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Thursday, Aug 30 2012 - by SARAH HARRIS, Daily Mail
Literacy letdown in primary schools

Too many primary schools are failing to teach children how to read, write and spell properly, an Ofsted report said yesterday. The education watchdog said there were problems at most age levels with phonics lessons, which help pupils read by learning the sounds of the alphabet. In tests this year, nearly a third of seven-year-olds failed to reach a good standard in reading and more than four in ten fell short in writing.

By the end of their reception year, five-year-olds in England are expected to be able to hear and say sounds in words as well as link sounds with letters. They should be able to name and speak the letters of the alphabet, write simple words and make reasonable stabs at more complex ones. Previously, children learned to read by memorising individual words rather than the components of words.

The report said: the slow pace of learning and failure to build on pupils' skills created a 'downward pressure on standards' which made it difficult to improve reading and writing. Overall, the teaching of essential phonic skills up to the age of six was 'too slow and unsystematic' and the situation deteriorated as children got older. Word work for six and seven-yearolds was either non-existent or unsatisfactory in a quarter of classes.

The teaching of phonics for eight and nine-year-olds who needed it for spelling and writing was either absent or unsatisfactory in almost two-thirds of lessons, said Ofsted. Tory spokesman Damian Green said: It is very alarming that Ofsted is still finding such basic problems'.

Progressive theories introduced in the late 1960s meant schools were told to let children 'discover' learning at their own pace. Then the 'real books' movement of the early 1980s argued that pupils could absorb words and teach themselves to read if they were simply surrounded by books.

(Unfortunately, these 'trendy' types of theories have created a downward spiral of achievement over the years, not just in literacy, but also in maths, and this is reflected in the comments made in the next news item.)

Department for Education website report (selected points of interest)
Schools Minister Nick Gibb speaks at the ACME annual conference (speech date: 10 July 2012)

We believe that mathematics is an essential part of every child’s educational armoury.... As fundamental to our day-to-day lives as the ability to read, maths allows us to navigate the world by calculating uncertainties and predicting outcomes; spotting patterns and irregularities; by making sense of the calculations of others.... It is also to mathematics that we look first to provide opportunities in study and employment. It is the skeleton-key subject: opening doors to other disciplines and jobs, from archaeology to architecture, engineering to economics, genetics to geology.

Last week, the Sutton Trust revealed that this country is now 26th out of 34 leading nations for the number of young people achieving top grades in maths. Just 1.7 per cent of English 15-year-olds achieved the highest mark, compared with 7.8 per cent in Switzerland, the best performing European country, and 26.6 per cent in Shanghai. And in state comprehensive schools that figure is close to zero. Our 15-year-olds’ maths skills are more than two whole academic years behind 15-year-olds in Shanghai. In the last decade, we have dropped down the international league tables: from 4th to 16th place in science; and from 8th to 28th in maths.... Earlier this month, academics at King’s College showed us that the number of young people with a poor grasp of basic calculation has more than doubled over the last 30 years.

This lack of confidence with numbers is now having a profound impact on our society and our economy. In particular, we know many employers are deeply concerned at the poor level of maths amongst many school leavers.... Most worrying of all perhaps, according to last year’s Skills for Life Survey, up to 17 million adults in this country have only the most basic skills in mathematics: that is to say they have the levels expected of 11-year-olds. These kind of failures ask all of us to take a long, hard look at the system in which they occur, and keep occurring.

Tuesday 22 March 2011 - By Hannah Richardson, BBC News education reporter
England's teacher trainees 'do worse' in maths tests

England's trainee teachers have less mathematical knowledge than their peers in some of our major economic competitors, a study says. Teacher trainees in Japan, China and Russia, easily outperformed those from England in simple mathematical tests. The study for charity CfBT Education Trust found a big variation in the subject knowledge of England's trainees. It suggests raising the maths entry requirement for primary teachers.

To teach at primary level in England teachers need a GCSE grade C in maths or above. But the report recommends increasing this, to an AS level. And it calls for secondary maths teachers, who are currently expected to have an A-level in maths, to take specialised mathematics enhancement courses which concentrate on the mathematical and teaching skills needed to be an effective teacher.

The two-year study for the CfBT charity, carried out by researchers at Plymouth University, subjected 1,400 teachers to a series of mathematical tests. England's primary trainee teachers came second to last out of eight countries with a score of 32.2 out of 60. Japan led the pack with 52.9 out of 60, followed by China on 43.1 and Russia on 41.7. England was also more narrowly outperformed by Finland, Ireland, Hungary but finished above Czech Republic.

Study author Professor David Burghes said, "I don't think many of our trainee teachers have enough conceptual understanding of mathematics at the primary level. Countries that do well at mathematics tend to have a strong foundation at primary school." Researchers also highlighted the high turnover of maths teachers in England's secondary schools, with most only staying for about three or four years.

The report said: "This does lead us to question what happens to these trainees ... which results in such a poor retention rate in English schools?" It also called for new university training schools to be set up in which trainee teachers could train. They would combine theoretical and practical learning, and maintain a link between trainees and university tutors. This would enable trainee teachers to have peer support in their first practice, something that has currently been lacking.

Monday 8 August 2011 - a BBC news education report
Carol Vorderman says pupils should study maths to 18

Carol Vorderman says, "Some children are never taught maths by a maths teacher."
School pupils in England should study maths up to the age of 18, a report for the Conservative Party has said. It says radical change is needed to give children the mathematical skills needed to succeed in a workplace where numeracy is increasingly important. The report, by TV presenter Carol Vorderman, said the current system was failing young people. Almost half of 16-year-olds fail to achieve grade C at GCSE, with just 15% studying maths beyond that level. This compares to almost all other industrialised countries, the report says, where either all, or nearly all, students study maths to the age of 18.

Ms Vorderman, who led a "maths task force" to produce the report, said more than 300,000 16-year-olds each year completed their education without enough understanding of maths to function properly in their work or private lives. She said 24% of economically active adults were "functionally innumerate", and universities and employers complained that school-leavers did not have necessary maths skills.

Ms Vorderman told the BBC that of the pupils who did not achieve the expected standard - level 4 - in the national curriculum tests known as Sats at age 11, some 90% of them will go on to fail to get a C at GCSE. "If you're on the scrap heap by 11, you will remain mathematically on the scrap heap," she said. She recommended that the maths Sats, or national curriculum test, be scrapped, as it led schools to narrow their teaching to focus on the tests. The test brought "no benefit to the children taking it," the report concluded.

calculator Ms Vorderman's team concluded that the GCSE curriculum leans towards advanced topics needed by those who will study maths at A-level, which puts off less gifted pupils. The former Countdown host, a long-standing advocate of better maths study and teaching, said pupils were being taught trigonometry and algebra when "they can't even calculate a percentage". The report recommends that the current maths GCSE should be split into two separate exams. One would offer a higher standard of education in the core areas of the curriculum, such as basic numeracy and personal finance, while the other acted as a preparation for A-level.

The task force also said that many primary school teachers are not adequately prepared to teach the subject and staff shortages mean a quarter of secondary school pupils are taught by non-specialist maths teachers. The report calls for better training to improve primary teachers' subject knowledge and confidence; the active encouragement of maths activities outside the daily lesson; and a new assessment for 11-year-olds to replace Sats.

Ms Vorderman said: "Mathematics is a critically important subject. It is a language without which the entire global infrastructure is struck dumb. "This report does not make comfortable reading. It is aspirational but this does not mean making maths harder for everyone; it means making the teaching better and what is taught much more suitable for those who are learning it." In the face of current financial turmoil, Ms Vorderman said: "Who knows which countries will come out on top in 20 years - is it going to be a country which has a lot of numerate people, or is the one that doesn't bother?"

The Royal Society and Advisory Committee on Mathematics (Acme), have both raised concerns about maths standards and welcomed the report. Acme called for a "broad set of mathematics qualifications that are designed to meet everyone's needs". The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) backed the recommendation for maths study to the age of 18. "Businesses are most concerned about basic levels of numeracy and it's alarming that more than one in five 16-19 year olds are considered functionally innumerate," said Susan Anderson, the body's director for education and skills policy.

But the National Union of Teachers said it was "not entirely sure" why the task group's report was necessary as a full review of the National Curriculum is currently being carried out. General secretary Christine Blower said, "Indeed, the last government looked into it, but a reluctance to match that need with proper funding is the reason nothing ever happens."

Friday, 16 October 2009 UK - a BBC News education report
Should lessons begin at six?

A review of primary education in England says: Children should not start formal learning until they are six. The Cambridge Primary Review also says: The play-based learning featured in nurseries and reception classes should go on for another year. Whilst there is no evidence that an early introduction to formal learning has any benefit, there are suggestions it can do some harm.

Government ministers say a starting age of six would be completely counter-productive.
Most children start primary school in England aged four, and many take up pre-school places in local schools and privately-run nurseries from the age of three whch follows a play-based curriculum including some early literacy and numeracy goals.

Continuing this informal but structured learning for a year or so would bring children in England in line with many European countries, where school starts at six or even seven, and standards are often higher. Even in Wales a play-based curriculum has been extended to the end of Key Stage 1, when children are aged seven. A similar system is also being introduced in Northern Ireland. "This would give sufficient time for children to establish positive attitudes to learning and begin to develop the language and study skills which are essential to their later progress," says the review, which is based on six years of academic work.

Dame Gillian Pugh, (review co-author) said four and five-year-olds tended to be at a stage where they were just "tuning in" to learning and that they could be "turned off" if they were made to follow too formal a curriculum, too early on. But, she argued, it would not hold back brighter children who were ready to begin basic numeracy and literacy in reception classes.

The review also notes that there are downward pressures to get children in reception year ready for the early years of school and the tests that follow.

The authors also call for national assessment tests, known as Sats, to be abandoned, saying their high-stakes nature, being linked to league tables, encourages a too-narrow focus on literacy and numeracy. Professor Robin Alexander: ''We don't think Sats are fit for purpose... SATs are narrowly focused and distort the curriculum''. Instead, children should be assessed on the broad range of subjects throughout primary school and at its end, but these assessments should be used to monitor children's progress rather than hold teachers accountable (Welsh schoolchildren no longer sit Sats at 7, 11 and 14, nor are school league tables used there any more).

The review says, primary schools are "pillars of stability" that are highly valued by parents and pivotal to communities. England's schools minister Vernon Coaker said the government was already reforming primary education to make the curriculum less prescriptive and free it up for teachers. He added: "A school starting age of six would be completely counter-productive" (a bit diversionary because that's not what the review was saying at all) "- we want to make sure children are playing and learning from an early age and to give parents the choice for their child to start in the September following their fourth birthday".

Conclusion: This was not a 'fly by night' report, but an amalgamation of over 40 studies, published over 6 years, into the best ways to educate our children for the future. To put right some of the mistakes that continue to strangle educational progress. The Government, in it's wisdom (all parties), has chosen to ignore the report, saying that it's not an acceptable proposal, including the part about abolishing SATs, which it has rejected outright.
The idea of learning through play is obviously 'lost' on most politicians, and they may have their heads in the sand, but as parents, we all know that children learn best through play. The whole philosophy behind the maths games in this project follows very closely these new recommendations and so you will see why I am all in favour. You too can decide to take the initiative yourself and strengthen the foundation stage education that is available to your child.
Visit the maths program page and order your package today!



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