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Mathematics for all?

March 16, 2016 5 comments

As part of George Osborne’s budget statement today he made some comments about mathematics education. He said that they would look into teaching mathematics to 18 for all pupils. This has caused a lot of discussion on twitter and the treasury have since clarified that by “looking into teaching mathematics to 18 for all” he actually meant “look to improve a level teaching” – why he didn’t just say that is beyond me….

The bigger debate that seems to have opened is whether mathematics should be taught to all. There seems to be people in both camps on this one, and it’s something I’ve thought about many times.

Some of the arguments for it that I read suggest that for non a level students this would be a great time to learn about the life skills. I would argue that that’s not actually mathematics, it’s more numeracy. And I’ve often thought that they should be taught as distinctly different subjects, with numeracy a core subject and mathematics one that is chosen as an option from KS4 onwards. I sometimes think this would be a great idea, strip back the core curriculum entirely to just numeracy,  literacy and citizenship, leaving a wide range of options and a lot of time in the timetable to build truly bespoke schooling. Students could study academic or vocational qualifications and perhaps we could get both right. However I realise this would be a logistical nightmare, and I worry massively that 14 year olds would be picking things that defined the rest of their life, so the other part of me thinks actually we should be prescribing a broad curriculum giving everyone a fair grounding and allow them to choose at 18 what to specialise in.

But what about in our current situation?

Given the situation we have at pre 16, I started to think about the idea of compulsory maths to 18. Clearly making A level maths compulsory won’t work. I’m told that around 50 % of those who attempt it with a grade B fail in Y12, that’s a massive amount of students we would be setting up to fail, and that’s not counting the A grade students who can’t handle the step up or the C grade students who wouldn’t have a strong enough grounding in algebra to succeed.

What about core maths?

I’ve been teaching this as part of the early adopters programme and I am quite impressed by the qualification. We do the AQA version and I’ve found the specification has enough stuff that fits the “life skills” heading to cover that aim of it while also having some more mathematical elements. The optional papers give the option of creating a course that fits the needs of each student best,  and I’m looking forward to continuing teaching it and seeing it develop.

But should it be compulsory?

Again, I’m torn on this,  I can see that the life skills bits would be good for anyone to learn. On top of that the other bits offer help with a vast range of other subjects and future job roles and help build logical thought, all of which I feel would be a good argument for making it compulsory. But it eats into the time they could be spending working on the things that are really important to them and the qualifications that they directly need to move to the next stage of their lives plan.

One thing I find ill thought out about the qualification is the 2.5 hours a week for 2 years suggestion. The idea was that it was to ease the burden and to spread it out, however I found that students were disengaged around exam time as it was the only subject they weren’t examined in. We also lost a lot of candidates after year 1 as they secured apprenticeships and basically had a years working without any sort of credit. We think going forward that it is better suited as a 1 year 5 hours a week course, perhaps students could do core maths in Y12 followed by EPQ in Y13? This would mean, however that the objective of keeping students in maths education to 18 was no longer being met.

I certainly agree with the compulsory resitting of GCSEs up to 18, although the previous comments around Maths and numeracy are certainly highlighted in this issue too.

As you can probably tell, I have conflicting views on a lot of this, and I’m still trying to.make sense of them. I’d love to hear your views on this. Do you thing all students should have to do maths to 18? Do you think they even need to do it to 16 or should we split maths and numeracy? What are your views on the idea of a stripped bare curriculum where students build their own? Would you have the same 3 core subjects as me, or different ones? Or would you prefer my other idea of a broader curriculum where students are a bit older by the time they need to make those massive decisions? Please let me know in the comments, via social media or email.

Core Mathematics

September 17, 2014 1 comment

I was intrigued when I heard of plans for a new qualification in maths that would be for those post 16 students who had attained a C or above in maths but we’re not going on to study A level maths. I think this is an excellent idea, I feel that the thinking skills, life skills and employability skills that this offers will be of massive benefit to a vast number of people.

I was excited, when I interview for my new post, to discover the school were planning on putting a bid in to become early adopters of the qualification. We won the bid and we have since been waiting eagerly to discover the exact content of the qualification which is due in full in November.

In September, when we started the course we had very little available, there was no syllabus, the core maths support programme (cmsp) had some initial info about projects but no examples and we were left to start teaching in the dark, as it were. From the info we got from cmsp we managed to create a list of topics, some from GCSE and some from A level, which would be requirements of the course. We then planned the first few weeks around these.

Our cohort is entirely made up if pupils with C grades, so it was certainly beneficial for them to cover the topics from the higher GCSE syllabus first and they have all made progress. In this area.

Last week the cmsp put up some example projects, and so this week we tried the shockwheat one. I really enjoyed it, and the majority of the learners did too. They found the Maths fairly easy, but it was good to show them an introduction to modelling that would be used in a non-mathematical environment in the world of work.

I am still quote excited about the course, and can’t wait for the full details to be published in November. In the meantime, I’m attending an AQA course on Monday which I’m fairly excited about and hope will give me more info!

Grid Method Matrix Multiplication

October 18, 2013 5 comments

This week I was “tweeted” at by one of my “followers” (@bt2bn) with the “hashtag” #MTBOS. I thought, “I wonder what that stands for?” and promptly looked it up. It stands for “Math(s) Twitter BlogO Sphere” and I thought “that sounds like something I’d be into.” So I signed up. (Sorry for the unworldly amount of quotation marks in that opening stanza…)

On further inspection, the #MTBoS seems to be a maths based #blogsync. This week’s prompt was to choose a tweet you’ve favourited and write about it. And this tweet arrived in my feed today and fits the bill entirely.

image

I retweeted this, and it turns out that quite a few people did already know about it and teach it this way. I’ve never encountered this method before, but given that the preferred multiplication  method for most of my pupils is the grid method, it would seem to make sense to offer this as an option next time it comes up.

I was intrigued to see this new method, and I was also intrigued to know so many were using it. If you do, I’d be interested to here your views, and if there are any draw backs. I’ve got a while before it comes up this year, so I’m going to play around with it and get a real feel for any positive or negative points, and to see which method I feel is better for understanding.–

Equality, Engagement and Lifelong Learning

October 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Today has been a good day, 3 of my lessons went fantastically well, one went quite well and the other was a mock (not my favourite things, but certainly things that are useful to measure the progress of the class and inform future planning). Then after work I attend a seminar at Leeds University with a particularly inspirational speaker.

The seminar was nominally around the future of Vocational education at post 16, but in reality it was much wider and focused around the bigger issues of engagement, pedagogy and education policy.

The starting point for the seminar was the 1963 Newsom Report: Half Our Future. At the start of the seminar the summary of the report (as displayed here) and I was immediately stricken by the amount of the suggestions in the summary which were entirely relevant today.

Equality of education

The report and the seminar both look at the importance of education, and how a fair society would incorporate and equality in education. Equality is something I feel extremely passionate about equality in education (I have written before on this subject here and here). I feel that as a society we are failing if we allow the future if our children to be mapped out by the postcode they are born in, or any other reason for that matter. During the seminar the reasons for inequality were broached and It was suggested that the reason for this was political, and rooted in the class system in the UK. This really got me thinking, I have written briefly about this before, but I have never thought about it on this level. On my way home I ran into traffic, and I had many of the issues raised running round my head. I couldn’t help but wonder how different the country would be if people like Kier Hardie hadn’t fought for an equal education. Would we still be born into lives which were fully mapped our? Would I be hard at work in a manufacturing plant because I am a Yorkshireman? These are the questions I was left with and I’m pretty sure that the answers would be yes. For these reasons I feel that we are in a situation where our education policy is too closely linked to political ideology. This gives rise to vast changes which are not given a proper chance. The role of Education Secretary has been something of a revolving door, and as such the changes have been fast and frequent. This worries me. I feel that policy decisions should be made in the best interests of all the young people in the country, not to make political points, and I see a need for a review of the structures involved, if we are to see an improvement.

Vocational education

During the seminar I found out some interesting facts about vocational education and the different approaches that different countries take on it. I was interested to hear that those with the most success are those who offer a wide range of general education, along with the vocational training. This made me think of the recent policy discussions in the UK around new core maths qualifications at post 16 level. I think there is a need for further maths study past the GCSE grade C, but I think it should be focussed around numeracy and functional maths, as opposed to the abstract, and technical, maths covered at A Level. A Level maths should prepare those who do it for further academic study (preferably in maths, but equally in economics, one of the sciences or the such). This new qualification should prepare students for the rest of their lives. It should enhance their opportunities academically and in future careers. I’ve yet to see anything concrete about the New qualification, but I’m looking forward to finding out about it when it arrives.

Engagement

Engagement is something that is a problem for many in the country, and something that everyone has a say in. A portion of the seminar was around reengaging the disengaged, and this is something I’m keen to know more about. The figures around those who are classified as NEET are quite worrying, but they are improving. The fact that these figures are higher in areas where there is more poverty is a sign that we still have a long way to go before we find a truly equal society, with an education system offering true equality.

I spent some time on the drive home thinking about engagement. Thinking about my classes specifically and the levels of engagement in them. The persistent absentees who disengage from school entirely, and the disengaged pupils who come to school, but avoid work. As teachers we need to recognise that these pupils are as worthy of our time than all the others, and we must endeavour to give them an equal shot at success. I don’t have the answer to how. I feel every pupil is different, every class is different, and we need to keep trying new things until we can achieve this goal. (You can see other post on engagement here, here, here and here).

Lifelong learning

Hattie, my current reading list (which is quite long) includes this name a few times, because almost every blog or article I read, and inset or MA training I attend or any conversation I have involves him. I’m yet to read any of his meta analyses, but I’m led to believe that his findings suggest that the most important factor to improve outcomes is that teachers see themselves as learners. And this is something I can fully understand. I love learning, and would like to continue to be a learner for my whole life, this learning mindset is important, I hope it will rub off and inspire my pupils to look at continued education and to raise their aspirations. I can also see that being a learner will help me teach, my brain will be in learning mode and I will find it easier to think like a learner, thus will aid my planning and help me ensure pupils are making the best progress. Finally, my MA is in Education and Professional Enquiry, I will be analysis and conducting research and applying it to my own practice, thus keeping my practice in a state of constant reflection, renewal and hopefully improvement.

Now, I just need to find some time to knock some titles off this reading list….

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