More evidence of Britain’s poor performance at Maths.
The Sutton Trust has produced a report that compares a number of countries on the basis of a common international test.
Only 1.7% of British pupils reached the highest level, compared with an OECD average of 3.1%.
Some countries were way ahead of Britain. Switzerland and Korea, the figure was 7.8%.
This matters. Maths is the foundation for excellence in most things – from engineering to economics.
The problem is partly cultural. We have this ridiculous attitude in Britain that Maths is “much too hard”, and people tell each other proudly, “Oh, no, I was never any good at Maths! My teachers were in despair.”
Being rubbish at Maths is nothing to be proud of. It is just as shameful as being rubbish at your own language, which is English for most of us in the UK.
We do have to change that national attitude and start valuing Maths. Kids who are good at it need to be encouraged – but not told they are somehow special just because they are good at Maths rather than anything else.
“Oh, wow, you got an “A” in Maths! That’s incredible! I was never any good at Maths,” is not the right thing to say to a kid. Maths, at least basic Maths, is simply a fundamental part of a decent education.
It is not just cultural though. It is part of a wider breakdown in our education system.
The report argues that England is falling down international tables because of successive failures to help the most able pupils.
It calls for bright children to be identified at the end of primary school, with their achievements and progress tracked from then on.
That used to happen of course. “Identifying bright children” used to be done by the 11+ exam. And their achievements and progress were boosted by grammar schools from that point on.
Look at this from the BBC’s report:
Brighter pupils are more likely to go to private or grammar schools rather than other state schools.
Er – wrong. Brighter pupils who go to private or grammar schools are more likely to excel. Or put it another way – brighter pupils who go to our State comprehensives are more likely to stop doing well.
The government’s response to the report? It’s all Labour’s fault:
Education Secretary Michael Gove added: “We already knew that under Labour we plummeted down the international league tables in maths.
“Now we see further evidence that they betrayed bright children from poor backgrounds.”
Well yes. So why are you continuing with that betrayal, Mr Gove?
Labour’s answer? Everything was rosy under Labour:
Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said: “Results for all pupils, including the brightest, improved under Labour.
“While there are always improvements that could be made, gifted and talented pupils were stretched through a National Academy, targeted scholarships and a new A* grade at A-level.
“While we want to see bright pupils stretched, this can’t be at the expense of leaving some behind.”
Hard to know where to start with that one. How can a bright pupil be stretched without leaving less bright ones behind I wonder?
The NASUWT teaching union produced an even less self-aware response:
Nasuwt teaching union head Chris Keates said the tests used to draw the comparisons, and the way children prepare for them, differed between countries.
“Their conclusions raise more questions than they answer. They are not comparing like with like.
“The education systems are different…
Well, yes, Chris. The education systems in other countries aren’t run by your members.
So which of these actually supports identifying the brightest pupils at age 11 and stretching them? In other words, which supports the reintroduction of grammar schools?
Labour? You must be joking. They abolished them in the first place and remain committed to keeping them out.
The NASUWT? Don’t make me laugh.
The Conservatives maybe? Nope. They support the present law that makes it actually illegal to open new grammar schools. If your local council wants to reintroduce selective education in response to local wishes, you can forget any support for that from Mr Gove. And if you think his new Free Schools are going to be allowed to be selective, think again.
David Cameron himself called the supporters of grammar schools “ideologically self-indulgent”. I’m not sure what that means – perhaps it means thinking for yourself as opposed to following orders from Mr Cameron.
Or perhaps it means supporting UKIP, who are now the only big party that support new grammar schools.