Schools minister analyses exam papers and finds English maths teaching doesn’t measure up

Maths teachers: have you spent your days puzzling over your E- and F-grade students, thinking that things don’t quite add up? Well, puzzle no more; schools minister Nick Gibb has added his own expertise into the equation and he thinks he might just have the answer.

Speaking at the London Thames Maths Hub Primary Conference, Mr Gibb revealed that he had spent time reviewing papers of E- and -F-grade students. “What this exercise revealed was that most of the problems came down to a lack of knowledge of how to carry out basic arithmetic: pupils couldn’t multiply numbers of more than one digit. This was a result of the approach to teaching maths,” he claimed.

In time-honoured mathematics style, Mr Gibb was able to show his working. He said he had visited “hundreds of schools across the country” between 2005 and 2010, while in opposition. “What I learnt from these visits was that few pupils at primary or secondary school knew their times tables,” he lamented.

“Long multiplication and long division were rarely taught, with inefficient methods such as the grid method for multiplication and chunking for long division commonplace in classrooms, neither of which are used in the Far East.”

And, solving for x – in this case, “x” refers to more students going on to achieve a maths A-level and England getting a higher ranking in Pisa – Mr Gibb said that the answer lay in a greater reliance on textbooks, as well as adherence to “mastery”.

Practised by teachers in Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea (among others), mastery, Mr Gibb said, “delivers a meticulous approach” to maths teaching. Among the tenets of mastery, “homework is frequent, and simply and quickly marked”.

Mr Gibb’s theorem on maths teaching is yet to be proven, but statistics and feedback from the people who count – maths teachers – should provide the data required to make an advanced decision.

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Teachers must make greater use of textbooks, claims minister – November 2014

‘Textbooks aren’t professional straitjackets’ – November 2014

‘Ten reasons why I never use textbooks’ – September 2014

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