Education: Maths teaching in inner-cities fails to make the grade

Inspectors have criticised maths teaching in inner cities - some schools are not even teaching times-tables. They say educating deprived children is no excuse for low standards and warn that big variations in teaching quality must be addressed if Britain is to catch up with competing countries. Judith Judd, Education Editor, reports.
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Maths standards in three inner-city local authorities are close to the national average but still much too low if we are to compete with other countries, says an inspectors' report published yesterday. All three authorities educate some of the most deprived children in Britain, but that, the report says, is no excuse for low standards.

The inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education found some excellent teaching but say that there should be more emphasis on mental arithmetic. In one school only 4 per cent of seven-year-olds could write down a two-digit number in words. In another, 93 per cent did this correctly. Even in classes where pupils were expected to rely on calculators they were not taught how to use them properly.

The study of seven- and eleven-year-olds in the London boroughs of Newham and Greenwich and Knowsley on Merseyside showed that seven-year-olds achieved scores close to a national sample on specially devised tests, although 11-year-olds did less well. But the latest international study found that English nine-year-olds were only 10th out of 17 countries in maths, well behind those in the Pacific Rim.

The report says: "If our national standards are low, then schools scoring close to the national average must also have low standards." However, some schools, even in the poorest areas are already close to achieving the Government's targets, suggesting that the national target for maths is achievable.

Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, said targets for pupils' performance needed to be under constant review if we were to match our competitors. "If we are not expecting enough in tests which children are set already and not stretching children's potential enough, we are not going to make up the gap with our international competitors," he said.

National test results out today will show progress towards the Government's goal of 75 per cent of pupils reaching the expected maths level by 2002.

Children from poor families who cannot read at the age of six are still benefiting from "reading recovery" schemes five years later, says a study from London University's Institute of Education. The research shows that reading recovery, which involves daily one-to-one tuition for 20 weeks, made no significant difference after five years to most children's reading but it did help the slowest readers who were on free school meals.