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British maths pupils lag behind other countries 'because poor teachers don't have a proper grasp of the subject'
08:00 GMT, 3 December 2012
Pupils are lagging behind in maths compared with other countries because not enough primary school teachers have a proper grasp of the subject, a report claims today.
There are too few mathematically competent teachers in primaries, with many achieving only a GCSE grade C.
The problem means thousands of pupils leave primary school without getting to grips with the basics, according to a report published by think-tank Politeia. The Government is introducing a new primary curriculum in 2014 in an effort to raise standards in English, maths and science.
Lagging behind: Not enough primary school teachers have a proper grasp of maths
But the report warns the main problem is the poor standard of teachers.
Countries which perform better in maths – including Finland, Japan and Singapore – have more mathematically competent teachers who ‘outperform British teachers in mathematics tests’, it claims.
The report is by David Burghes, who is professor of mathematics teaching at the University of Plymouth and director of the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching.
He said: ‘We have too few teachers at primary school with a real understanding of mathematics, leading to children not being fully extended; the pupils continue into the secondary stage, where there is a shortage of adequately trained mathematicians.
‘This results in not enough students in
the sixth form taking mathematics and low numbers of students
undertaking mathematics at universities.
With too few teachers at primary school with a real understanding of mathematics, not enough students continue on to pursue the subject
‘The cycle continues with not enough mathematically well-qualified young people entering the teaching profession. A route must be found to break this sequence.’
The report adds: ‘It may seem easier (or provide quicker results) to concentrate on secondary school mathematics, but for long-term sustainable enhancement the aim must be to change primary mathematics.’
Professor Burghes welcomes some of the proposals in the Department for Education’s draft maths curriculum, such as early mastery of addition and subtraction.
However, he believes primary school pupils should master multiplication tables at a younger age and also learn algebra and probability.