William The Maths Bear's Paws For Thought Summer 2017

23rd July 2017

Hello Tiny Humans!

Some worrying news this month… Just as many maths teachers predicted, following the UK government’s changes to the maths curriculum and the new ‘fat’ GCSE exam the numbers of students choosing to study mathematics at A-level are dropping already.

The Mathematical Association has revealed that their recent research showed that over 50% of UK maths departments admitted to at least 10% less maths A-level uptake than last year.

When it comes to further maths A-level the numbers are even worse with a quarter of departments saying they are expecting only half as many applicants as last year. This is worrying stuff guys!

We’re not for a moment saying educational reform is a bad thing, all countries and schools need to keep improving and strengthening their curriculums but these changes need to be well researched and implemented across an appropriate time scale, and they should not immediately be shown to alienate students – or teachers.

Many teachers are certainly not happy. David Miles, spokesman for the Mathematical Association told TES that the association had received many comments in an anonymous survey of maths teachers and the results were not encouraging “Many comments revealed a sense of despair, bitterness and anger that the hard-won advances in the popularity of both A levels will apparently be undone by the simultaneous introduction of multiple significant reforms.”

It's not that teachers are against reform, but their warnings that too much change too quickly is not the way to go have apparently fallen on deaf ears. Maths had steadily, risen to become the most popular A-level subject in the UK after years of tireless efforts from many in the educational sector, and now that trend seems set to reverse. Let this be a warning to other education departments in other countries not to make the same mistakes!

While it is acknowledged that some of the changes are certainly helpful and beneficial, TES’s resident maths expert admits the GCSE changes have been ‘mishandled’ and the drop in applicants is a ‘terrible tragedy’. I can’t help but agree and can only hope the situation improves as schools and students can come to terms with the changes.

The Cost Of Innumeracy

Now bear with me, as I don’t want to lecture but it is more important than ever for the UK, as well as many other countries to increase numeracy levels across the board as standards of adult numeracy remain worryingly low.

According to recent research from the most excellent numeracy charity National Numeracy and financial services organisation KPMG the cost of low adult numeracy to the British economy is a staggering 20 billion pounds a year.

Not only do half of UK adults only have the equivalent numeracy levels of a primary school child but the cost to these 49% of working age adults is £460 a year each, due to the ‘estimated effect of competency on wage rates’. And this is a conservative estimate with another report estimating the figure at up to £742 each, depending on the job they do and ‘differing estimates of this skills costs to wages’.

That is a lot of money my tiny human friends… The report also damned the UK to be the worst offender of 17 countries in a survey by the OECD, with 78% of the population not having numeracy skills above level 2 which would equate roughly to a ‘good’ GCSE pass grade. That’s massive and kind of embarrassing to be honest!

I have sympathy for all the maths teachers who have worked so hard and who now have an even greater challenge to face, but if any group of people can rise to the challenge, it’s teachers.

Time To Focus On The Positive!

To celebrate these incredible people I had to share this brilliant video from a teacher and ICT advisor from Manchester, Mr Lee Parkinson, otherwise known as Mr P ICT. He also has a great blog

He found this poem online about a teacher’s feelings at the end of their first year of teaching and although he has been teaching for many years now he has shared it in a moving Facebook video. I loved it and everyone else at ConquerMaths HQ did too; we have the utmost respect for teachers and the extremely difficult job they do every day. Our favourite lines are below…

‘I didn't know that years of school and a college degree would be of little consolation when facing a room full of bright little eyes on the first day of school. I thought I was ready.’

‘I didn't know that teaching children was only a fraction of my job. No one tells you about the conferences and phone calls, staff meetings and committees, paperwork and paperwork...’

‘I didn't know that a single "yes sir" from a disrespectful child or a note in my desk that says "You're the best!" could make me feel like I'm on top of a mountain and forget the valleys I forged to get there.’

‘I never knew that after one year of teaching I would feel so much wiser, more tired, sadder and happier, all at once.’

‘And that I would no longer call teaching my job, but my privilege.’

Watch the full video here...

I may have something in my eye! *sniff sniff*