The Government's National Numeracy Strategy seems to have increased young primary pupils' test scores in mathematics, new research suggests. But recent rises in scores may be more likely to result from pupils being 'taught to the test' than from any underlying improvement in their mathematical understanding arising from the prescribed lesson structure, says the Government-funded research group.
The National Numeracy Strategy was introduced in September 1999 in primary schools in England. Its central feature is a daily mathematics lesson (commonly known as 'the numeracy hour') with a three-part structure, starting with mental maths and ending with a summing up of what has been learnt. It emphasises the use of interactive, whole-class teaching of the kind that has been successful in countries like Switzerland and Hungary.
The main features of the Daily Mathematics Lesson have been well received by teachers and widely implemented, say Chris Kyriacou and Maria Goulding of the University of York, who led the study.
Although most research focuses on competence, there is also some evidence that the Daily Mathematics Lesson has enhanced pupils' confidence and competence in early mathematics, say the authors, who conducted the review for the Mathematics Education Review Group, with the support of the EPPI Centre in London University's Institute of Education.
But they say the intention that whole-class teaching should promote higher-quality discussion and strategic thinking may not have been realised. 'Indeed', they add, 'there is some evidence to indicate that the increased use of traditional whole-class teaching with "pace" is in fact undermining the development of a more reflective and strategic approach to thinking about mathematics, and may be creating problems for lower attaining pupils.'
The stricter time management involved may pose special problems for low achievers, says the study. The research review looked in depth at 18 studies, published in English between 1999 and 2003, on the impact of the daily mathematics lesson on the confidence and competence in mathematics of 5 to 7-year-olds.