07 Mar 2012
As millions of students around the world celebrate World Maths day today (7 March), we look closer to home where we recently highlighted 20 schools around the country that excel at teaching primary mathematics. We also look at the numeracy needs of adults.
Our report, Good practice in primary mathematics: evidence from 20 successful schools, looked at the approaches that best help children progress from counting and calculating to developing reasoning about numbers, and acquiring the skills that will help them with mathematical learning in school and beyond.
The schools featured in the report used practical activities to increase children's understanding and use of mathematical language. They encouraged children to think flexibly by placing a strong emphasis on problem solving. Activities ranged from counting daily attendances and working out the value-for-money of supermarket products to measuring the school playground and preparing an estimate for the cost of new tarmac for its surface.
Clear calculation policies and guidance made sure that all staff (teachers and teaching assistants) worked together on mathematics to develop their subject expertise. Some schools benefited from leaders who had high levels of expertise. Teachers felt it was important that pupils fully mastered each stage before the next steps were introduced. Crucially all the schools made sure there was swift identification of pupils’ difficulties and timely well-focused help to overcome these.
Advice for schools and parents
Ofsted’s National Adviser for Mathematics, Jane Jones HMI says, ‘A secure understanding about numbers equips children for their future lives – in higher education, at work and at home. From counting in nursery rhymes to calculating with and reasoning about numbers of all sizes, to working with measures and early algebra, form the foundation for later learning in mathematics. These grow into the skills so valued by the world of industry and higher education.
‘The report provides food for thought for all primary schools in England as they strive to raise standards in mathematics – I hope they’ll take the opportunity to learn from these schools. Parents can also help their child by playing a range of family games, discussing the numbers all around us, and giving children opportunities for calculating.’
Help for adults
As well as help for children, some parents need help with numeracy themselves. A government survey last year found that almost half of the working age population struggle with mathematics.
Adults interviewed for Ofsted’s survey, Tackling the challenge of low numeracy skills in young people and adults in April 2011, gave examples of how attending adult numeracy provision gave them a second chance to tackle calculations and other number-related tasks that had flummoxed them at school.
One learner said: ‘I can’t believe I had the confidence to challenge a shopkeeper who had worked out my 15% discount incorrectly. This was all down to my numeracy class.’
The reports, Good practice in primary mathematics: evidence from 20 successful schools and Tackling the challenge of low numeracy skills in young people and adults are available on the Ofsted website and listed below as resources.