England’s achievement in international maths tests shows that English pupils score “significantly higher” than the average in EU countries which took part in the tests. So says Eurydice
, the European Commission’s education research network, in its recent report.
Eurydice made several recommendations about effective teaching of maths in Europe:
1 Use achievement targets to motivate lower-performing pupils thereby increasing their scores.
2 Use a wide variety of teaching methods.
3 Give teachers support in the effective use of feedback from assessments.
4 Ensure that any revision in national curricula to focus more on pupils’ skills actually changes teaching in the classroom.
5 Ensure that government policies on maths are based on evidence.
Eurydice found that teachers of maths in England were already using many of the recommended methods outlined above. The report praised the Stem programme (science, technology, engineering and maths) for the way it involved all children and not just the gifted. Some countries, however, had tried a higher-profile approach. Poland, for example, had a campaign which included short TV interviews at peak time which asked famous people and professionals to talk about the importance of maths in their daily lives.
The Eurydice report shows that teaching of maths in England is good. The media, however, prefers to focus on the negative even when past reporting has been found to be wrong
. Good news such as the Eurydice report and the top rating for English students in the 2007 Trends in Maths and Science Survey (TIMSS) is ignored in favour of negative articles about “plummeting down league tables”. Today, for example, the Mail published the results of a survey
commissioned by an on-line tutoring business which claimed “a quarter of children aged 10 to 12 can’t do basic addition” while the positive praise from Eurydice is overlooked. But Eurydice doesn’t get a mention in the broadsheets either, unless coupled with Orpheus.
Perhaps the most important message for England is that government policies should be evidence-based. This is particularly significant when Ministers make high-profile comments about which teaching methods should, or should not, be employed in the classroom. Remarks by the schools minister, Nick Gibb, about the use of calculators
are not upheld by evidence. Eurydice acknowledges there is debate about whether using a calculator helps or hinders mathematical achievement but it does not suggest their prohibition. Instead, it makes it clear that most studies “conclude that calculators might be useful but only for specific activities.” And Eurydice found that even in countries where calculators are widely allowed “teachers rarely reported using calculators often.”
Good news, then, on maths teaching in England, and some good advice from a European organisation about how to make it even better. But like much positive news about English education, it seems set to remain in the Underworld.