National Numeracy group says education minister’s proposals have too much rote learning and are short on real-life context
Michael Gove’s proposed reforms of the maths curriculum put too much emphasis on “rote learning” and not enough on using maths in real-life contexts, according to a campaign group set up to improve numeracy.
The pressure group says the curriculum was overloaded, and that the aspects of maths children should learn in primary school were set out in an “atomised” way that does not explain the links between them.
In a letter to the education secretary, the campaign group says the draft proposals will not allow children to develop genuine mathematical understanding. It urges the government to reduce the maths curriculum to an essential core. The intervention comes ahead of this week’s A-level results, which will once again highlight the proportion of children opting to study maths and science beyond the compulsory age.
The proposals include recommendations for primary-age children to learn their times tables up to 12 x 12 and read years written in Roman numerals.
Chris Humphries, chair of National Numeracy and a former chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said: “We know how vital it is to build a numerate population – and how the UK is currently failing. The government now has the opportunity to put in place a new approach to the school curriculum which will develop the real knowledge and understanding that children need – for further education, work and life.”
The criticism echoes an attack on Gove’s curriculum reforms by Andrew Pollard, one of the expert panel involved in drawing up the changes, who said the highly detailed specifications for English, maths and science risked wrecking “breadth, balance and quality” in children’s school life.
The draft proposals say that five- and six-year-olds will be expected to count up to 100, as well as recognising basic fractions and common shapes.
In year two, children will be required to know the two, five and 10 times tables, as well as constructing and interpreting simple graphs.
At the age of nine children should know their times tables up to 12 x 12, the proposals say.
Pupils in year three should be able to read the Roman numerals on a clock, while by year five they should read Roman numerals up to 1,000 and also be able to decipher years written in Roman form.
A Department for Education spokesman said the plans would put England’s maths curriculum “on a par with the best in the world”.
The spokesman said: “It is high time rigour was restored – children must know their times tables up to 12 off by heart, know how to multiply and divide fractions, and have good mental arithmetic. A solid grounding in the basics means children can then move on to more complex maths concepts. The new curriculum will drive up standards for all children.”
A government study has shown that a growing number of adults have poor maths skills. Researchers commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills gave tests in basic numeracy and literacy to more than 7,200 adults.
The results showed that 24% had the number skills of a child aged nine or younger. The study also found that 15% of adults had the literacy skills of a child aged 11 or younger.