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Think your school teaches maths well? Please tell me....

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by ballamory, Oct 6, 2012.

  1. It's quite simple. I would like each child to be taught appropriately to their needs. In whatever school they go to. If a comprehensive school can genuinely do this, so much the better.

    However, I've sat through 6 years so far of primary school, and seen their 'child centred learning', where they claim to be able to do precisely this sort of thing, and have watched them fail spectacularly when it comes to my son. Having tried to talk to them about it, (other highly educated parents have too, I might add) it seems there's a real philosophical problem here - they don't want to listen, because they don't want to hear that some children don't find their lessons stimulating enough. Because that might indicate that they are either not doing enough for those particular children, or even worse, that mixed ability teaching might really not satisfy the most able kids. That seems to be a 'does not compute' moment for many teachers these days.

    My initial investigations into secondary school have so far seemed to indicate 'more of the same'. My local comp tells me 'mixed ability is the only way', which runs completely counterintuiitively to my own instincts. I'm simply trying to get my son into a position in 7 years time where he can make a decent bash at that STEP paper.
    I'm struggling to see how wasting his time solving murder mysteries with basic arithmetic clues in year 7 is helping much to get him to integrate confidently by parts and with complex substitutions by year 13. Also, given the choice, I'd rather all the hardest stuff wasn't all crammed into after school lessons in years 11 and 13 because of lack of resources, but properly resourced to allow the bright kids to have a good shot at passing that FSMQ and STEP paper.

    Ideally, I'd llke the school to do this - that's, after all, what they're for. But if they don't 'rise to the challenge', as they frequently like to say, then certainly, I'm going to step in, and fill that gap. Because ultimately I don't want my son's education to suffer because of the latest political thinking and OFSTED inspection criteria. But I don't have to like being called on to act in this fashion.

    It wouldn't wash at the other end of the spectrum - struggling students being left to their the mercies of their parents to provide a decent education for them. So again, if 'every child matters', why is it OK for the bright ones to be left to their own devices at some schools?
  2. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    Because every* child doesn't matter. The bright ones are on their own at many comprehensives - not all - but many.

    Most teachers have know this for decades. Many of us are not happy about the situation either.
  3. I appreciate your candour.

    Then I guess I'm looking for one of those where the bright children really are supported.

    The schools themselves make it very difficult to tell the difference, though, because they all fill their glossy brochures with PR and rhetoric that would lead you to believe that they all believe in excellence and achievement for all students, including the bright ones..

    Hence I'm trying to get some answers from you all, so I can understand what' is actually going on in our schools these days, so I make the right decisions for my children.
  4. davidmu

    davidmu Occasional commenter

    Ballamory, my teaching commitment was in a standard market town comprehensive in the rural Midlands. On one occasion we had a very able girl and I was given the task of teaching her on her own for two lessons a week in the Upper Sixth so that she could achieve her ambition to go to Cambridge. She really was outstanding and her linear Further Maths mark was 216 out of a possible total of 230. The grade A for that year was a mark of 149. She obtained grade A's in French, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Music and if you want to count it, General Studies. She is now a research fellow in Astrophysics at Durham. Please do not underestimate what a comprehensive can do given the "raw" material. Eight years is a long time and the staff could change drastically in any school so be wary of making concrete decisions now. I assume that your son could, if necessary, move to another school after GCSE, this is not uncommon. However be aware that there are insufficient high calibre Mathematicians and Physicists to populate every school, despite Gove's statements.
  5. That's really good. I'm happy you were able to arrange that for her.
    I'm guessing, though, that not all comprehensives would be willing to do that for just one pupil.
    There's no sixth form at our local comp, btw.
  6. DM

    DM New commenter

    In our case there are 360 in the year group so I'm only hitting the top 5% or so.
  7. DM

    DM New commenter

    The Additional Maths EBC will be offered to many more children than the FSMQ, possibly 50% or more. Consequently, we can expect this qualification to be quite a lot less demanding.
  8. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    Ballamory, you seem to be focussing solely on maths and making progress in this area only. While it is laudable that you are interested and concerned in this regard, I am sure you are aware that secondary schools will develop your child in so many other ways as well. You may well be looking ahead to STEP but maybe your child will lose some of that passion as they are exposed to music lessons, geography visits, philosophy etc. I 'lost' one of my best mathematicians, who is now studying natural history at Cambridge, when he had to make a decision between maths as a subject he enjoyed or focussing on biology which he had grown to love. I worry that you are trying to plan for something that is too far ahead to be planned for. One other place to look is the UK Maths Challenge who are very good at finding the best mathematicians and giving them maths camps, and I have a student who thoroughly enjoyed this year's camp at Oxford, and who is now making a difficult decision on whether to continue at National standard at piano or dedicate himself to maths. I'm glad you are planning, but don't forget that your child might want to change your plans. Good luck.
  9. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I am just reminded of the claim, which I think is backed up by research, that the bright kids tend to do well regardless of the school they attend. Maybe that's why schools don't worry too much. They all matter, but teaching matters more for the middle ability.
    I think it is very difficult to predict which school will cater best for an outstanding student. It may be a matter of luck: which teachers they get and whether they have the ability/inclination to stretch the student in the right way. I taught in a weak 11-16 school (majority coming in below level 4), but we had the odd exceptional student, and I don't think we did too badly on catering for them. They may even have got a more tailored response because they were so far above the rest that we had to cater for them as individuals, rather than them just being easily at the top of a more normal set 1.

  10. Hi pipipi,
    Thanks for the advice. Perhaps I sounded a bit more regimented than I actually intended, and certainly I want to give my son a free choice of what to study later on. I think I know where his strengths lie, but he could always surprise me!
    I guess I just want to make sure that certain career paths are not barred for him because he didn't get the right sort of teaching at the right time. I know, to some extent, how that feels. My science teachers at school were really excellent, and I owe them an awful lot. I also had a very strong maths teacher in years 8-11, but unfortunately she didn't teach A level or beyond, which was left to the head of maths.
    He wasn't such a good teacher, at least for me. I actually got kicked out of his A level maths lessons at the school, because he said there was nothing more he could teach me. But that wasn't really true - it's just that there weren't the resources available and the staff willingness to invest time and effort for such a small minority of pupils.
    As a result, I would say I didn't start university with as strong a set of maths skills as I should have had. Things might have turned out very differently for me, if not for a wildly improbable series of coincidences that are just too tedious to go into. But because of this series of freak occurrences, I got back into maths in a big way at university, and because I put in lots of extra time and study, and because of the excellent teaching and resources here, I made up for all the stuff I didn't get at school.
    Looking back, though, I'd have had it a lot easier if I had just been taught properly at school in the first place. I'd be happier if fewer students in future were forced to make difficult choices because of deficiencies in their teaching, and more could have a free choice to follow their interests.
  11. Well, that the thing. If you use something like GCSE maths as the yardstick, then yeah, I suspect bright kids will do well at that regardless of which school they go to. Because they will find it fairly easy to do well at that sort of exam.
    But the content on that OCR FSMQ looks much more challenging to me, and I suspect how well pupils do at that sort of exam will depend much more on the quality and volume of the teaching they received.

  12. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    You have it right ballamory.

    When measured by GCSE results, of course bright kids do OK - my own kids could have obtained a C grade in GCSE maths when they left primary school. The only thing stopping them getting higher grades was simply they hadn't been taught the higher level topics at the time.

    And my kids are in no way unique in this - I've taught many top set year 7s who are just as capable.

    Saying they "do well" when the wall they have to climb is so low for them really isn't much of a claim at all.
  13. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    Back to the level of the old Higher GCSE with a bit of Calculus thrown in (as Gove does seem to be set on the idea that Calculus is some sort of gold standard), do you think DM?
  14. I was wondering this myself, and Paul I know you'll have an opinion on it.

    How far should we go on a GCSE paper (or exam paper) so that approximately 10% of then students get an A*? I had a very strong year 7 with whom I did differentiation, integration, matrices, inequalities, sketching graphs, complex numbers. She understood everything, she might have been the '4th standard deviation' but as I was teaching her these topics after getting another 100% on another test, other pupils demanded to be taught these topics, then we had a surreal half term where I looked at a load of A-level topics with a year 7 class. So I do agree the top can be be stretched way beyond GCSE, but just how far could we push them?
  15. Also, as an aside I'm glad this topic has come up, because personally I've found this thread really interesting,
  16. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    I don't have fully-formed opinions on all of your points, but I'll fill in where I do have...
    Like most of us, I expect, I have very mixed views about GCSE. On the one hand, we expect the kids to know a heck of a lot when attempting to get the A/A* - there's a lot in GCSE and I'm fully behind the "linked pair" idea that gives/gave 2 GCSEs in a similar way to English Lang/Lit.
    But without that, and without the Intermediate paper, well, the status quo is about what we should expect..

    Well for a start, it doesn't sound like you were pushing her at all - more like she was pushing you.
    And I think that has to be the limit, doesn't it? When she gets to the point where she's not ready now, then it's time to back off and not before.
    (We all know this causes problems in the school system - very few schools can actually provide a proper curriculum for brighter kids, but frankly, those that don't should make a d*mm sight more effort.
    If the right thing for one child is to be removed from most of their timetabled lessons in order to get their reading age up to something measurable, it's done. And if the right thing for a [very] different 11 year old is to go along to the year 13 further maths class then that should be done too.
    It is made to work in some schools. IMHO, it is something more should be attempting too.)
  17. DM

    DM New commenter

    Beginning to sound that way. You are absolutely right about the calculus by the way. I heard today that this is non-negotiable.
  18. strawbs

    strawbs Established commenter

  19. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    Has this turned into blankety blank?

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