A synthesis of reports related to mathematics education in England

Introduction

At least 50 reports related to mathematics education in the UK (or in some cases England) were published between the beginning of 2011 and December 2013. More than fifteen were published in 2014, 2015 and 2016. These reports were released into the public domain, were not necessarily subject to the rigorous peer review process of academic research papers, and frequently received some media attention.

I collected these reports, and have some synthesis and analysis of their contents, with the intention understanding something about their intended audience and what influence they may potentially have on schools, teachers, policy makers and other stakeholders in mathematics education (such as students and parents). The key research question, however, is ‘what are the messages we can take from this collection of reports?’

Rationale

Those interested in mathematics education frequently need to understand something about the characteristics of a set of reports published, such as those published in a one- two- or perhaps five-year time period. For example, an overview of the originators of the reports would provide some information about who is concerned with the topic and a summary of their areas of focus would indicate what these people are concerned about.

It may also be interesting for stakeholders to know about the content of a set of reports. For example, the content might identify problem areas in mathematics education and/or provide recommendations. However, reading the reports to get an informed sense of the content of the reports is time consuming and achieving an overview of both the whole collection and the content of the reports could be difficult.

This blog aims to address this difficulty first by analysing the whole collection of reports and then by synthesising the content of, and messages from, a set of such reports.

What I did (outline: more details here)

The blog is one of the tools I am using  to ‘draw on the wisdom of the mathematics education crowds’ to develop a shared understanding of what the emerging big messages from these reports are. The project also uses a range of new and old technologies, such as Mendeley, LinkedIn, Twitter, conferences, email, face to face conversations and forums to provide various ways in which members of the community are able to provide their comments, concerns or other contributions. At day conferences (March and June 2013) of the British Society of Research in Learning Mathematics (BSRLM), the methodology of the project and the initial findings were presented.

Between January and December 2013, the blog was developed to present the emerging synthesis and analysis of the reports, and and drew together contributions of the community gathered from all the channels through which the crowds contribute their wisdom.

Since then more reports have been added and some work has been done on the perceived causes of the (perceived) problems with mathematics education in England (or UK), and also in South Africa.

Navigation

Use the links at the top to see more or:

  • for the overall narrative, click here
  • why change is needed (or what the ‘problems’ are) click here and the reasons for these problems click here
  • for methods click here, and more about using old and new technologies click here
  • for the list of reports click here, and for the way I chose the reports to include click here
  • for a quick analysis click here and for my first comments about the new national curriculum (in relation to this project) click here
  • for more about maths and STEM click here and for more about maths and careers click here
  • for recommendations (from the reports) click here

Contribute to a short questionnaire: why do we have problems?

Author: Marie Joubert

If you want to find out more, please complete this form, and I will get in touch with you. Of course if you know me, you can just email me.

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About Marie

I am a Senior Research Fellow in Mathematics Education at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences.
This entry was posted in education, mathematics, mathematics education, mathematics education policy, mathematics education research. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to A synthesis of reports related to mathematics education in England

  1. Luise Gibbs says:

    28 reports certainly seem to suggest that there is an interest in understanding what the problems are and what we can do.

  2. I’m particularly worried about our loss of expertise on what’s possible through technology in maths education. I see this as being related to the closing of Becta who used to provide people at consultations who focused on this and to whom people like me could feed in our knowledge so that it got shared rather than being lost.

    • Marie says:

      Of course there is still a lot of research going on about ‘what’s possible through technology’ (see for example http://tinyurl.com/ahf5klj for an analysis the abstracts of the recent conference on technology in maths teaching – and forgive my shameless self-promotion!) but there is also a feeling that we haven’t progressed as much as was hoped for.
      However, when you say ‘our’ loss of expertise, to whom are you referring?

      • If I get a moment I’ll try to access your full paper thought my OU account Marie (unless you can send me access to it through Linkedin in which case I’ll definitely look at it). So this is just a brief comment made with the caveat that I haven’t done that yet.

        I’ve been lucky enough to be working with the US Dept. Ed. connected educators project. I don’t know if you’ve been involved? If you look in Math, Math Ed. Math Culture you should be able to find a threat they ran there (and still update). I’ve been worried that there’s been no-one here in the UK I could feed the insights back to as there would have been had becta existed. I’ve also been concerned by the very poor quality of the contribution on ICT at some consultations. See for example this conversation: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/community/thread/97905

        I’d be delighted to find that my concern are unfounded and you’re on the case……

        I’ve been writing about the future impact of technology on education for a long time now – first in Micromath, then in MT and these days on my blog such as here:
        http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/assessing-students-up-to-age-14-much.html

      • Marie I can get access to the correct journal and to the Sept 2012 edition but I can’t see your article there. Any thoughts?

      • “However, when you say ‘our’ loss of expertise, to whom are you referring?”

        Sorry – I should have answered this specifically.

        UK policy making expertise. It went under Gove (presumably so Murdoch’s new acquisitions in technology in education could more easily come in and ‘sort everything out.’) I’m talking about the abolition of becta, the slashing of work on portals and online collaboration and so on which have resulted in the knowledge or out expert bodies going backwards in this area while those of other countries have surged forward.

        In your paper you quote Clark-Wilson et al. to describe how the culture of high stakes assessment needs to change and to recognise the commitment at policy level needed to achieve that. I’m trying to work on this but it’s extremely difficult without these central resources. Likewise for what can be achieved through teacher collaboration and the progress which can be made with enhanced stakeholder communication and scaffolded formative tracking.

  3. I don’t think the problems with mathematics education is only an “English” problem. In South Africa I despair about the lack of understanding of the basics let alone any sophisticated Mathematics. Teachers who do not understand the difference between different financial formulae, children who need calculators to do simple Arithmetic (multiply by 10!) and a general population whose number awareness and spatial orientation is poor (and that is amnigst all demographic groups!). I could go on ad nauseam……..

  4. Marie says:

    Paul Andrews of Cambridge University (http://www.educ.cam.ac.uk/people/staff/andrews/) says:
    The most obvious comment to make is that the vast majority of these reports are written on behalf of interest groups, typically linked to a particular species of mathematical user. The expectation that users of mathematics are free to influence curricular decision making is deeply embedded in English education. For example, if one scrutinises Adrian Smith’s steering committee one notes two things. Firstly, there were no mathematicians, only users of mathematics in the group. Secondly, the only teacher was the retired head of a girls’ independent school. The Chair of ACME, the group to which we all now defer, has to be a user of mathematics. Can one imagine a steering committee for the teaching of modern foreign languages being chaired by, assuming such a body exists, the EU Interpreters Guild?

    The next most obvious thing to note is that many of these reports are authored by people ill-equipped to write them. Typically these seem to be people who have no access to the refereed literature, have chosen to ignore it or are unaware of it. Consequently we find several recent and fairly high-status reports that manipulate official and quasi-official sources in ways that present a seductive rhetoric beneath a veneer of scholarship but which are very poorly informed. For example, the recent RSS report cited one refereed paper in 49 references, the RSA report cited not one refereed paper, and the so-called Vorderman report cited six refereed papers in 180 references. It is interesting to note, also, that two of these three were essentially written by the same author, leading to the question, whose voice is being represented in these reports?

    In sum, my take is that every interest group is hell-bent on ensuring its voice informs the curriculum. Yet the voice of the mathematician is almost entirely absent. Consequently, we end up with the curricular mess we have had for decades. A curriculum that prepares children neither for a world of work – if that is the objective – nor further study of the subject. Rhetoric masquerading as scholarship that creates a form of Chinese whispers, with misquoted or misunderstood issues presented as truths that circulate among the authorships of these various reports with ever-increasing authority

  5. Paul Ernest says:

    I think Paul Andrew’s reply is the most enlightening so far. To analyse these documents one needs a theoretical framework and perspective. In particular it is important to identify the competing sets of aims and goals (and which subpopulations they are aimed at), as well as the social interests and groups behind the reports, and their underpinning belief systems, ideologies, and philosophies of mathematics and maths ed. The idea that the best wisdom can be distilled from these reports by looking at their overlaps or shared good ideas is flawed without problematizing the competing interests at work. However the idea that this plethora of reports needs a critical review is a valuable one. Good luck Marie!

    • Marie says:

      Paul (and Paul)
      Of course I agree. I do not mean ever to suggest that the strongest messages from the reports (perhaps those said most often or most loudly) represent the best wisdom. Far from it.
      I think there are several interesting things we can do with these reports, and perhaps the first is to distill the big messages, and perhaps the less big messages. What are they saying about maths ed and is anyone taking any notice?
      A second is to look at who is producing the reports, why they are producing them, who they expect to read them and what they expect could be done to accomodate their particular recommendations. Related to that is developing an understanding of their implicit and explicit (competing) interests. In my ideal world, the authors of these reports would contribute to this blog!

  6. Pingback: The Aperiodical | Making sense of all the recent reports on the state of mathematics education

  7. Pingback: Mathematics Reports | The De Morgan Forum

  8. Biddy Greene says:

    Marie, I clicked on “Why change is needed” and then on the “serious inequalities” link. That got me to the Ofsted “Mathematics: made to measure” report. So I opened it. Yikes! More than 100 pages! So this is to ask you whether there are sections of that which you’d particularly like reactions on.

  9. Marie says:

    Biddy – here’s the two page summary which is largely taken from the executive summary of the report: https://mathsreports.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/maths-64.pdf

  10. ilan Samson says:

    Hello Marie,

    There are not only the reports about which one can ask if they actually influence anything. There are:
    ‘Initiatives’
    ‘strategies’
    ‘programs”
    ‘studies’
    ‘schemes’
    ‘foundations’
    ‘plans’
    ‘commissions’
    ‘projeccts’
    ‘consultations’
    ‘papers’ (white, green, blue…)
    ‘reviews’
    ‘submissions’…
    but, you might like to know about one thing that recently came about- that is an actual tool, which actually solves one of the basic problems in maths education: Have you heard about the QAMA calculator? ( http://www.QAMAcalculator.com )

    Kind regards,

    Ilan

  11. Marie says:

    Ilan, thanks for this. You’re right of course, and one would hope that the initiatives, strategies etc are influenced by the reports. I have included some green/white papers in my collection. My project – for now – is restricted to reports!

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