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?
How refreshing to read something which focuses upon 'mathematics' rather than numeracy, and the contribution of the National Numeracy Strategy to pupils' 'mathematical education' rather than performance. A strength of the review is that both classroom practice and pupils' experience of learning mathematics is reflected in the analysis. It benefits from a clear focus upon the pedagogical principles that underpin the Daily Mathematics Lesson and what we know about the effective teaching of mathematics. Furthermore, it recognises that a pupils' identity as a learner of mathematics has an affective as well as a cognitive element. Some good questions are raised in the review about the lack of an evidence base for Ofsted's claims for positive 'affective outcomes' in their evaluations of the National Numeracy Strategy in its first four years.
Low levels of pupil confidence and self-esteem have been shown to be associated with poor achievement, and yet this review reveals that while only half of the studies included explicitly addressed pupil confidence, all but four addressed pupil competence. As pointed out, this might very well be because indicators of pupil confidence and feelings of self-efficacy are difficult to identify and measure. It could be argued, however, that given their importance in promoting children's learning, further studies in this area should be commissioned by policy makers. and researchers should seek to overcome the methodological difficulties previously encountered.
The review findings should have resonance for teacher educators as well as teachers, given the fact that mathematics education in this country, including initial teacher training, has resulted in generations of teachers, as well as children, who have lacked confidence in this subject area. The National Numeracy Strategy seeks to address the issue of poor teaching, as well as raise achievement in mathematics. The ways in which the various elements of the National Numeracy Strategy are introduced to student teachers by teacher educators will to some extent determine how they implement these in school. If developing strategies for promoting pupil confidence in mathematics is identified as an explicit area of professional skill and expertise, this might influence practice.
The review also suggests a number of specific pedagogical issues that need to be addressed, either in the professional preparation of teachers or through in-service training. There seems, for example, to be a need for a greater focus upon developing teachers' understanding of the purpose and nature of interactive teaching. Given the central role that this has been given in the National Numeracy Strategy's model of teaching and learning, and the fact that in the past the level of teachers' pedagogical skill in this area has been limited, addressing this issue would seem to be crucial.
The review also makes a link between the teaching and learning strategies being employed in the Daily Mathematics Lesson and pupils' achievements in national tests. It is suggested that the overall enhanced gains in pupil competence may reflect 'a closer match between what is being taught and what is being tested, rather than greater pupil gains in their understanding of mathematics'. This makes uncomfortable reading for those of us who are committed to improving mathematics teaching and learning rather than test scores. The Daily Mathematics Lesson does not appear to be the remedy for poor teaching that was hoped for. Perhaps it even takes over where the commercial mathematics scheme left off, in constraining or de-skilling the gifted teacher, and providing too little support for the least competent or confident.
The writer, Dr Denny Taylor, is a university lecturer with an interest in mathematics education in primary schools. She is a Lecturer in Primary Education at the School of Education, University of Leeds. She has no connection with the Review Group. This 'perspective' is written in a personal capacity.