Mathematics in the Primary School by Peter Favell

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The report by Sir Peter Williams makes ten recommendations regarding primary schools and early years mathematics and also describes some of the impacts this will have on teachers, children and families. I intend to break down this essay into sections to discuss each of these recommendations. These sections will directly correspond to the chapters in the Williams report.

The teacher- Initial Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development.

Recommendation 1 (see appendix 1)

This recommendation will essentially mean that there will be an increase in academic levels of all trainee teachers. Although it's been suggested by Williams that this should only occur once the GCSE mathematics I and II are in place I feel that it will in essence make very little difference to the teachers of the future. Currently only candidates reaching degree level are accepted into training however, most Early Years practitioners or Primary school teachers still don't necessarily come from a mathematics/ science based background (with only 227 out of the 9937 total accepted onto the primary PGCE were from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths) backgrounds)(Williams Report pg.10) which means that there will still be a gap between the GCSE level maths being completed and the teacher starting Initial Teacher Training. I also feel that the possibility of increasing the required entry level to a level 3 qualification at either AS or A-level will cause difficulty for students who will have to decide about their relevant subject options for their chosen career by the end of GCSE's which would for many be an un-realistic expectation. Ucas said an unprecedented 661,000 candidates applied for university this year (www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23868715-millions-of-a-level-students-in-battle-for-university-places.do) of which 77001 students studied and achieved A-level maths. (www.lms.ac.uk/news/2010/PR010_8_A_level_results.pdf ) I believe this adjustment of the requirement levels would put more prospective teachers off and as such there is potential for a shortfall of teachers when only a select few will have chosen the preferred subjects at A-level. This could also lead to a lack of variety of other subject specialists as this will shape the subjects chosen from a much earlier age.

Recommendation 2 (see appendix 1)

I agree that it is important for local authorities to up skill their mathematics consultants but I believe, more important, is the way these consultants work. These people need not be the best at mathematics i.e. a first from Oxbridge, but instead need to have the personal skills to work well within schools and be supportive to them and avoid the tendency to appear as though they're an outside agency here to check up on the school. The most important element that these experts can have is the sharing of pedagogical knowledge which is needed in the classroom. If this can be achieved then I can see a clear increase in pedagogical teaching within schools which will obviously be good for the young people in schools and serve to improve the standards they are able to achieve.

Recommendation 3 (see appendix 1)

This recommendation has massive implications on every school within the UK. The most obvious implication is the immediate financial issue. Most schools operate very close to the financial boundaries/constraints they have already without now increasing outlay to fund these specialist teachers. Although I agree with the initial recommendation of maintaining a high level of skill where possible I have concerns regarding the financial situations and where this money will come from. Would this, or could this extra outlay cause another part of the curriculum to be un-intentionally inhibited? Also the time scale for this recommendation seems too long. If ten years is the time frame available to some head-teachers then I would imagine some will use the whole ten years which could mean any advantage of this recommendation being restricted or any benefit to the children being diluted until the specialist teacher is in place.

Having stated arguments against this recommendation it is important to realise that financially it could also save schools money if they already have a maths specialist on the staff with these teachers being available to impart their specialist knowledge to other members of the school staff, saving them from having to use local authorities for training purposes. This specialist mathematics teacher would also be ideally positioned to make lesson observations and from them be able to create personal career development options for colleagues. I think also one of the most important arguments for the specialist mathematics teacher is that someone with a better in-depth knowledge of mathematics would be much better suited to improve the levels of the top range of the year six cohort. Also this recommendation could cause issues regarding staff movement should your maths specialist leave the school for whatever reason or for however long (i.e. Retirement, Maternity leave) then will schools be required to appoint another maths specialist to replace them? Is this a good thing?

The Early Years

Recommendation 4 (see appendix 1)

This recommendation is the easiest to implement and one that would be inexpensive given that recommendation 2 is in place. I feel its immediate implications in the Early Years Foundation Stage could be quite large scale when combined with existing material and use of the internet. Assuming schools have "good" teachers in them it probably won't make a massive difference to the everyday running of lessons. The tools provided by the DCSF should only aid and improve this area of teaching rather than be seen as a complete overhaul of the existing system. I suppose to assume schools all have good teachers across the board has potential for inadequacies as,

"Of almost 4,000 inspections carried out between September 2009 and March 2010, 11 per cent of schools were judged outstanding, 42 per cent good and 38 per cent satisfactory." (http://www.cypnow.co.uk/news/ByDiscipline/Education/1010519/Ofsted-inspections-highlight-higher-percentage-inadequate-schools/ )

Which means that there would have to be some practitioners attending schools to make sure there is some level of consistency across different schools.

Recommendation 5 (see appendix 1)

The implications of including time and capacity in the Early Years Foundation Stage review will undoubtedly increase the level of learning for the children and provide early knowledge of skills for life. These ideas could be linked cross-curiccularly in a creative way, possibly using Paul Ginnis or Chris Quigly ideas, and will add interest to any topics studied by introducing real-life situations and problem solving.

Recommendation 6- (see appendix 1)

I am aware that this is something the DCSF have been pushing forward for some time and that increasing the level of qualifications within early years provision could of course increase the knowledge about mathematics within these formative years for children however, more importantly the review panel are pushing for more graduate teachers within Early years Foundation Stage which would help support children's play within effective mathematical pedagogy. But this will only be successful if these graduates have the training to enable them to impart this knowledge to a younger age range. Many highly skilled subject practitioners find it difficult to transfer their own knowledge to a younger audience.

Under-attainment and intervention- Every child counts

Recommendation 7 (see appendix 1)

Intervention programmes happen within the school environment whether by plan or accidentally all the time. Some children don't fulfil their potential in a group environment or just need a different stimulus to attain that level of understanding which comes easily to others. Interventions, when done properly by a qualified person, is a fantastic thing, however, recommendation 7 states that "it is important that the child is committed to it and that the

parents or carers are involved and understand the nature of the programme," which on paper sounds a good idea but in reality isn't always possible. Children that will benefit from intervention are often disengaged children or those with little or no family support for a variety of reasons. This recommendation appears to be saying that if a child's parents or carers are not committed to this intervention then they should be passed over. Teachers cannot assume parents or carers will support their child as they may have deep rooted issues regarding their own schooling and learning and this is often mathematics in particular and as such not considered by them as important. It is my belief that intervention is vital with or without parent/carers backing. Ideally it should be with, working together for the benefit of the child. Potentially it could change a child's life and break the cycle of stunted learning if done properly and should be seen as an essential part of their time in early years education.

Every Child Counts is an initiative developed by the government that has already started to make a difference using intervention in fact the Every Child Counts results from the first year state:

"In the 2008-9 school year we gave 2,621 low achieving seven year olds one-to-one help with numeracy. They made on average 13.5 months progress in Number Age in just 20 hours of teaching spread over three months - over four times the 'normal' rate of

progress." http://www.everychildachancetrust.org/pubs/ECC_first_year_results.pdf

This is surely a brilliant result and one I would assume they'd be keen to repeat year on year.

Recommendation 8 (see appendix 1)

This recommendation concerns guidelines within intervention. All the points in this recommendation are valid and have their own merits though they have their own faults too, I am drawn to point V which states that not only should intervention be "...complete by the end of KS1..." but it also states that "...where a child needs intervention in both literacy and numeracy, both must be given equal priority..." (Williams et al.2008)

Firstly there should surely not be constraints and limitations put upon when the intervention is necessary. This should come from a union of consultants involved and not be based purely on a child's age. If a child needs extra assistance in KS2 then s/he should be provided with this help. The second point is regarding the equality of literacy and numeracy. I think it quite absurd that they would give equal priority to both subjects. If a child is struggling in literacy especially in reading then that child will flounder in every other subject. If a child can't read or write properly then this child can surely not be expected to then learn the language of mathematics using different symbols etc. And will not manage when it comes to deciphering word problems. A firm grasp of basic literacy must surely take priority. Point V also contradicts substantially with recommendation 3 as surely if we are to introduce specialist maths teachers then to give equal priority we must also appoint a specialist literacy teacher. I believe that any further study regarding intervention will only serve to prove how beneficial it can be.

Curriculum and Pedagogy

Recommendation 9 (see appendix 1)

This makes sense. Finally we have reached the point where some common sense has prevailed. It's not broken so don't fix it. The curriculum is and has been agreed by the GTC that it is acceptable to teachers, parents etc. So the fact that this panel have decided it is ok will probably have zero effect on the teachers, children etc. Who use it every day.

Recommendation 10 (see appendix 1)

This recommendation could be read in many different ways but my interpretation is that the report has found a weakness in the provision of oral and mental maths which having read the other recommendations it would appear they are blaming on a lack of initial and basic understanding of maths by teachers. This could also be why the panel have recommended the level of maths needs to be higher for Initial Teacher Training. (Currently trainee teachers only need a grade c at GCSE. "While this demonstrates a basic understanding of the subject, it does not constitute in itself 'deep subject knowledge'"(Williams et al 2008)) I think being told that the teachers need a renewed focus on these two subject areas specifically, might just remind teachers that these are as important, if not more important, than the written form of mathematics. The implications of this would hopefully be a renewed burst of teaching these which would improve children's understanding of mental maths and help them in their everyday lives with things such as shopping etc.

To conclude, this report has many valid points and many of these will have positive influences in schools across the UK. As mentioned earlier the curriculum has been agreed by the GTC and would seem to be acceptable to those who present it (the teachers) and those who see the benefits (the parents.) The requirements of the curriculum have in the past been changed many times and now I believe it is time for some stability. The William's report has many factors influencing its recommendations including the letter from the secretary of state asking for some considerations for certain areas of the mathematics structure. I think that it is time to keep the curriculum and the way it is presented by teachers stable and consistent. It is generally accepted that children respond well to stability within the school environment yet it seems people wish to change things yet again. Yes, children are resilient and can cope with massive changes but, should they?

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