Posts Tagged ‘Education Secretary’

Maths is a Very Poorly Taught Subject

August 13, 2012

Out of all the subjects offered in Primary school, maths strikes me as easily the worst taught. This is for two main reasons:

1. Teachers are almost uniformly from arts and humanities backgrounds rather than maths and science backgrounds. It is staggering to compare those that went down the humanities path in late high school or in their first degree compared to those that have completed major maths units.

2. Maths is often taught in a boring, unimaginative way. Mindless worksheets and excessive reliance on rote knowledge and algorithms are the standard fare in a typical maths classroom.

What many students seem to lose from maths is the practical nature of the subject. We need maths to do the most basic activities in our lives; from counting change, organising our bedroom furniture, telling time, following a map and cooking a meal. This message does not get through to children sick to death of yet another worksheet.

It is the practical reality of maths that provides this truly underrated subject with enourmous scope for creativity. Just take a lesson I invented called “Mission Impossible Maths“, for example.

But as much as I can try to refocus educators about maths, the future looks dire. Policy makers who have invented the killer punch to authentic learning, commonly referred to as standardised testing, are more interested in grades on a formalised test than they are practical knowledge, problem solving and inquiry.

That’s why they continue to push the rote line:

A campaign group promoting maths has attacked plans to overhaul maths teaching in primary schools in England as “undeliverable”.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, National Numeracy says the draft curriculum is “overloaded” and relies too much on rote learning.

The curriculum, due to come into force in 2014, expects children to know up to the 12-times table by the age of nine.

A government spokesman responded: “It is high time rigour is restored.”

National Numeracy says the plans are “seriously flawed” because they rely too much on rote learning.

The group says that rather than raising standards the new curriculum could in practice prevent pupils from developing a strong underlying understanding of mathematics or from having the confidence to apply mathematical theory to everyday problems.

Click on the link to read The Obstacle Course that is Teaching Maths

Click on the link to read Girls and Maths

Click on the link to read Putting Your Children to Sleep With Math


It isn’t that Hard to Make a “Poor” Teacher a “Good” One

July 12, 2012

There is a theory among educational circles that a struggling teacher can’t improve. This is probably true in today’s climate, but it isn’t a reflection on under-performing teachers, but rather a reflection on the total lack of support given to teachers.

A teacher’s journey begins with a pressurised, yet basically completely useless, teacher training course. This course not only fails to provide teachers with the requisite practical skills but is often taught and run by former teachers who are overjoyed at the prospect of finally being out of the classroom.

Then, if that teacher is lucky enough to score a job at a school with resources, a track record of half-decent behaviour and academic standards (because let’s face it – graduate teachers often go to the toughest schools to teach in), they are left on their own. No mentor, no support system. They are put in an environment where every teacher is in charge of their own classroom and teamwork is often non-existent.

That teacher can always break the unwritten rule and ask for help, but that would be a mistake. A graduate teacher’s first contract is usually a 12-month trial run. That teacher cannot afford to advertise their uncertainty and lack of experience. Teachers are overburdened as it is and many resent having to help an amateur when they have an ever-increasing workload to deal with. Therefore, a graduate teacher that asks for help risks not having their contract extended, thereby risking future employment.

So what do these teachers do? They learn on the job. And that’s where mistakes are made and bad habits are formed.

These bad habits sometimes make them look like “poor” teachers. Many of them are just well intentioned teachers who have never been given the support they needed.

The public are probably very supportive of new regulations that makes it harder for teachers branded “incompetent” from finding a new teaching job. I bid them to see beyond the labels and call on the system to support our teachers rather than replacing them for a newer version of the same thing:

For the first time, schools will be given legal powers to find out whether staff applying for new jobs have previously been subjected to official warnings.

Former employers will be required to disclose any disciplinary action taken against teachers over the last two years to give new schools a more comprehensive picture of their ability.

The regulations – being introduced from this September – come amid fears that too many schools allow weak teachers to leave and find new jobs rather than draw attention to their performance.

In the last decade, just 17 staff in England have been officially struck off for incompetence.

But teachers’ leaders insisted that the regulations would treat teachers “worse than criminals” and force some out of the profession altogether.

Click here to read about how I would solve the problem of the unsupported teacher.

Stripping Summer Holidays and Lengthening School Days is Not a Solution

January 14, 2012

If I wasn’t a teacher I think I would have supported Michael Gove’s push for reduced summer vacation and longer school days. Non-teachers are quick to remind us teachers that our vacation time is too long and our contact hours are just as generous. These same people wouldn’t teach if their life depended on it!

Firstly, while it is true that are holidays are long, we teachers get burnt out by the demands of our job. As much as I love teaching, towards the end of a given term, I am crawling towards the finishing line. Teaching is such a physically and emotionally charged career, it is simply impossible to envisage a 4 week annual holiday like other professions experience.

Secondly, our working hours do not stop at the end of day bell. Unlike many other professions, teachers are expected to take their work with them. From planning and marking to writing reports, teachers are forever working. This includes night, weekends and yes, holidays!

Michael Gove seems to think that quality will come with quantity. I am not so sure:

The school day could be extended and summer holidays reduced, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said yesterday.

Under the proposals for the extended day, pupils could remain in school between 7.30am and 5.30pm and attend on Saturdays, with an extra two weeks potentially being added to school terms.

Over a five-year period, the extended hours would mean pupils gained as much as a year’s worth of extra education, allowing them to take vocational subjects in addition to their exam material.

Asked how this would affect teachers, he said: “If you love your job then there is, I think, absolutely nothing to complain about in making sure you have more of a chance to do it well.”

Mr Gove said the move would benefit “poorer children from poorer homes”, who “lose learning over the long summer holidays”.

Mr. Gove’s assertion that if teachers loved their jobs they would have nothing to complain about is quite insensitive and offensive. I love my job and do the best that I can. But I have limitations. I feel that if I was teaching in England, this proposal would burn me out earlier and more severely. I find it very sad that the Education secretary is so out of touch with teaching and the demands of a modern-day teacher.

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