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A Critical Analysis of the National Numeracy Strategy

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A Critical Analysis of the National Numeracy Strategy.

The National Numeracy Strategy was implemented in September 1999, setting a target for 75% of all pupils reaching at least level four in mathematics by 2002. This essay will focus on the findings since the implementation of the strategy for both pupils and teachers. In order to do this I will examine the Numeracy Strategy Framework guidelines, which state how the teaching of mathematics should be carried out in primary education and evaluate some of the main criticisms since the implementation.

Since the implementation of the Numeracy Strategy, a maths lesson should occur on a daily basis in every class from reception to year six. According to the Framework of the Strategy, each lesson should last for about forty minutes in Key Stage 1 and fifty to sixty minutes in Key Stage 2. The lesson should consist of as much time as possible in direct teaching and questioning of the whole class. The focus for teaching should be high-quality direct teaching, rather than drill and practice lecturing, asking children questions and encouraging them to share their answers and methods with the whole class. Greater emphasis is placed on effective teaching by the teacher, rather than children learning by themselves from exercise books.

The Framework states that a typical lesson will consist of oral work and mental calculation with the whole class for the first five to ten minutes of the lesson. This is seen as a warm up to motivate the children to practice and sharpen mental and oral skills, in preparation for the main teaching activity. It is suggested that the teacher should maintain a brisk pace, providing varied oral and mental activities throughout each week. Teachers should ensure that each child can see the teacher easily and interruptions should be avoided, encouraging all pupils to participate in the discussion. Teachers should avoid running over time, in order to move on to the next stage of the lesson.

The next stage will last between thirty and forty minutes, where the exercise will include teaching input and pupil activities either as a whole class, in groups, pairs or individuals. The teacher should make clear to the class what they will learn, tell them what they are expected to do, how long it should take and what they need to prepare for the plenary session, which is the last stage of the lesson. Groups sizes should be manageable consisting of around four pupils. The teacher should work intensively with one or two groups, rather than trying to spend time with all the children, making use of classroom assistants and adult helpers to assist with the rest of the class. When working with individuals or pairs, teachers need to ensure that the rest of the class is working on related tasks and exercises.

The last stage of the lesson consists of a plenary session, which lasts between ten to fifteen minutes and brings the whole class together in order to summarise what they have learnt. This stage of the lesson should be a time to sort out any problems that children may have had, make links with other work and to set homework.

Some plenary sessions may last longer than others depending on the outcomes for e.g. more time may be needed for explanation and discussion to identify errors and misunderstandings. It is important to iron out any problems at this stage before moving onto another task.

Although this is just a brief description of a typical lesson from the Framework guidelines of the Numeracy Strategy, it is clear that the importance of mathematics is stressed over and over again. This is evident where the Framework continually stresses the importance of linking mathematics wherever possible. The Framework suggests that children should identify between mathematics and other subject areas for e.g. in geography map reading will require calculations of measures and angles etc. Teachers are encouraged to bring to the attention of their pupils where these links can be made. Links with mathematics and out of school activities and homework are encouraged, wherever possible. A child might be asked to count the money in his or her wallet at home, or weigh something on the kitchen scales. Even physical education is noted as a link for the practice of heights and weights to be implemented.

In one speech by Chris Woodhead he states that:

Ð''I cannot overestimate the importance of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies in raising standards of Literacy and mathematics in our primary schools Ð'- the fundamental prerequisite for raising educational standards generally.' 1.

www.ofsted.gov.uk/about/press/nr2000-74.htm, (04.01.01)

The Framework suggests that teachers should put greater emphasis on mental calculations, rather than written work. Mental skill needs to be acquired first so that the child can observe numbers mentally and understand what they mean before writing them in the traditional way. The teacher will then be aware that the child fully understands what is being asked and can share his or her methods with the rest of the class, thus encouraging individual thinking.

The teacher can also assess a child more readily knowing whether the child understands the concept of the task. This attitude breaks away from the more traditional methods of teaching whereby a child would be shown and expected to learn one method. The problem with this is that the child may not understand the method and a different one might be more suitable to that particular child.

This emphasis on mental calculation is supported in a report by Mike Askew entitled, Effective Teachers of Numeracy in Primary Schools. The project explored the beliefs of highly effective teachers. It states those highly effective teachersÐ'...

Used pupils' descriptions of their methods and their reasoning to help establish and emphasise connections and address misconceptions. And particularly emphasised the development of mental skills. Pupils develop strategies and networks of ideas by being challenged to think, through explaining, listening and problem solving. 2. Primary Practice (15.05.98)

The Numeracy Strategy can be seen as a positive approach in developing pupil's mathematical ability as it has opened up a new and more exciting way of teaching mathematics both for the pupil and the teacher. Compared to years of traditional teaching methods, which have relied heavily on pupils copying from the blackboard and textbooks, the Strategy has shown some successful results in the relatively short time it has been in practice. OFSTED's report in the first full year of the Strategy

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