’s curriculum review, which began in January 2011 and in June 2012 produced draft proposals for English, maths and science in primary schools – the secondary version has yet to appear – has been dogged by

allegations of secrecy. […]

When it comes to the draft primary maths curriculum, most close observers of the review say that much of the writing was done by the late Richard Dunne […]

More on ban of calculators in tests for 11-year-olds

Press release from DfE and discussion of underlying statistics in A table from

based on Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS):

From TIMSS 2007: England rank bottom of all sampled countries for restricting calculator use in the maths classroom


Calculators banned in primary school maths exams

By  in  The Telegraph:

Calculators are to be banned in primary school maths exams as part of a Government drive to boost standards of mental arithmetic, it was announced today.

Pupils will be required to complete sums using pen and paper amid fears under-11s in England are already more reliant on electronic devices than peers in most other countries.
The change – being introduced from 2014 – coincides with the publication of a draft primary school curriculum that recommends delaying the use of calculators as part of maths lessons.
Currently, children are expected to use them at the age of seven, but this is likely to be put back to nine or 10 under the Coalition’s reforms.
Elizabeth Truss, the Education Minister, said that an over-reliance on calculators meant pupils were failed to get the

rigorous grounding in mental and written arithmetic that they needed to progress onto secondary education.
Pupils should not use the devices until they know their times tables off by heart and understand the methods used to add, subtract, multiply and divide, she said.

Read full article

Tony Gardiner: Observations on the LMS Response to Draft Programme of Study in Mathematics, Key Stages 1–2

A. D.Gardiner, Observations on the LMS Response to Draft Programme of Study in Mathematics, Key Stages 1–2, The De Morgan Journal  2 no. 3 (2012), 139–148.


The general response to the draft primary curriculum has been highly critical in some respects. But all responses appear to accept the fundamental idea that there is considerable scope for ‘raised aspirations’. This is remarkably positive.

Many responses also appear to welcome the idea of a clearer focus on core ideas and methods. For example, a survey completed by 5500 primary teachers revealed surprising support (~55%) for delaying calculator use until late primary. And—apart from one or two interest groups—there has been surprisingly little special pleading for the idea of preserving ‘data handling’ as a separate Attainment Target: it would seem that many respondents accept the need for a reduced profile in Key Stages 1-2.

In short, the underlying balance of opinion is now clearer in some respects than one might have anticipated. So the criticisms alluded to in the first paragraph should not be classified as ‘obstructionist’, but as reflecting a desire to give the new curriculum a reasonable chance of succeeding.

The summary of these criticisms provided by the LMS has been widely appreciated and focuses on six main points:

  1. There is an official insistence that a curriculum should concentrate on ‘what’ should be taught rather than `how’ it should be taught. This makes sense but can be taken too far: in mathematics the way a topic is developed over time may be designed to remain as part of students’ mental superstructure. But the official line should make it even clearer to specify something even more basic than `what’—namely `how many hours’ are to be devoted to mathematics in each School Year (the time devoted to mathematics in English schools is low).
  2. A main-school curriculum represents an 11 year journey. One cannot assess an outline of the early years without a clear idea of the mathematical destination it is leading towards. Since the primary curriculum (and the associated `leaks’ about developments at secondary level) raise very awkward questions, one cannot assess a draft for KS1-2 in isolation.
  3. The current draft is insensitive to `the way human beings learn’—in that it fails to convey the way in which the `mental universe of mathematics’ emerges from practical engagement with measures, shapes and quantities.
  4. The current draft is too ambitious—with unreal expectations in Years 1-2, and forcing material into Years 5–6 that belongs more properly in Years 7-8.
  5. The current draft still `nibbles’ at the same material year-after-year, instead of preparing the ground well whilst delaying the formal introduction of hard ideas, and then making significant progress when they are eventually introduced.
  6. Like so much in education, the success of any change depends on maintaining the support of teachers. For it is teachers who must interpret and present the changes to parents, and who implement them in classrooms. This support will be difficult to generate and to sustain without delaying to allow a more realistic schedule, and without a clearer sense of the associated assessment, accountability, and training structures.

Read the rest of the paper

School maths is failing children – a US and Australian perspective

A post by Jon Borwein and David H. Bailey in The Conversation. A quote:

Pedagogy and mathematics

It is undeniably important that mathematics teachers have mastered the topics they need to teach. The new Australian national curriculum is misguidedly increasing the amount of “statistics” of the school mathematics curriculum from less that 10% to as much as 40%. Many teachers are far from ready for the change.

But more often than not, the problem is not the mathematical expertise of the teachers. Pedagogical narrowness is a greater problem. Telling that there is a correct idea in a wrong solution to a problem on fractions requires unpacking of elementary concepts in a way that even an expert mathematician is not usually trained to do.

One of us – Jon – learned this only too well when he first taught future elementary school teachers their final university mathematics course.

Australian teachers at an elite private school could not understand one of Jon’s daughter’s Canadian long-division method nor her solution techniques for many advanced school topics. She got mediocre marks during the year because of this.

More calls for A level national curriculum

House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology published report
Higher Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
(STEM) subjects
. Some of the recommendations:

41. The Education Committee recommended that the Government should pilot a national syllabus in one large entry subject as part of the forthcoming A level reforms. We would recommend that maths should be the subject of such a pilot. […]

Continue reading