Children Exposed to Poor Maths Teachers: Ofsted

I am not particularly surprised by the finding that bright students, in particular, are being failed by poor maths instruction. It’s been my experience that most teachers come from a strictly humanities (i.e. English, Politics, History) background. These teachers often shirk maths and science as it isn’t their forte.

In a damning report, the watchdog warned that the scale of underachievement at school was a “cause of national concern” that risks robbing the country of well-qualified mathematicians, scientists and engineers.

It said that many of the most gifted children were “insufficiently challenged” at primary and secondary level after being set the same work as mid-ranking classmates.

Inspectors insisted that too much teaching focused on the use of “disconnected facts and methods” that pupils were expected to memorise and replicate without any attempt to solve complex problems in their heads.

Large numbers of pupils are also being pushed into sitting maths GCSEs a year early – forcing schools to completely ignore many of the most demanding algebra topics, it was revealed.

In a highly-critical conclusion, Ofsted said that teaching was not good enough in almost half of English state schools, with almost no improvements being made in the last four years.

I realise that what I am writing is a gross generalisation, but I believe that maths is generally taught in a very abstract and monotonous way. No wonder the students are not benefitting from maths instruction at the primary level. Traditional maths teaching involves worksheets, a mindless array of algorithms and plenty of other rote styled goodies.

The tragedy of it all is that maths can be taught in a completely different way. I find the basic skills of maths the most refreshing and creatively exciting subject to teach. The fact that maths is a composite of everyday skills means it translates wonderfully to problem solving activities.

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One Response to “Children Exposed to Poor Maths Teachers: Ofsted”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    In the “good old days” teachers were trained in state run teachers colleges. Our lecturers had been classroom teachers themselves. They knew what it was all about. Some of my lecturers at College had actually been my teachers at High School. Some of our subjects were English, English method, Maths, Maths method, Natural Science, Science method and so on. Web had to learn how to write correctly on the chalkboard and how to set out a chalkboard as part of our lesson preparation. This was where we learned the nuts and bolts of our profession. When we applied for our Teachers College scholarship (We were all on scholarships.) we had to be interviewed by a practising teacher, usually the head of a faculty. Primary teachers were trained over two years (presumably because they expected that we had mastered the subject matter we were to teach). Later they offered 3 year training which was basically the same course stretched out over 3 years. This, I think, is when the rot set in. When the state abdicated all responsibility for teacher education and turned it all over to universities is when it was all over, Red Rover. It was all academics and the nuts and bolts of the job were no longer provided. I achieved 3 year trained status by undertaking a full time 12 month course in Special Education. I achieved 4 year trained status later on in the same way. One subject in that second course that resonated was called “Instructional Design”. It would not have been out of place in a Method program in my early training.

    One of the problems, as I see it today, is that there is a significant cohort of University Trained Primary School teachers, out there, who are not sufficiently familiar with the subjects that they teach. They do not understand Primary School Maths because their own teachers didn’t. I see too much reliance upon text books, probably for that very reason. If the teachers don’t understand their subject matter, how can they know if and when their students have mastered it before they go on to the next topic in the text book? The result is that they skip over the topics in the text book over the year as a flat stone skips over the water when thrown. They “do” (touch on) each topic as it is presented in the text book and the children go through the motions with very little time, if any, for revision and consolidation. There is a purpose to revision. It is not there just to fill in time.

    OFSTED is all very well. How can the state presume to be critical of teachers when they no longer have the responsibility (shirked) for training teachers. They become like the Egyptians who expected the same quota of building bricks from the Hebrews after they had withdrawn provision of straw as before.

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