Changes To Math Education and the Smith Report Education Essay

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The purpose behind this briefing paper is to provide the Secretary of State for Education with an idea as to how the Smith Report, 2004 "Making Mathematics Count" has changed Maths education in England. It is important that the Secretary of State for Education to understand how important the Smith Report has been to the advancement of Maths education and what recommendations have not yet been implemented. It is important at this juncture to state that the political landscape has changed in England since the publishing of this Report, thus this may have had an impact on the continuing role which the Smith Report has had on post-14 mathematics education in England.

Mathematics Education Pre-Smith:

Mathematics is an important subject to be studied in any educational system, and this is the case within the English system. Smith (2004: p. 3) reiterates the position of mathematics within society

'The Inquiry regards it as vital that society fully recognises the importance of mathematics: its importance for its own sake, as an intellectual discipline; for the knowledge economy; for science, technology and engineering; for the workplace; and for the individual citizen.'

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Smith (2004) believes that mathematics is important to the structure of society. It is an important tool for the citizens of any society as users of the end product. Smith (2004: p. 13) believes that both children and adults should have a fundamental knowledge of mathematics

'The acquisition of at least basic mathematics skills - commonly referred to as "numeracy" - is vital to the life opportunities and achievements of individual citizens.'

Smith (2004) reiterates that numeracy is an important basic skill, as this can lead to disadvantages for individuals in the labour market, as well as in social situations. There is a requirement within the labour market for basic mathematical skills and who do not possess this are less likely to be employed or indeed to enjoy the prospect of promotion.

Hoyles et al (1999: p. 17) identifies two problems within the educational system, in particular the subject of mathematics

'the supply of teachers capable of delivering this mathematics, and the amount of time that should be devoted to mathematics (in the widest sense) within the curriculum at different stages.'

Hoyles et al (1999) cite Geoffrey Howson (1996) advising that the most important lesson which can be learned from mathematics in a historical sense is the central position of the teacher. The acknowledgement that mathematics is integral as a basic social skill is paramount to the education system in England. The importance of mathematics education in England is to ensure that the citizens have the appropriate level of mathematical skills to function effectively within society. The problem which has been perceived with the dwindling numbers of students studying mathematics post-16 is the poor quality of the teaching and learning experience, the difficulty of the subject, and the failure of the curriculum to enhance motivation for the subject and the total unawareness of the importance of mathematics to everyday situations.

The Smith Report 2004:

The Smith Report is entitled "Making Mathematics Count" and was an inquiry conducted by Professor Adrian Smith on behalf of Department for Education and Skills (DfES). It was set in motion as a Governmental response of "Investing in Innovation" to the UK wide review of "Set for Success: The Supply of People with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Skill" by Sir Gareth Roberts. According to Smith (2004: p. 163), this report was

'To make recommendations on changes to the curriculum, qualifications and pedagogy for those 14 and over in schools, colleges and higher education institutions to enable those students to acquire the mathematical knowledge and skills necessary to meet the requirements of employers and of further and higher education.'

The three key issues which have been identified by the Smith Report 2004 are: the shortage of specialist mathematics teachers, the failure of the current curriculum, assessment and qualifications framework in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to meet the learning needs and satisfy the requirements as well as the expectations of both employers and higher education institutions, and the shortage of resources, infrastructure and the sustainment of a continuing professional development culture which supports and nurtures mathematics teachers.

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Mathematics education is crucial, and should be highlighted as such to the Government and its agencies. The problem which has been highlighted in the Smith Report (2004: p. 4) that currently obstacles between the DfES and Learning and Skills Council (LSC)

'creates an obstacle to providing a coherent strategy for mathematics education throughout the 14 - 19 stage.'

The Report (2004) also found that there is a significant shortage in specialist maths teachers in maintained secondary schools in England and that a percentage of 30% of those teaching maths don't have a post A-Level qualification in the subject.

Changes which have occurred in the political landscape since the 2004 Report:

There have been many changes in the political landscape of England since Smith's 2004 report. There have been significant changes in the leadership of the main political parties, which in turn has lead to a new Prime Minister in the 2010 General Election. Since 2004, it is significant to understand that through the changes within the political landscape in England, many good intentions have been laid by the wayside.

Changes which have been made to Mathematics education in England as a response to the Smith Report:

Significant changes have been made to mathematics education in England as a result of the Smith Report. There was great concern for the future of mathematics education, and the Smith Report highlighted the need for a national strategy for mathematical education in England. The role which Smith recommends that the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) gained widespread recognition for the future of the teaching of mathematics.

In 2006, the Department of Education established the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) as a direct result of the Smith Report. This centre supports the continuing professional development of mathematics teacher. The ACME Report (2006: p. 10) explain that the Centre

'would support and value teachers, and aimed to facilitate, enhance and provide leadership for all aspects of CPD to mathematics teachers in England.'

The main problem noted by Smith in his 2004 Report was the supply of teachers with a specialist knowledge which should be fundamental to the teaching of mathematics. The two main outcomes of the Smith Report, according to the ACME Report (2006) was to establish a channel for mathematics and its community, and to establish a link through the creation of a Chief Advisor on Mathematics, between the DfES and the LSC. This measure has resulted in the coherent and focused approach to the development of mathematics teaching.

It is necessary to understand the implications which the recommendations the Smith Report suggested have had on mathematics education. Funding is required to make many of the recommendations and this needs to come from the Department of Education. It is also necessary to improve the entry requirements of teachers into the mathematical field of education. The necessary function of ACME, the DfES and the LSC's is to enhance and develop the role of the mathematics teachers and this should include the need for a post A-Level qualification in the subject to teach the subject. There is also a need for the subject to be made more attractive for students to allow them to be more aware of the subject and to be able to engage the subject. This also can be an effect of having a teacher who is suitably qualified to teach the subject, thus having the ability to engage the student in this discipline. There is a need for the constant support and training for the mathematics teacher. This should be a necessary requirement for entry into the profession.

Have the objectives and recommendations set out by the Smith Report been met and implemented?

There are still unresolved issues which remain, while many of the issues have been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. According to the ACME Report (2006: p. 2) there is the question of whether

'new 14 - 19 mathematics qualifications will increase the uptake of mathematics post-16 be enabling students to engage more effectively with the subject.'

There is still work which remains to be done to fully implement the recommendations of the Smith Report. The ACME Report (2006) which was concluded two years after the Smith Report outlines two issues which remain unresolved.

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The first issue is the supply and retention of suitably qualified mathematics teachers. It is essential that teachers are trained and developed to a level to which they suit the subject they are teaching. The second issue is the ability to give all students the opportunity to study mathematics at a level which is suitable for them. It is important that the student is allowed to participant in the subject at a level where they are capable of studying as well as allowing them some satisfaction in a subject which they have an interest.

As concluded earlier in this report, there is a distinct need for the teacher to be suitably qualified and have the ability to engage the student. There is also the issue of funding for the appropriate training and development of the mathematics teacher. It may not be possible to adhere to this kind of commitment as the Department of Education has a set budget and the funding may be allocated elsewhere. It is necessary to allow the student the opportunity to enjoy the subject and to be taught the subject correctly. Historically and socially, mathematics has been an important subject. It is an essential everyday skill which should be maintained to a level where the individual citizen can function in everyday society. The education system within England should make allowances for this and attempt to develop this within the curriculum, whether it is in the form of funding or the encouragement of the subject towards the student.

Conclusion:

Hoyles et al (1999: p. 17) explain that

'The history of mathematics and its symbiosis with the development of advanced societies is a missing dimension in its teaching, at all levels.'

The evidence is in the Smith Report and it seems that this could be the single most important factor which hinders the teaching and student participant of mathematics. While there has been progress in the development and training of mathematics teachers, it has not been enough. There are those who still teach the subject without a post A-Level qualification and it would seem that it is necessary to implement a more coherent and stringent procedure for the training and professional development of the mathematics teachers. The Smith Report was a crucial document which initiated the need for reform within the teaching of mathematics.

It is necessary for further reports and investigations into the unresolved issues which have been reported in the Smith Report. In order to implement the findings and recommendations from the Smith Report and any future reports, it is necessary for the Government and its agencies to take on board any recommendations which could improve the curriculum and teacher training in this subject. It is also necessary for outside agencies to be involved in further research so as to not create a bias on one viewpoint.