Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Curriculum 'failing' maths students

The current system leaves many students with only a 'shallow mastery' of maths, a report claims

Young mathematicians are being let down by an education system that does not allow them to gain a thorough knowledge of the subject, experts have warned.

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) said England is failing to develop able maths students and the situation is now reaching a critical point.

In a new paper, the ACME said it was vital that young people who have the potential to study maths at A-level gain a deep understanding of the subject.

But the current system rushes these students through the curriculum, leaving them with only a "shallow mastery" of maths and insecure in their own abilities.

It says: "At present, England is significantly underachieving in terms of developing able mathematicians, and this situation is now critical. It is necessary to increase systematically the number of young mathematicians with a robust and deep grasp of the range of mathematical ways of thinking and working."

The ACME said that the use of Level 6 tests - which contain maths concepts that are in the secondary curriculum - in primary schools can mean that pupils' learning is "accelerated", leaving them without a secure understanding of primary mathematics.

And in secondaries, league tables encourage schools to enter pupils for their maths GCSE early so they can bank good results. But this is not often in the best interests of students, the paper says. Young mathematicians should be given the chance to study the subject in depth to gain a good understanding of it rather than rushing ahead.

ACME chair Professor Steve Sparks said: "Just because a pupil can charge through the curriculum at top speed through procedural learning does not mean that he or she has developed a clear grasp of the subject matter or could apply the fundamental principles more broadly. The 'acceleration' approach is driven by league tables and puts us at odds with many of the world's highest performers in terms of mathematics education. It is inconsistent with the Government's stated aim to encourage more students to study maths to 19."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "ACME is right - learning maths, indeed any subject, must not be a treadmill of revision and exams. Young people must gain a deep understanding. This is what will produce the mathematicians of the future.

"But standards in the subject have declined alarmingly and internationally we are stagnating. That's why we have instigated a top-to-bottom overhaul of maths in our schools."

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