Education Letters: Linking my comments to the Fast Forward scheme was entirely unjustified

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FAST LEARNING

May I correct the impression given in the article by Andy Sharman in last week's supplement ( "Playing games isn't the answer", EDUCATION & CAREERS, 18 September). When asked to comment, I explicitly stated that I knew nothing of the Fast Forward scheme, which was only launched the following day. But I said that I was happy to comment generically on the plethora of centrally supported programmes that invest disproportionate, and often wasted, efforts on a handful of students, while central government fails to address the key issue of improving mathematical provision, from Monday to Friday, for large numbers of students and teachers.

The comments attributed to me would have been reasonably accurate if reported in this "generic" spirit: the policy of spending millions on a handful of students while English-school mathematics goes down the tubes is indeed "crazy". The 19 September Ofsted report, "Understanding the score", addresses precisely this neglect. However, the attempt to link my comments specifically to the Fast Forward scheme was entirely unjustified. We need to ask whether such schemes can overcome the lack of a decent daily diet; but from what I know of the providers, Fast Forward is likely to be mathematically the most effective of the currently available schemes of this kind.

Dr Tony Gardiner, School of Mathematics, University of Birmingham

We were interested to read your article about the Fast Forward maths programme, but are concerned that Andy Sharman appears to have misunderstood what we do. We designed the programme not to be a one-off. The three residential weeks for pupils are supported by online resources, mentoring and e-tutoring throughout the year, and a complementary programme aimed at teachers. It's a pity Andy was unable to attend the first residential study school to see the positive impact it had on the pupils taking part.

Fast Forward builds on the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University in providing maths enrichment activities for over a decade, aiming to engage and inspire teachers and pupils across the UK and worldwide: our online resources attract over 9.6 million visits annually, and we work with hundreds of schools. The project's impact was recognised by the Smith Report on post-14 mathematics education, which concluded that our activities had "the potential for significantly enhancing the teaching and learning of mathematics in schools and colleges".

Like Tony Gardiner, we agree that no one project can solve the problems that mathematics education faces, and has faced for many years, but we believe that our work, including Fast Forward, has a significant contribution to make.

Professor John D Barrow FRS, Charlie Gilderdale, Dr Jennifer Piggott, Julia Hawkins Millennium Mathematics Project, Cambridge University

I note with interest the feature on the Goldman Sachs Foundation funding a programme to encourage students to continue with maths beyond GCSE. Judging by recent events, this may be among the most prudent uses of money by a financial institution.

Keith Flett, Tottenham, North London

HUMAN TOUCH

We the undersigned, all being professionally engaged in RE or academic religious studies, are amazed and dismayed at the decision of Ofqual not to sanction the study of humanism as part of GCSE religious studies ("Exams watchdog faces legal fight over humanism", The Independent, 13 September). It should be made clear that the proposal is to allow (not require) students of 14-16 years old to approach traditional topics within religious studies from a modern secular perspective.

Moreover, these students, if from state schools, should have been exposed already to eight years of RE, in which they will have studied Christianity and other religious traditions.

Ofqual's stance flies in the face of every government initiative in RE over recent years, and puts in question the future of some current projects. The subject criteria, referred to by Ofqual's quoted spokeswomen, are devised by QCA and need only to be interpreted more liberally to allow approval of the proposed new syllabus. We hope QCA will rethink its position in time to prevent this being decided in court, at considerable expense to the taxpayer.

Brian Gates, Emeritus Professor of Religious & Moral Education, Cumbria University; Clive Lawton, chair of SHAP Working Party on World Religions in Education; Jo Pearce and Lesley Prior, lecturers in RE, Institute of Education, London University; Dr Justin Meggitt, senior lecturer in Study of Religion and Origins of Christianity, Cambridge University; Roger Butler, consultant in RE

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