Numeracy scheme 'bad for long-term learning'

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The Independent Online

The introduction of the numeracy hour into primary schools may have damaged children's long-term understanding of mathematics, according to government-funded research.

The introduction of the numeracy hour into primary schools may have damaged children's long-term understanding of mathematics, according to government-funded research.

The quick-fire mental arithmetic sessions and whole-class teaching of the Government's National Numeracy Strategy may have taught children "bad learning habits" and undermined their long-term understanding of the subject, the study by the Mathematics Education Review Group at London University's Institute of Education concluded.

Primary school pupils' test scores have increased in mathematics since the introduction of the strategy's daily maths lesson in 1999.

But this improvement may be more likely to stem from pupils being "taught to the test" than from any underlying improvement in their mathematical understanding, according to Chris Kyriacou and Maria Goulding, of the University of York, who led the research.

The scheme's attempts to get children to learn strategic thinking through whole-class teaching have failed and may have damaged the learning of many children, the study found. "There is some evidence to indicate that the increased use of traditional whole-class teaching with 'pace' is in fact undermining the development of a more reflective and strategic approach to thinking about mathematics, and may be creating problems for lower attaining pupils," the report found.

The National Numeracy Strategy was introduced in England in 1999 for five to 11-year-olds. Its central feature is a daily "numeracy hour", using methods that have been successful in countries including Switzerland and Hungary.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills defended the strategy. "We have seen real progress in the teaching of the basics following the introduction of the numeracy and literacy strategies," he said. "This was highlighted by the international study Trends in International Mathematics Study which ... reported that our primary school pupils have made bigger progress in maths than any other country."

The main features of the lesson have been well received by teachers and widely implemented in the vast majority of primary schools, according to the study, A Systematic Review of the Impact of the Daily Mathematics Lesson.

The study found evidence that the daily mathematics lesson has enhanced pupils' confidence and competence. However, the strict time management and fast pace of the lesson may also pose particular problems for low achievers who find it difficult to keep up.

Ministers have been so concerned about mathematics in England that an independent inquiry was commissioned last year into improving the subject at secondary school.

However, many experts fear that the falling numbers of A-level mathematics students stems from primary level where unqualified staff teach a subject they do not always understand.

Complaints that pupils were put under too much pressure by the tests have led to a relaxation of the testing regime. This will see less emphasis put on seven-year-olds' test results and more put on teachers' assessments of pupils.

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