“The impact of a really good teacher is something that lasts for life.”
“No education system can be better than the quality of its average teacher.”
The importance of the teacher was at the heart of Lord Puttnam of Queensgate’s keynote speech at the Annual Conference of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), which took place at the Royal Society on 17 June.
Throughout the event, attended by more than 100 stakeholders in the field of mathematics education, it was clear that many believed that the role of the National Centre in shaping the strategy and policy for future CPD in mathematics teaching would be central to supporting teachers of this crucial subject.
Chairing the conference, Sir John Holman, Director of the National STEM Programme referred to a recent CBI survey that showed that employers were still having difficulty finding STEM-skilled staff but that this was being addressed by a growth in take-up of A-level mathematics that was ‘stunning and sustained’.
He said: “This has a lot to do with the work people here have been doing in our community, especially the Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP) and the National Centre. It is a real success story and we should be celebrating it.”
A key theme of the day was the impact technology must have on teaching mathematics. Lord Puttnam emphasised that, “We have no choice but to adopt new technologies,” as “life has been transformed beyond the school gates.” He underlined the need for teachers to act as trusted ‘learning guides’ who would help students distinguish the wheat from the chaff as they explored the wealth of information available thanks to the digital revolution.
Sophie Crump, a mathematics teacher from Burnham-on-Crouch Primary School, then talked about action research she had carried out, supported by the National Centre, which enabled her to see that the use of computers in school could help children be more creative and take risks with mathematics. She explained: “On the computer they can try things out and don’t worry about getting it wrong as they do when writing it down in their exercise book.”
Sophie said she had benefited greatly from talking to others about teaching and technology and having time to read around the subject during her Masters degree. She was now trying new approaches and sharing what she had learned with colleagues at her school.
Jack Jackson, Principal of Launceston College, a comprehensive school in Cornwall, echoed the view that ICT was central. In his speech, he argued that if technological change continued at the current pace, “over half the jobs my students will be doing haven’t yet been invented,” and that it was vital teachers allow students the freedom to explore. He argued that: “The beauty, joy and elegance of mathematics will become clear to children when we don’t give them constraints.” At the same time, teachers needed to be given more control over their own CPD and be empowered to learn from each other. Mr Jackson said: “The National Centre reflects exactly my view of what CPD should be: the focus is always on teaching and learning, teachers are masters of their own CPD and networks enable them to share their ideas.”
Launching the National Centre’s Annual Report, NCETM Director Professor Celia Hoyles pointed to the ever-increasing number of teachers of mathematics benefiting from the support and the resources that the Centre offers through its portal and face-to-face events, and the impact that this is having on learners. She quoted from a recent report by Sheffield Hallam University that found that: “The NCETM legitimised and validated the work of teachers and schools/colleges in changing approaches to mathematics teaching and learning, and supported evidence-led, locally developed approaches to mathematics teaching in contrast with top down, centrally dictated approaches.”
In the afternoon a series of optional Workshops offered the opportunity to debate important topics such as ‘Subject leadership in mathematics’ and ‘Ensuring quality in CPD’. The key ideas arising from these sessions will help inform the future work of the National Centre.
Finally, John Holman concluded with the words: “I would like to pay tribute to everything that Celia [Hoyles] and the NCETM have achieved in the past and which I hope will continue in the future. There is very impressive partnership work taking place with many in this room and I hope this will be able to continue.”