Every pupil needs a good mathematics education – Ofsted

Laplace

Mathematics: made to measure, an Ofsted report launched today, emphasises the importance for every pupil to have the best possible mathematics education.

The report highlights a dramatic increase in the take-up of A-level and further mathematics, and shows that the youngest children are doing better. GCSE and A level results continue to rise as a result of the sustained efforts of teachers and students.

But the report finds three key areas in primary and secondary mathematics in schools in England which need to be improved:

  • Firstly, not enough is being done to help pupils catch up who fall behind early. The 10% who do not reach the expected standard at age 7 doubles to 20% by age 11, and nearly doubles again by age 16.
  • Secondly, inspection evidence shows that pupils in lower ability sets and younger pupils received the weakest teaching. Inspectors regularly saw outstanding and satisfactory teaching, and sometimes inadequate too, within an individual school.
  • Thirdly, lots of the brightest pupils do not fulfil their potential when they get to secondary school. 37,000 of the highest attaining primary schoolpupils got no better than a grade C at GCSE in mathematics last year. Schools which routinely enter students early for GCSE mathematics are hindering their ability to reach the highest grades.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

‘I want all children to have the best education they can and mathematics is a fundamental part of that. It is essential for everyday life and understanding of our world. Too many pupils do not fulfil their potential, including many of the most able, and those who get off to a poor mathematical start or fall behind in their learning never catch up.

‘We know it can be done. Over half of the schools visited in the survey were judged to be good or outstanding in mathematics, although even in these schools some inconsistencies in the quality of teaching need to be tackled.

‘We must all play our part to ensure that all pupils receive the best possible mathematics education. Ofsted will support schools to learn from the best, those with the best teaching and assessment and a well organised, mathematically rich, engaging curriculum.’

Commenting on the report by Ofsted, Christine Blower, the NUT General Secretary, said: “It is not for the Department of Education or Ofsted to direct and develop curriculum content. This should be in partnership with teachers, awarding bodies and subject specialists.

“Of course we need to ensure that all pupils of all abilities are taught by qualified maths teachers and that schools share good practice in how this subject is taught. This will not be achieved, however, through yet more top-down measures being imposed on schools.

“The report stresses the fact that schools need time for long-term improvement in maths to occur, yet many schools feel under pressure to improve grades rapidly. What they do not go onto say is that this pressure comes directly from Ofsted. Schools live in fear of being downgraded by Ofsted, whose criteria for success change as often as the weather. This punitive system is bad for pupils, teachers and education.

“It is quite extraordinary that the Chief Inspector should have concerns about repeated entry for GSCE maths when it is the very system that he presides over which encourages such practice. Schools are only judged by Ofsted as being successful if the majority of pupils gain 5 GCSEs grades A*- C so it is hardly surprising this is the focus for schools.

“Sir Michael Wilshaw cannot have it both ways. If you want creativity and innovation in teaching you have to stop creating ever narrower and restrictive criteria by which you judge success. It is actual support in schools that matters, not yet more materials and guidelines from Ofsted; support such as the provision of additional one-to-one tuition for pupils who need it, and a curriculum which gives teachers the freedom and flexibility to teach in a way that engages and interests pupils”.

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