Stories + Views
Doubts cast on Telegraph claims about falling maths standards
FullFact investigated a Telegraph article stating that maths standards in schools had “declined sharply” since the 1970s. The Telegraph cited research by Dr Jeremy Hodgen, lecturer in education at King’s College, London, to justify its claim. But FullFact found that Dr Hodgen’s research indicated only “a slight decline in attainment over the 30 year period” although the number of pupils who didn’t reach Level 1 had markedly increased (from 7% in 1976 to 15% in 2008/9). The Telegraph, therefore, based its conclusion about falling maths standards on the lower results at the top end and ignored the “slight decline” overall.
The Telegraph also didn’t say that Dr Hodgen’s investigation was restricted to ratio tests and did not look at maths generally. Earlier research by Dr Hodgen in 2009 which looked at pupils’ performance in algebra, ratio and decimals tests found “there has been little overall change in maths attainments since 1976.”
Following FullFact’s investigation which find the Telegraph article to be misleading, the paper should issue a correction.
Update (published 30 June 2012): On 21 June 2012, Michael Gove misled the House by saying: “researchers from King’s college London reporting today that teenagers’ maths skills have declined over the last 30 years.” Mr Gove should also issue a correction and apologise to fellow MPs for his error.
Update (3 July 2012): FullFact has published an update to their investigation. This can be read in full by clicking on the FullFact link above. The update said that Dr Hodgen’s research also found decline in pupils’ ability to handle fractions and algebra but a slight increase in some aspects of pupils’ understanding of decimals. FullFact concluded that the Telegraph’s headline was a fair summary of the research but the subject was more complex that the headline suggested. Dr Hodgen pointed out that the Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) survey revealed a different trend. This is discussed more fully here.