National Numeracy responds to publication of latest Ofsted report

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Our response to the Ofsted report which highlights that too few leave school with the maths skills needed for life and is urging the government to raise the national mathematical ambition:-



Ofsted report shines light on state of maths education and urges the government to raise the national mathematical ambition. 

National Numeracy welcomes the impressive report into mathematics education in schools in England published today by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted).

The report, based on inspections of more than 300 primary and secondary schools, shows that for many children the achievement gap at the start of their schooling increases markedly over time and ‘low attainment too often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy’. At the same time, too many able children are under-achieving and the mathematics teaching and curriculum experienced by pupils vary too much.

Too much teaching is seen to concentrate on enabling pupils to pass tests and is not equipping them for the next stage of education, work and life. And although schools have become more aware of the need to improve pupils’ problem-solving and investigative skills, such activities are rarely integral to learning.

The report also highlights excellent examples of good practice where schools tackle mathematical disadvantage with expert insight and ambitious determination. These outstanding schools focus on building pupils’ fluency with, and understanding of, mathematics. Pupils of all ages and abilities tackle varied questions and problems, showing a preparedness to grapple with challenges, and explaining their reasoning with confidence.

National Numeracy particularly supports the following recommendations:

  • The Department for Education take action to raise national mathematical ambition and to improve pupils’ mathematical knowledge and  understanding.

  • Ofsted place greater emphasis in inspection on how well teaching fosters understanding and on pupils’ problem solving skills.

  • Schools work to tackle in-school inconsistency of teaching and develop the expertise of staff through effective professional development, enabling staff to understand the progression in strands of mathematics over time and to choose teaching approaches and activities that foster pupils’ deeper understanding.

National Numeracy believes that problem solving and practical activities underpin pupils’ understanding and particularly highlights the following example of ‘prime practice’ from page 67 of the report:

Prime practice: inspiring future mathematicians

In solving problems, teachers aimed to foster the attitude that pupils, even the most able, should expect to struggle and, indeed, to welcome the challenge. As the head of department explained, ‘Students wouldn’t give up on a computer game just because they failed to solve it first time. This persistence is needed with mathematics problems as well.’

Pupils often solved problems in pairs or small groups and, after a solution had been discussed, they sometimes made informal posters to display their solutions.

The head of department added: ‘Employers love this approach because pupils learn to solve problems, becoming more proficient at working in small teams and at communicating their ideas. Collaboration and communication are vital to solving problems in mathematics.’

National Numeracy’s chief executive Mike Ellicock said: “We believe that every child can become a numerate adult – with skillful teaching in school and encouragement at home. Given that there are 17 million adults in England with primary school level numeracy, we believe that this report has wider applicability and we hope its findings will be acted upon. It is essential that we all recognise the vital importance of numeracy and the need for better support for those who struggle – at school and post-school, if we are to create a just and economically viable society.”

(‘Mathematics: made to measure’ published by Ofsted - on 22 May 2012.)


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