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Draft maths National Curriculum -  5 things to change

Friday, 5 April 2013
Having spent two very worthwhile days at the ATM (Association of Teachers of Mathematics) conference in Sheffield, I thought I would grab a moment to evaluate the draft KS1 and KS2 National Curriculum. Here are my top 5 ‘CHANGE THIS!’ content issues that I will be feeding back to the DfE before the consultation deadline. 

I was spurred on to do this as, firstly, the deadline for the public consultation is April 16th, and, secondly, I went to an interesting seminar run by Anne Watson.  She is one of the ‘Marxist Blobs’ that Gove referred to, but she has somehow managed to remain on the NC primary team. So Anne is one of the writers of the NC, but, as she put up on the flipchart at the start of the session, ‘I am not (totally) to blame!’

It was clear from Anne that the content in current draft form was not the same as that presented by the team to the DfE. Bits have been added and bits removed, but there is still a lot in there that should provide a strong thread through some aspects of primary mathematics.

A good example of this is the development of fractions as ‘fractions of amounts’, from fractions of shapes right through to using fractions as remainders in division. It is worth putting in a search for fractions in the draft orders to see the strong emphasis this now has within the curriculum.

There are problems though. Put in another search on the words ‘practise’ or ‘practice’ (some English issues here) and in the KS1 and KS2 documents it comes up a staggering 27 times. This gives us a flavour of the push on arithmetical fluency, seemingly ahead of the importance of conceptual understanding.
As well as this, there are some things that need to be changed or cut. 

Here are my top 5 ‘CHANGE THIS!’ content issues that I will be feeding back to the DfE before the consultation deadline.

1) Why are there Roman Numerals? Bizarre – no other country uses them (not even Italy), they are just a historical piece of interest. Why not include the history of other number systems if this is included? Most primary teachers enjoy teaching Roman numerals as part of a topic on Romans or to add interest to place value or the teaching of time looking at clock-faces… but don’t make it part of the statutory, tested, National Curriculum.

2) The addition and subtraction of fractions is just dropped in, with no real place in the progression of the teaching of fractions (or addition and subtraction). It is an extra bit of content that isn’t needed and just helps to overload the time needed to cover the curriculum.

3) Long division is just not necessary for most primary aged children (or long multiplication for that matter). There is plenty of other challenging and thought-provoking maths out there for Y6 children to explore, which develops reasoning, logical thinking and an excitement in using mathematics in other contexts. Get the essential skills and concepts sorted first, then add depth and breadth.

4) There is too much acceleration in Y3 and Y4 in the progression of mental and written arithmetic. For example, in Y3 they are expected to mentally add and subtract 3-digit numbers with ones, tens and hundreds, as well as 2-digit calculations beyond 100. By Y4 they are expected to ‘practice mental methods… with increasingly large numbers.’ Such as…? This is asking a lot of 9 year olds.

5) Children are currently struggling to learn tables up to 10×10 by the age of 11, so raising the expectation so that children will learn tables facts up to 12×12 by the age of 9 seems a little odd. The 11x and 12x tables are fun to learn and create interesting patterns, but why make them statutory? Perhaps the use of feet and inches will be encouraged in a move away from the metric system.

There are other details that could be issues – no reference to IT, a lack of exemplification, a look backwards in history at maths content rather than looking at the (near) future for relevance… and I’m sure other things will arise as we start using the final document in September. 
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