Mathematics: Understanding the score
Waking up in the morning is rarely easy for me and it was even more difficult on Friday 19th September, following the publication of the Ofsted report ‘Mathematics; understanding the score’. I usually have a few minutes of drowsy reverie before I fully remember who I am and what it is that my alarm has woken me up to do. Friday was completely different as Radio 4 proclaimed:
‘Almost half of England's schools are not teaching maths well enough, and they are putting too much emphasis on passing tests’
There was some personal pride at stake here – I needed to find out more about this, even at seven in the morning. Looking at my newspaper didn’t make me feel much better as these headlines indicate:
Half of maths lessons 'not good enough'
'Mindless maths' turns students off
'Lessons need to be more challenging and less exam-fixated, says leading maths academic'
'Teaching style turns children off maths' say inspectors
It was about time that I had a look at this report for myself – thank goodness for broadband which functions much better than I do so early in the morning. Have you looked at it yet?
Click here to view the report
‘Mathematics; understanding the score’ is a 74 page document covering the state of mathematics teaching from age 4 – 19 and it is a very accessible, if in places uncomfortable, read. There is a summary, key findings and recommendations (from which many of those headlines have been drawn) but these sections are followed by pages of detail using case studies to exemplify prime practice and weaker practice, including suggested ways to improve. There is also a section at the end of the report ‘Features of satisfactory and good mathematics teaching’ which are tabulated under headings such as ‘Understanding concepts and explaining reasoning’.
As I read through the report, I am drawn in two directions. Part of me is nodding (to myself I hasten to add) and recognising the scenarios within it and the other part of me is constantly asking (rhetorically that is) ‘So where am I in this report?’ ‘Do they mean me?’ ‘Do I do that?’ For the report to have a direct impact on mathematics teaching, surely it is teachers, subject leaders and senior leadership teams who need to engage with the findings and ask themselves such questions. Perhaps a department meeting would be a good starting place for this; posing the question ‘would they say these things about us?’
In order to make my own sense of the report, I need to go back to my vision for mathematics teaching. What is my vision for mathematics teaching? How do I translate my vision into reality in my lessons? Would that be obvious to an observer? How does that reality fit into the findings and recommendations of the report? Above all, I now feel I need to take some ownership of the findings and recommendations in the report and formulate a response – will you do that in your department?
If it would be a useful exercise for your department to consider what mathematical learning looks like, there is a professional development module ‘Learning mathematics in my school’ available here, on the NCETM website.)
Click here to read NCETM’s comments on the report
Jane Jones HMI, Specialist Adviser for Mathematics, Ofsted, will be addressing the NCETM Influential Mathematics Teachers Conferences in October.
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