Redwood calls for action on maths teaching

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The Independent Online
PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

Political Correspondent

More than half of those applying for GCSE courses at a Berkshire college were unable to do simple arithmetic such as calculating 10 per cent of pounds 475.

John Redwood, Tory MP for Wokingham, last night revealed the figures in a speech in Harrogate, following a visit last week to Bracknell and Wokingham College.

Other examples listed by Mr Redwood in his speech last night included the 72 per cent of intermediate vocational A-levels applicants who could not deduct 1,698 from 3,091. More than half of all applicants got more than 10 answers wrong in a 50-question arithmetic test suitable for 12-year-olds. "Similar depressing findings have emerged in English," the MP added.

Along with 56 per cent of GCSE course applicants, 40 per cent of applicants for the first-year diploma in engineering could not do the 10 per cent calculation, Bob Lewin, the college's principal, said yesterday. For the national diploma in engineering, intermediate GNVQ and advanced GNVQ, the figures were 27 per cent, 67 per cent and 41 per cent respectively. "Some of these have got GCSE maths," Mr Lewin added. Among advanced GNVQ applicants, 16 per cent could not add a four-figure number to a three- figure number.

Mr Lewin's findings show that the problem is not confined to pupils who have not managed to pass many GCSEs at school. English and maths screening tests for full-time students last September revealed that an astonishingly high proportion of applicants across a range of courses could not manage the simple calculations.

Mr Redwood last night called on the Government to "insist on teacher- training colleges teaching methods that work. Children need to learn tables, to practise mental arithmetic, and to master reading by the phonic method," he said. "The `real books' method and child-centred learning have not done well."

The college is in Liberal Democrat/Labour-controlled Berkshire, a county which boasts some of the best comprehensive schools in the country. But Mr Lewin is in no doubt that large numbers of children are slipping through the net of basic educational skills and has protested to Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

He said: "The level of achievement of basic maths skills even among those who have passed GCSE maths is quite worrying and obviously needs remedial work."

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