Trendy teachers take the blame

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Inspectors' complaints about standards in maths are not new. In 1925 an inspectors' report said "the accuracy in the manipulation of figures does not reach the same standards as was reached 20 years ago".

However, experts agree that a reaction in the Seventies and Eighties against rote learning has gone too far. Teachers in the Seventies set out to make maths less frightening: the result was a neglect of mental arithmetic and a shift away from learning times tables by heart. A report from academic mathematicians last September blamed trendy teaching methods for poor standards. They said activities such as "data surveys" were diverting children from basic work such as decimals and fractions.

Professor Margaret Brown, chair of the Joint Mathematical Council, does not want a return to traditional teaching methods but has argued that teachers have not put enough emphasis on key concepts in arithmetic and algebra.

Others blame mixed-ability teaching for low standards. And schools have had difficulty attracting well-qualified graduates to teach maths. While 90 per cent of those teaching English have a second class degree or better, in maths 40 per cent have a third class degree or worse.