15 February 2010

Dispatches - Channel 4 - Kids don't count


In 2009 more than one in five children left primary school having failed to grasp the basic maths skills required by the national curriculum. In a two-part special, Dispatches asks why and how are we failing Britain's children when it comes to maths.

Dispatches follows a class of final-year pupils at Barton Hill Primary School in Bristol as their staff adopt a radical approach to teaching, in a bid to improve the maths ability of these children before they head off to secondary school.

The problem couldn't be more urgent. Research shows that failing to grasp the fundamentals of maths at primary school leaves only a one in ten chance of catching up by the age of 16.

Dispatches hears from leading lights in the worlds of business and academia - including the CEO of Sainsbury's, Justin King, and George Davies, formerly of Next and Asda - about the impact on the economy and on adult life of leaving school without basic maths skills.

In a provocative nationwide exercise, Dispatches examines the standard of primary maths teaching in this country by testing the teachers. No tricks; just 27 questions that a bright 11-year-old would be able to answer. The shocking results are revealed in the programme.

George Says:

How did maths teaching in schools become so poor? It is shocking. Not specifically the pupils - they are only young, and if you can teach a young child to 'get' maths, to understand the concept of there always being a correct answer, always including 'working out', the process being more important than the answer - children can catch-up. It was the teachers that shocked me the most. Only 46% passed a 'simple' maths test.

SAT tests need to be abolished. They went from learning about the secrets behind maths, to being taught specifically how to pass the SAT test. Nightmare. This might help schools appear to be teaching the basics. League table rankings improve, but does it help the kids understand the subject? From the evidence of this programme it would appear not. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have already dumped the dreaded SAT's, surely now is the time for England to do the same.

Check out the website for more information, feedback, and the dreaded test itself.

A test that George took, and as someone who thinks he knows a bit about 'mafs and dat', he was ashamed with his results. 65%. OK. Some basic mistakes made though. Back to school for George.

E.g: 1/2 x 1/4 = Any answers on a postcard

Some Comments from Channel 4 website:

ICANIWILLDOMATH on 15 February 2010 at 20:58

Being able to do basic mathematics including fractions and times tables without a calculator is a fundamental skill everyone needs, whether they are a mathematician or a manual worker. If the system is the problem, work towards changing it and if the teachers are the problem, educate them in how to do it properly but do stop whining about whose fault it is. There is far too much at stake here to keep doing it badly. I for one will make sure that my kids are mathematics literate before they get to school as I will not be leaving it to chance in the British education circus.

FIONA on 15 February 2010 at 21:25

As a teacher, I think the programme highlighted some very important issues, often lack of systematic teaching throughout the primary phase in maths leads to key problems in Years 5 and 6. Which unfortunately due to SATs pressure means some of those children who need that extra support as shown in the programme do not have the time available to consolidate the problems. Also I hope some ministers were watching those poor kids suffering because of the huge emphasis put on the SATs tests in Year 6. Its a very sad state of affairs when children hate maths so much!


  1. Although it is shocking the standard of maths today, there are great online products such as Maths Whizz (www.whizz.com) that can really help engage students using new technology.

  2. Thank-you for your well placed advert. I checked out your maths-whizz product and I was surprised to find it cost £100 a year to use a fairly poor software attempt at maths teaching. It requires time and effort to help children learn maths. A passion, not a program. It could help supplement learning, but not at that price I'm afraid.

  3. Not all primary maths teaching is bad - to see some decent primary maths teaching in action have a look at these programmes on the Teachers TV website: http://www.teachers.tv/series/progression-in-primary-maths

  4. I watched this programme with great interest as I belief that Maths is one of the best subjects and is essential in every day life. How many people buy items because the total appears less than a multiple item as shown on the second programme.