Has mathematics education in England improved?

Has mathematics education in England improved?

When looking at international comparisons, countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong seem to be improving attainment in maths, whilst England appears to be “retreating”. While such comparisons should be treated with caution, many believe that England needs to raise its attainment in maths. If so, what can be done? 

Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development, was joined by Professor Jeremy Hodgen, Professor of Mathematics Education from King’s College, London, at a recent seminar hosted by the Cambridge Assessment Network on whether mathematics education in England has improved over recent years. 

While national examination results at age 16 have shown steady and substantial rises, recent findings from the Increasing Student Competence and Confidence in Algebra and Multiplicative Structures (ICCAMS) study suggest that attainment has changed relatively little since 1970s. 

Professor Hodgen explained that better textbooks, more assessment, and studying maths to a later age would all help improve maths results for students: 

"We could improve our text books. If we look across the world, there are some countries with better textbooks; those countries tend to have better uses of examples and better uses of non-examples, a more consistent approach to the use of models and representations, and they tend to have better constructed exercises. 

"We also need to encourage kids to study maths to 18. And in terms of improving our classroom teaching, assessment is vital. If you look at TIMSS, despite all the rhetoric, teachers are using very little classroom assessment in comparison to other countries that will inform learning. It is that classroom assessment that will enable teachers to tailor teaching to the needs of their students." 

Meanwhile, Tim Oates explained: "Our qualification system and the way in which it has been regulated has tended towards restriction over the last two decades to reduce the number of qualifications to render a kind of spurious coherence to it. But that has opened up vast gaps in our mathematical provision, particularly post 16."

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