The UK Government have released a draft primary school Programme of Study for mathematics for consultation.

The announcement was much covered in the press, which focused on the ‘back to basics’ approach. The Daily Mail reported that “times tables are to be put back at the heart of the curriculum for children’s first years at school for the first time in decades” with other details reported including learning how to calculate using decimal places and fractions, and dealing with numbers up to ten million.

The Telegraph highlights a problem I am all too aware of through my day job (supporting teaching of maths at university):

When business and industry complain – as they so frequently do – about the quality of the graduates they are asked to find jobs for, the universities tend to blame the secondary schools for not preparing students adequately for the demands of higher education. The secondaries, in turn, blame the primary schools for failing to equip pupils with the basic skills needed at GCSE or A-level.

The newspaper reports that “the highest priority will be given to English, science and maths – a reflection of the decline in numeracy that prompted this newspaper’s Make Britain Count campaign” and “the most glaring gaps in the present curriculum, such as the failure to teach the use and multiplication of fractions (a vital precursor to studying algebra), will be addressed.”

However, the FT quotes Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union, saying the plans would “lead to a uniform education, with next to no opportunity for teachers to excite children and adapt learning to suit their pupils”.

A letter in the Guardian from Professor Norman Thomas highlights a problem with rote learning:

It reminds me of asking a class of nine-year-olds, back in the 1950s, what five times 13 is. Practically the whole class put up their hands and I singled out one boy. “You can’t have five times 13. It only goes up to 12 times,” he said.

However, the Telegraph article takes an alarmist stance against such criticism:

Mr Gove’s critics will doubtless claim that teachers are already trying their hardest, and that micro-managing classrooms further, and putting more pressure on pupils, will be counter-productive. Why should it matter, they will say, that an 11-year-old only knows their 10 times tables, rather than their 12? This, of course, is to miss the point spectacularly. A touchy-feely insistence on letting children learn at their own pace, and a lazy tolerance of low standards, have blighted the lives of millions. They have also had calamitous consequences for the economy … By challenging Britain’s teachers and pupils to do better, Mr Gove hopes to turn around decades of educational under-performance. Let us hope he succeeds – and, indeed, that it is not already too late.

I could happily keep quoting newspaper articles and and forth all day – and we could talk about the comments threads too. However, I have other things to do. I will say that one thing most reports seem to miss is that these proposals are in draft and currently out for consultation.The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and the Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education (ACME) are seeking to collect views and coordinate a response.

The NCETM and ACME are working together to facilitate discussion with the community to bring in subject expertise in an open and transparent way to support the development of a National Curriculum, with Programmes of Study as good as they can be, and with input from the best in their field. The input received from the mathematics community via ACME will be used to inform the public consultation on the just-released draft primary Programmes of Study.

Find out about the consultation process (including online and physical meetings) via the NCETM website.

**Sources**

Daily Mail: Gove on a mission to restore times tables: Primary schools told to return to traditional values.

Telegraph: Michael Gove is right: we must do better.

FT: Primary schools face curriculum shake-up.

Guardian: The trouble with Michael Gove’s primary school proposals.

You! Gove! Stand in the corner and write out 100 times: “Times tables are not a panacea.”

The problem isn’t that there’s not enough stuff being covered, it’s that kids aren’t enthused about learning maths. Getting them to recite “7 twelves are 84” isn’t going to make anything better.

I’m not saying ‘don’t learn times tables’, just that saying ‘all of maths is based on times tables’ is as daft as saying ‘all of poetry is based on spelling’. You could spend years 1-6 having pupils memorise dictionaries, but that’ll do very little to help them appreciate Shakespeare.

Rant ends.