“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives, choice not chance determines your destiny.” Aristotle
It’s the wrong time of year to be talking about Epiphany, but this is about an epiphany of the ‘wake-up call’ kind.
I have always thought that schools should have moved far beyond the Victorian attitudes which still pervade our education structure even now; and as one who spent twenty years in engineering I occasionally concur with those who think that the level of maths our students leave school with is of a poor standard; but I do not agree that we are failing to prepare our youngsters for the moment they move on from school. I want mathematics learning to exceed that of my own school experience, and am dismayed at the constant interference of politicians and those who hark back to their own youth. Especially anyone who had a privileged education, and mastered learning of a particular academic kind. I am not especially forgiving of those who make excuses for not being able to do maths and wear it as a badge of honour either.
We have anticipated that the new GCSE curriculum specifications will be demanding, bringing the level of mathematics required to reach the highest attainment indicator (A*, 9, whatever) to that of the old OA papers (1960-70 style). Since we have struggled to get to the 81% A*-C level of 2013 for several years, I imagine that many Heads of Mathematics like myself, will be striving to prepare our Year 8’s for these new examinations, wondering how to develop the breadth and depth in the curriculum which will enable both our brightest to demonstrate real understanding of academic maths, and our weakest to have the confidence to attack those functional maths problems which have a high degree of literacy required.
We can rewrite the curriculum to enable this to take place – there are after all, huge developments in the support from publishers and educators; and resources abound on the internet. Applying this is a little more tricky. However, I am alarmed at the skew taking place in timetabling for maths and English at the expense of a well-rounded curriculum in its broadest sense. Alarmed because we will not be doing the same? I hear from colleagues in other schools who are doubling their KS4 maths provision. Furthermore, as our experienced teachers have retired, we have lost our flexibility and are struggling to recruit. I have teachers who are creative, passionate about our youngsters, and about maths; finding candidates who are willing to take the risks we have come to experience on a daily basis (without thinking they are outside the norm), is proving tiresome and challenging.
When I reflect on my experiences as an NQT a few years ago, I am amazed at how I and my school have changed. Our intake is still similar, reflecting our local community, but our aspirations and expectations are now even higher. Are my expectations are too high? Excellence as a minimum can be a punishing ideal implying little forgiveness, but we are making decisions about the lives of those entrusted to our care. Should every child experience equality in mathematics provision? Should there be equity in opportunities which enable them to understand the beauty as well as the functionality of the subject? Yes to both. Maths education empowers people to make a better success of their life. Isn’t that what we are really aiming for – that our children should experience a better life than our own?
And the epiphany? An outstanding lesson which came about when students took complete ownership of their learning after a year long struggle to develop their independence – I was there for the feedback and guidance, they taught themselves.
‘Patience and Courage’ are second only to ‘Excellence, Equity and Empowerment’.
1.the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities.“an organization aiming to promote racial equality”
synonyms: fairness, justness, equitability, impartiality, even-handedness, egalitarianism, equal rights, equal opportunities, non-discrimination;