Maths teaching 'pitched too low for pupils'

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MATHS TEACHERS in the first year of secondary school are pitching their lessons too low for the pupils, Government inspectors report today.

Overall, the inspectors say that their observations of more than 7,000 lessons last year show that the national curriculum is continuing to raise standards in English, science and maths. But, they say, 'much of the design and technology work was undemanding and standards were low'. Many teachers still seemed 'uncertain' what the subject entailed.

Technology is being reviewed by ministers and the inspectors argue that 'there is an urgent need for a sustained and systematic programme' of in-service training on the national curriculum.

Quality of writing was the weakest aspect of English, 'especially with regard to drafting and spelling'. Inspectors found some evidence that curriculum pressures meant pupils spent less time writing. Poor standards 'were strongly associated with schools where language policies and co-ordinators for English failed to give a clear lead about the teaching of Standard English'. Little drama was being taught in primary schools. Infant teachers were spending more time on the use of letter sounds to help children work out words, but the quality of such phonics teaching varied widely.

Once children had a basic grasp of literacy, 'there was a tendency to regard them as launched on reading and for teachers to become less rigorous than they should have been about ensuring the pupils were guided to read increasingly challenging literature and non-fiction material'. Teaching of more advanced reading skills 'was not sufficiently thorough' for junior school pupils.

Poetry lessons for secondary pupils sometimes 'foundered because of vacuous material, or lack of confidence or knowledge on the part of the teacher'. Teachers were too often choosing 'contemporary teenage fiction that was undemanding and failed to provide a nourishing diet'.

In maths, inspectors found that about a third of lessons were unsatisfactory in some way. In infant classes about a quarter of the more able pupils were 'engaged in tasks which were too easy for them', while the less able quarter were not being set the right work for their ability. In about half of the schools visited there was 'excessive use of individualised learning', with too little exposition from the teacher and too much uncritical use of commercial maths schemes. Mental and calculator skills were weak.

The biggest problem was that more than 40 per cent of pupils in their first year of secondary school were being given work that was too easy for them, or which they had covered before at primary school. Inspectors blame a lack of confidence in the reports passed from primary to secondary school.

In science, inspectors found that schools were increasingly setting pupils in groups according to their ability. More able pupils were doing well in such groups, but less able pupils were not being so well taught.

Four Ofsted reports on the third year of the national curriculum, Key Stages 1, 2 and 3, in science, maths, English and technology; HMSO; pounds 3.50 each.