It doesn’t add up: what’s wrong with maths?

Date: 15 May 2013 Venue: British Library 96 Euston Road London NW1 2DB
Time: 13:00 - 16:00
Type: Seminar Fee: No fee

As experts in assessment, we believe that a sensible debate is needed to help construct a better maths curriculum for England. 

More than 100 people attended our debate on 15th May 2013 which brought together a panel of educational experts to discuss whether the 'right' maths is being taught in schools today and how we can ensure that students get a ‘proper’ maths education at the right age. Presentations, films and podcasts from the event can be found below.

The event saw an animated debate - chaired by Dr Christine Binns, Mathematics Mastery Curriculum Development Lead, ARK Schools - between British mathematician Tony Gardiner, and Founder of (and European CEO of Wolfram), Conrad Wolfram, on whether technology is changing maths for the better.  

Wolfram explained that computer-based maths is inevitable. He said: “You’ve got a choice when new mechanisation or automation comes into a subject in terms of how you educate people for that subject. The choice is this: do you decide that you want them to replicate the machinery and learn how do to what the machinery does, or do you want them to stand on that machinery and go much, much further? The second is the only possible long-term outcome. 

“There’s a difference between learning the mechanics inside and learning how you operate today’s mechanics to get to the essence of the subject.” 

Whilst Wolfram and Gardiner fundamentally agreed that maths is much more than calculation, Tony Gardiner commented: “should we respond rationally to current failures that are amply documented and agreed on all sides and engage in a serious analysis on what’s missing and what’s needed on the level of the learner? 

"The calculation is a crucial part, maybe the crucial part of mathematics education, because mathematics ideas get wired into the brain through engaging with, and mastering, carefully-designed sequences of calculation…something that requires more time and imagination than we think.” 

Other speakers included: Lynne McClure, NRICH;  Lynn Churchman, National Numeracy; Jennie Golding, ACME; Tim Oates, Cambridge Assessment; Charlie Stripp, MEI and NCETM;  Mark McCourt, Teacher Development Trust and Beluga Learning; and Janet De Wilde, Higher Education Academy. 

A short film (see the playlist below) captures the views of practitioners on the benefits of a maths education and how maths skills are core to our understanding of other subjects and integral to the vitality of a modern economy.  

Commenting on the role of mathematics in other subjects such as - perhaps surprisingly - music, Rebecca Stephenson, Upper Sixth at The Perse School and seen performing in this film, said: “Maths is in fact at the heart of music. It is in the organisation of rhythm, pulse and meter, as well as in the architectural structure of a piece, the tuning systems for instruments and the organisation of harmony. It is the reason why some chords sound appealing and others do not.”

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