Monday, February 22, 2010

Six and Two Fours

Oh I also watched some of the Dispatches programme last week which basically said that your child has no chance of learning to do sums because their teacher probably can't even add up. The latest official Guru (why do these people always look a bit odd?) was on hand to wave his arms around and make learning fun.

What scared me was the attitude of the young Primary school teachers. They all shrugged their shoulders and came out with something along the lines of:

"I struggled with Maths at school because it wasn't taught very well and the teacher wasn't very nice to me etc..." Rather than:

"Yes I really must make an effort to learn how to do basic maths because err... I'm being paid to teach it"

It's always easier to be a victim than sit down with a book. I'm not saying that you need to be Isaac Newton to teach Primary school maths, but the results of the simple test at the end of this article are very worrying. No wonder ever increasing numbers of children start Secondary school without any grounding in the basics. I'd like to see what the results of a similar English test would be.

Still, I always feel that we concentrate too much on the negatives: rather than worrying about the 64% of teachers who can't do sums, let's celebrate the 46% who can.


LizzieLove said...

Isn't this another case of demonising overworked and under-supported teachers? Surely what's really to blame is the current tendency of schools to focus much of their staff development on ever more ludicrous Ofsted requirements and 'how to be outstanding', at the expense of subject-specialism refreshers and updates. All teachers need time to reflect on their skills and expertise. I'm not a primary school teacher so I might be completely wrong about this (and I'm sure someone will tell me if I am!), but this is certainly the case in Further Education. The only staff development we seem to get these days is how to fill in a risk assessment form and what bits of paper need to go in our course files. Of course maths teachers should be able to do these sums, but who decided which group of teachers would take part in this survey? Perhaps some of them had been teaching a lower level of maths for several years. One can't jump to the conclusion that because of this one survey, all maths teachers are useless.

Hill said...

My God Lizzie, if teachers need 'subject specialism refreshers and updates' to do simple arithmetic then I for one don't want them anywhere near my own children.

I do not think that test would have challenged a bright 12 year old. As I have one handy, I will get him to try it this evening and let you know the result.

Anonymous said...

Judging by the emails that are circulated at work, a fair few secondary teachers could do with some lessons in basic English.

I'm about to take on a x-curricular literacy role. I reckon I should start with some of the staff.

MarkUK said...

I'm with Hill and Anon@18.25.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but don't teachers have to have Maths & English at GCSE grade C or above? (Or equivalent - but what is the equivalent? "O"-level Maths was a much higher standard.)

I opened an email today where a deputy head of department rendered lessons as "lesson's" and spelled entrance as "enterance".

Am I right to be appalled?

Anonymous said...

Do you want to check your own maths addition? 64% and 46% makes 110%. Or was that a trick statement to see if we are paying attention?
Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

If you are talking about young teachers would they be between 23 and 30? If so they would have been in secondary education in the early to mid 1990's! Am I right or is my adding and subtracting a bit out? Anyway I'm sure there was this really big initiative in education around that time. It was going to improve teaching and learning SO MUCH! But I can't quite remember what it was called ..........

Anonymous said...

PS. It is also true that 5 out of every 3 people can't do fractions!

Anonymous said...

MarkUK... if they're recent graduate teachers a GCSE grade C is probably what an E was when I took my O level.

Kind of related: I've just told 'management' that I refuse to teach GCSE English from September on. I'm expected to spend a disproportionate amount of my time wet nursing the CD borderliners thanks to the obsession with league tables. Coursework deadlines mean bugger all and the extra 'support' they get is tantamount to cheating. I'm also having to run additional classes after school for those who are likely to underperform in the exam. I've said it's compromising my principles.

I don't blame the students - they've just got used to not having to take responsibility because we wipe their arses for them. Plus we're not doing them any favours - my school has an appalling drop-out rate when we shove them out to fend for themselves in FE.

Meanwhile my KS3 classes get short shrift, despite being where I should be focussing my energy if I want to 'make a difference'. So... I've said I only want to teach KS3 after this year.

They'll find it hard to say no as it is a point of principle and they know I'm stubborn enough to quit if they refuse (I'm fairly confident that they won't want me to leave - but we'll see).

I've just had enough of being party to students getting grades that they don't deserve.

Anonymous said...

They can't even get the test right. 2/0 does not equal infinity. It's true that in the limit as x tends to zero, 2/x tends to infinity, but 2/0 is undefined.

Cabbage said...

It's true that in the limit as x tends to zero, 2/x tends to infinity, but 2/0 is undefined.

Even your first statement isn't entirely true, anonymous. It depends which side of zero x is tending to it from - so without any context MINUS infinity is just as sensible an answer as infinity is. (I believe these are referred to in shorthand as the limits as x tends to 0+ and as x tends to 0-). In fact, if you have x tending to 0 via some sequence that alternates between being positive and being negative, like 1/2, -1/4, 1/8, -1/16 etc, then 1/x wouldn't even tend to any limit as x tends to 0 (although the absolute value of 1/x would still tend to infinity).

But yeah, pretty ironically retarded of the question setters to ask a question that is basically a matter of how you choose to define something that has no standard definition either in school mathematics or in higher mathematics, choose an answer that is demonstrably not sensible, and declare people who give different answers 'wrong'.

As for whether teachers are useless or whether the stats are being distorted by some sort of deliberate or unintentional trickery (like making the teachers answer the questions on a really tight time limit, or having a question asker with an incomprehensible accent), I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

PPS. .....and 106% of the population can't work out percentages. Does that bring us back down to Earth again? (He said in a funny accent)

Anonymous said...

I have to say I think the test is a bit disingenuous. I might just be making excuses for my own poor showing in the test (8/14) but the vast majority of the questions are testing the same thing, the ability to divide and multiply by fractions.

As far as I knew, fractions went out with shillings, yards and feet and all the other nonsensical and archaic measurements that went out with the ark. Do we really still waste children's time teaching them fractions? I honestly thought they had been removed from the syllabus long ago and as such its hardly surprising that teachers don't remember the bizarre rules for multiplying and dividing with them.