Ministers’ maths plans just don’t add up

Monday, February 16, 2015

Category: Media

The Guardian, 10/02/2015, p.37, Warwick Mansell

Round-up of education news asks whether ministers’ moves to insist on “traditional” methods of calculation in primary school maths will really raise standards, noting that Anne Watson, emeritus professor of mathematics education at Oxford University, has highlighted some sample future key stage 2 Sats questions, made available to schools by the government’s testing agency. One features long multiplication, with pupils asked to calculate 2376 x 15 – presented for them in columns. They are then asked to divide 1652 by 28. If pupils get an answer wrong, they are given half marks if they used a ‘traditional’ calculation method, but none if they tried to get to the answer another way. Watson says the best mathematicians are able to think ‘flexibly’, and should be able to call on multiple calculation techniques and that non-formulaic methods are likely to be the best approach in both cases. She says: ‘Teachers are effectively being told by the government that questions like these have to be done by long multiplication and division. This works against the flexible number sense that we would want all children to develop.’