Qualified praise from Ofsted for 'numeracy hour'

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The Independent Online

Children's knowledge of basic maths is getting better but they have difficulty using it to solve problems, the first official report on the Government's numeracy strategy says.

Children's knowledge of basic maths is getting better but they have difficulty using it to solve problems, the first official report on the Government's numeracy strategy says.

While their mental arithmetic is progressing, decimals and fractions - the traditional bugbear of British schoolchildren - still cause problems.

Ofsted's report on the daily "numeracy hour" introduced in schools last term says early results have been encouraging.

But it continues: "What pupils are still missing is the confidence to use and apply number facts and calculate strategies to solve mathematical problems. The results of tests in 300 schools revealed some worrying gaps in the mathematical knowledge and skills of pupils."

The teaching of mental arithmetic, in which Britain has lagged behind comparable industrialised countries for many years, is the most successful part of the numeracy strategy, say Ofsted inspectors who visited 170 schools before writing the interim report.

The teaching went well in 60 per cent of lessons. "Teachers have enjoyed the quick-fire interaction with pupils," the report says. Where the teaching was poor, "too much time was spent on the recall of facts rather than expecting pupils to figure out new facts from known ones." The least successful part of the numeracy hour was at the end, when teachers are supposed to recap and reinforce what has been learnt. That was taught well in only 40 per cent of lessons.

Test results from 300 sample primary schools showed boys were slightly ahead of girls in maths. Caribbean and African pupils did less well than whites, and Chinese pupils out-performed all other groups. Pupils with better English also performed better.

The quality of teaching was good in half the lessons inspected but there was "unevenness" and many lessons were weak at least in part.

One school in five is "setting" pupils according to their ability for the numeracy strategy but teaching is better for pupils in the top sets than for those in the lower sets, the report says.

Calculators continue to present problems for pupils and teachers. They were used properly in only half of the lessons. "Few pupils had been taught the necessary technical skills to make effective use of their calculators," it says.

The report concludes that despite the gains, there is an urgent need to improve teachers' knowledge of maths.

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