Has the Daily Mathematics Lesson, in the context of the National Numeracy Strategy for primary schools in England, helped pupils to develop confidence and competence in early mathematics?
From the perspective of somebody involved in teacher education I found this a very useful and informative review both in terms of the issues that it raises and also as a good example of a systematic review of literature, together with the involvement of a user group.
The focus of the review is on the experiences of children in the early years of schooling as learners of mathematics. It questions whether the Daily Mathematics Lesson, in the context of the National Numeracy Strategy (NNS) for primary schools in England, helps pupils to develop confidence and competence in early mathematics. The results are significant for policy-makers, teachers, teacher educators and all those with an interest in education. It draws attention to the complexity of the variables that affect the learning of mathematics and the need to be extremely cautious when looking for direct causal links between teacher behaviour and pupil learning. In addition it identifies the need to take account of affective outcomes in relation to the learning of mathematics and the reasons why children may develop negative feelings at an early stage in their school careers which, in turn, can influence their attitude to the subject for the rest of their lives.
The National Numeracy Strategy has sometimes been presented as if it is a standardised package that is delivered in the same way across all schools, and the review identifies the fact that although there are common elements of the three-part lesson the ways in which these can be used vary considerably in practice. It highlights the difference between situations in which children may be participating in lessons yet not engaging in mathematical thinking to the extent that is intended. A particularly important feature of the review is that it raises questions about the distinction between what it calls 'traditional whole-class teaching' and that of interactive whole-class teaching. The findings strongly suggest that there are those who are not familiar with this important distinction and this is of particular value to all engaged in the education and training of teachers, whether it is those involved at the initial or continuing stages of the process.
Other issues raised by the review are the importance of sound mathematical knowledge, which is especially significant for those designing, teaching and funding programmes of teacher education. Also highlighted are the possible effects of ability grouping and the gender implications of the approach adopted. The review is careful not to make claims that go beyond the base of evidence but it does provide an excellent starting point for those who are considering further research. From the point of view of a teacher educator it is therefore valuable as an example of a systematic review process in addition to the usefulness of the outcomes themselves. It is noted that dissemination of the outcomes of the review will be in forms that are most accessible to the intended audiences be they teachers, teacher educators, policy-makers or others.
The writer, Christopher Metcalfe, is a university lecturer with an interest in school management and policy making in education. He is Principal Lecturer at the School of Education and Professional Training, Leeds Metropolitan University. He has no connection with the Review Group. This 'perspective' is written in a personal capacity.