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.

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