Taking forward the mathematics agenda: Conference for Head Teachers and Principals of teaching schools
The second conference for head teachers of teaching schools took place on the 17th October 2012 at the Royal Society in London. The day included the first engagement for the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss MP, and was addressed by Jane Jones, Ofsted’s National Adviser for Mathematics.
Professor Celia Hoyles, Director of the NCETM, examined some of the challenges and opportunities facing teaching schools in their work across the country. She detailed progress made by the NCETM in addressing the needs expressed by head teachers at the last conference, including the creation of a new set of tools for Specialist leaders of Education to support their work in raising the achievement in mathematics across a range of schools. These tools will be launched in early 2013. Additionally, she was able to provide feedback regarding the first cohorts passing through the Professional Development Lead Support Programme, helping those supporting schools with their mathematics, specifically with mathematical and arithmetic proficiency.
Jane Jones expressed her concern, detailed in the Ofsted report ‘Made to Measure’, that quality of teaching inside schools is often of a wide variety, causing uneven progress and gaps in achievement, even in good and outstanding schools.
She said that Ofsted has identified that there is a lack of guidance for teachers on approaches/activities to support development of conceptual understanding and progression over time and there is often too much ‘teaching to the test’.
This means teachers, including the less experienced, non-specialist and supply, are left to their own devices.
Ofsted will be placing greater emphasis in school inspection on: how effectively schools tackle inconsistency in the quality of mathematics teaching; how well teaching fosters understanding; pupils’ skills in solving problems and will challenge extensive use of early and repeated entry to GCSE examinations. They will also be providing resources for schools to use in identifying and remedying weakness. Jane noted that the introduction to the report by Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, underlines this commitment.
The participants heard from two teaching schools; one which has used Lesson Study across the teaching alliance to help raise standards, the other about working across a wider region, supporting a number of schools outside their immediate locality.
Before a final discussion session identifying some key areas for the NCETM to consider over the next three years, the conference heard from a panel of speakers, including Elizabeth Truss MP in her very first engagement as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for Education and Childcare.
They were asked about best practice from high performing jurisdictions, and Elizabeth Truss expressed an interest in countries that had ‘turned themselves around’ as opposed to always being good. For example, Germany in the year 2000 was performing poorly in the PISA tables and then took action to ensure a rapid and successful rise in PISA places through a combination of measures. She went on to say that although some things go on in those countries that are laudable, they are difficult to extract from those specific circumstances. Questioners also expressed concern over the introduction of a new National Curriculum with regards to future CPD needs and attendees expressed the need for more support.
Regarding the use of calculators in school, it was agreed that calculators are seen as an extremely useful tool for teaching and learning in both primary and secondary schools, but importantly, Elizabeth Truss emphasised that primary school children should have first secured fluency in arithmetic as a basis for better mathematics later on. Jane Jones mentioned a number of examples of good practice using calculators and other hand held devices to enhance what teaching and learning, for example in problem solving using ‘messy numbers’ or graphing in secondary schools. The use of such technology should be all about enhancing the learning and understanding. The full recordings of the day can be heard. Those attending found it almost overwhelmingly very useful and the comments received afterwards included the following:
- It exceeded my expectations due to quality of speakers and excellent organisation
- First time attendee, thoroughly enjoyed the day and opportunity to share and discuss ideas
- All of it was very useful thank you
- Found the whole day extremely useful
- Sessions were well managed so you could gain from all participants
- Exceeded my expectations
- All speakers were very informative, excellent networking