The Nuffield Foundation’s report raises very worthy concern about the effects of “maths anxiety” and the impact that it has on children’s prospects (Report, 14 March). Without highlighting solutions, however, we run an increased risk of making maths anxiety a self-perpetuating phenomenon. The vast research base into mathematics education has shown that a cumulative and coherent maths curriculum is the solution. Teachers need to be empowered with support, materials and training to teach maths in a connected, meaningful way. Unfortunately, a lot of maths teaching in the UK is delivered in standalone episodes, leaving students without transferable foundations.
Dr Helen Drury
Director of Mathematics Mastery
• Your report about cycles of anxiety among pupils in maths and a 22% numeracy rate among adults in 2011 does not signal an impending crisis in schools. What it signals is a disaster of the first magnitude which has already happened. The good name of maths in schools is evidently in something like freefall. Why has this occurred? In an age in which maths underpins virtually everything, maths should be the most popular subject on the school curriculum. Yet feeble subject leadership, an anti-maths computer industry and a pathetic political class have conspired to bring it to its knees. For a country that produced Newton, Babbage, Boole and Turing, this is shaming to the nth degree.
• I’m not surprised that anxiety levels about maths are rising and competency in the population is declining. It’s not hard to find the reasons. When a subject is reduced to a set of skills, measured against the clock, unconnected to the real world, the curriculum increasingly overcrowded and tested to death, only a very small proportion of pupils will find it joyful.
There was a time, back in the days of the ILEA, when ministers of education were content to accept the advice of professional mathematicians and teachers, and maths was enjoyed by pretty much every pupil. I remember Laurie Buxton enthusing hundreds of teachers with his mantra “Don’t learn facts. Think”. This is the approach we need now, and consign the nonsense preached by Gove et al to the dustbin where it belongs.
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