Primary teachers fail simple maths test

The literacy and numeracy skills of Britain's youngsters have been much discussed in recent years. But with almost a quarter of children leaving primary school still struggling with basic maths, it is no wonder. However, a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary may shed some light on the nation's poor grasp of maths as it reveals that the teachers aren't faring much better.

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Of the 155 teachers from 18 schools that were asked to complete a basic maths test, only one third were able to calculate that 1.4 divided by 0.1 is 14 and an astonishing 54 per cent were unable to work out that 1.12 x 2.2 was 2.464.

That might not sound that simple, but bear in mind that the teachers were previously told that 112 x 22 equalled 2,464.

The programme used 27 questions devised by maths consultant Richard Dunne, but all the material is currently contained in the primary national curriculum. Mr Dunne was shocked, saying: "What we have are tests from 155 teachers which illustrate that probably more than half of them know so little maths that they cannot be conveying mathematics to their children in the classroom."

Jo Boaler, professor of education at Sussex University, told The Telegraph: "We need to give primary teachers a few concepts so that four-, five- and six-year-olds are given a good base in understanding numbers, shapes, counting and sums. Instead they are given a massive list of methods. In most EU countries, there is no formal learning of methods until children are age seven. When children in the UK find they don't understand, they are put in to lower sets and basically told 'You can't do maths'."

However, John Bangs, director of education for the National Union of Teachers, suggests that these are "isolated" examples and added: "Whatever you think of this government, numeracy and teaching of maths have improved significantly since 1997."

One has to worry when a significant improvement in maths teaching results in only half the teachers able to do the sums. So are modern teaching methods to blame? Perhaps it is time for a return to the old methods of times table recitations?