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  • Writer's pictureTony

Government plans on literacy and numeracy

The latest fad can help sell products, but long term usage comes from getting the teachers to share your belief.

Last year the UK went down a place in international maths rankings. This followed the Daily Telegraph’s campaign the year before to “tackle Britain's growing problem with numeracy skills, where” (the paper claimed) “seven million adults cannot grasp basic mathematics”.

Last year the OECD report rated English teenagers aged 16 to 19 the worst of 23 developed nations in literacy and only slightly better in numeracy.

Many people have had a go at solving what is perceived as the British maths crisis, the British literacy crisis, the British IT crisis, the British science crisis… in fact when it comes down to it we seem to have a crisis in most subjects, except the creative arts (achievement in which the government tends not to notice).

We don’t have a national songwriting crisis, and our songwriters still manage to punch way above their weight in the international markets. We don’t have a novelist crisis or a lack of people who want to spend all day writing blogs.

Yet we have a literacy crisis. And a maths crisis.

And now in maths we are now onto the next big wheeze. A group of “top maths teachers in schools in England say the government is not giving enough funding, or support, to encourage take-up of the mastery method of maths teaching used by top-performing Singapore - despite ministers’ enthusiasm for it.”

Apparently nearly 90 percent of 360 respondents to a survey of British maths teachers trained in the mastery method used by Singapore said they believed that there is insufficient funding for training teachers in the mastery method and rolling it out in British schools with a £41m budget.

It is, of course, not the first time that an education minister has become entranced by a different method of teaching, and so poured £££ into adopting it wholesale without actually thinking about how teachers might react.

The New Zealand Reading Recovery Programme was pushed like mad in the last decade, and then quietly shelved although not before it became clear through a study from Massey University in NZ that found that “despite major efforts by the Ministry of Education, and more than $40 million spent each year on the Reading Recovery programme, New Zealand’s reading achievement scores have not improved over the past decade.”

One might just say, “ooops” to that were it not for the fact that it keeps happening. Over and over again.

The fact is that for any new system to be adopted and be successful, teachers have to believe in it. To use the advertising expression, they have to “own” it. The moment they think that it is being pushed down their throats they will object.

This simple point is one that most producers of educational products have long since learned, but very few governments seem to have got hold of. If you want to sell a product or service to teachers which aims to give them better results, by far the most effective way of doing this is to tell them that it will help them, not that it is a top down method that they should follow to the letter.

But governments rarely include people who believe that those on the ground need to be central to their plans.

Advertisers on the other hand tend to have a different view and the most successful firms advertising to schools are those that start from the premise that the teacher is doing a great job, and here is something that might help them achieve even more.

It is funny that governments never manage to learn that simple message.

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