The mathematics vision statement for our department is:
Mathematics is a beautiful subject which has its own unique place in our school’s curriculum. It provides students with powerful ways to describe, analyse and change the world. Students can experience a sense of awe and wonder as they appreciate the power of mathematics and make links between different areas of mathematics.
Students who are functional in mathematics are able to participate in modern society having the tools to understand science, technology, engineering and economics.
Students at our school study mathematics so that they can become fully participating citizens in society who are able to think mathematically, reason, solve problems and assess risk in a range of contexts.
Good learning takes place when students are given opportunities to solve problems by developing their understanding and making links between different areas of mathematics and applying skills.
Good teaching enables good learning to take place. It involves creating an appropriate environment in which students can respond to high levels of expectation and challenge. They are kept on the edge of their thinking.
'The teachers’ job is to organise and provide the sorts of experiences which enable pupils to construct and develop their own understanding of mathematics, rather than simply communicate the ways in which they themselves understand the subject.'
(Non-Statutory Guidance, National Curriculum, 1989)
As a result of good teaching and learning, our students are encouraged to develop into thinking individuals who can operate mathematically and achieve their potential.
I work in a challenging school and over the course of a number of years I have worked with my department to develop and share a common vision for mathematics teaching and learning.
Such discussions have always been a regular feature of our departmental meetings and school training days and over the years we have refined a way of working which includes the following strategies:
- members of the department would read a magazine article or chapter from a book and we discuss it at the next meeting;
- we plan lessons together and then feedback to each other at a department meeting;
- the scheme of work is contained on an on-line wiki which allows every member of the department to add their opinion and contribute new ideas.
This continual focus on our vision in the way we work together allows us to maintain a focus on teaching and learning and not be over-distracted by challenging pupil behaviour.
I am a fairly well-established subject leader and I am moving to a new school next term. I know how important it is to get off on the right track and have been thinking hard about how to lead the department to develop a shared vision of teaching and learning in mathematics.
I have decided to use the NCETM modules Why do we teach mathematics? and Learning mathematics in my school on my first day with the department.
I know that this will be the start of a long term process but I really want to focus attention on these priorities from the start.
(Excerpts from the Ofsted report Mathematics: understanding the score).
This report offers a range of external perspectives, examples of good practice and indications of national trends and standards which can be very helpful to a subject leader.
Here we have included elements which are relevant to this section on vision and aims:
131. ...in the schools in which staff did not share an effective underpinning philosophy about mathematics, it was frequently the case that the richness or otherwise of pupils’ experience in the subject depended on individual teachers rather than on the school. Sometimes, this unevenness of experience resulted in pupils not receiving their full entitlement to the mathematics curriculum. Schools did not readily recognise that such inequalities meant they were not as inclusive about their provision for mathematics as they generally considered themselves to be.
91. Achievement and standards in ‘using and applying mathematics’ remain lower than in other areas of mathematics. These higher order skills underpin what it means to behave mathematically. It is of serious concern, therefore, that national tests do not require pupils to use and apply mathematics in substantial tasks through which they are able to decide what approaches to adopt, use a range of mathematical techniques in exploring the problem, find solutions, generalise and communicate their reasoning. The importance of these skills is highlighted in the new National Curriculum’s key processes and they underpin the recently published standards for functional mathematics. However, unless external assessments reflect these important processes, they are unlikely to influence a significant shift in teaching and learning mathematics.
93. The picture is bleaker in secondary schools. Teachers seldom plan explicitly for ‘using and applying mathematics’ and it is very rare for schools to assess this aspect of pupils’ learning separately. This is a statutory part of the Key Stage 3 teacher assessment but there are no national arrangements to check whether or how well this is being done or to gather information about what such data might show. Furthermore, the removal of coursework as a component of GCSE mathematics from 2009 means that teachers will no longer routinely assess ‘using and applying mathematics’ at Key Stage 4 either. As with primary schools, inspection evidence confirms that pupils have little experience of applying their mathematics to a variety of open-ended, novel or complex tasks and, without such opportunities to investigate and extend their reasoning skills, standards in this crucial aspect remain lower than other areas of the mathematics curriculum.
Equipping pupils for the future
94. A clear message of this report is that, in most schools, mathematics does not contribute sufficiently to the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda. Too few schools take seriously their duty to teach pupils to use and apply mathematics for themselves, an important skill in promoting their economic well-being and interpreting information to help them be healthy and stay safe. A small number of the schools surveyed illustrated what is possible but ‘using and applying mathematics’ was an area of relative weakness in the majority of schools.
Using and applying mathematics: pupils as mathematicians
131. The best practice had ‘using and applying mathematics’ at the heart of teaching and learning in mathematics: pupils were viewed as budding mathematicians and developing their understanding was of paramount importance. This was reflected in a shared ethos, pervading the teaching, learning and curriculum, and focused on approaches that developed pupils’ understanding and their independence in using and applying mathematics. Such practice was relatively rare, although, in some schools, reflection had led to a deliberate drive towards improving pupils’ understanding of mathematics – an encouraging sign.