Yesterday, the minister concerned, Liz Truss, announced that, “There is a growing political consensus around the importance of maths education…”. That such a statement of the obvious has to be made should be a matter of concern.
Have we really lost sight of the central reasons why we send children to school? Are we going to have a follow-up speech to tell us that there is a growing political consensus about the importance of learning how to write English and, in particular, how to write a sentence?
Certainly, Ms Truss needs to improve in this particular area. With her A-Level in maths she may understand where to place a decimal point but she is clearly in need of some tuition on how to use a full stop. This, for example, is from the official script of her speech:
“Look at the maths discoveries that came from Britain. Calculus. Logarithms. Standard deviation. The popular use of the decimal point.”
Yes, these days, it seems, even graduates in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford, like Liz, struggle to string a few words together in a coherent sentence. As Geoffrey Chaucer noted, “…if gold rust, what shal iren do?”
At least, this minister is prepared to recognise that we need to ‘up our game’ in terms of maths teaching, as in so much else that goes on schools. She is aware that we have something of a crisis in our education system. In a global marketplace, languishing three years behind the pupils in Shanghai at age 15 is not a comfortable base on which to build future economic competitiveness. Girls, more than boys, are underachieving in maths and, as the minister points out, this affects long term employment prospects and earning capacity.
The minister’s solution, alongside a more rigorous curriculum, is a plan to set up 30 regional maths centres or ‘hubs’ to promote better teaching. These hubs are unlikely to win universal applause from the largely self-satisfied and self-congratulatory eduction establishment. The temporary importation of up to 60 Chinese maths teachers to work at the hubs as part of a maths teacher exchange process may prove especially unsettling. Certainly, it is a bold move by the minister and, if nothing else, should act as a wake-up call to our teachers.
The fact that such action is deemed necessary tells us all we need to know about the quality of maths teaching in this country. The quality of grammar and punctuation in the Department of Education’s written version of the minister’s speech suggests that our educational problems are not confined to maths.