Back to basics as Maths problems multiply
(Liz Lightfoot, The Telegraph, May 27th, 2006)
Modern methods of teaching maths which have mystified parents and confused many pupils are to be abandoned six years after the Government forced them on primary schools.
The same unit at the Department for Education which devised the strategy now wants teachers to go back to the "standard written method" it abolished.
The decision has prompted a backlash from some primary teachers and maths advisers who say children are better able to understand the concept of arithmetic when they break sums down into a series of units.
They say the "back to basics" approach heralds a return to the "dark ages" of adding up, subtracting, multiplying and dividing in vertical rows without understanding what they are doing.
But evidence has shown that many pupils are arriving at secondary school unable to do long division and multiplication and reliant on columns of workings out which take longer and are more prone to errors along the way.[...]
The proposed change, put out to consultation yesterday, has already won support from many teachers on the website of The Times Educational Supplement, who say it is better for pupils to master one, simple, standard method than struggle with many.
Primary schools were inundated with complaints from parents when the new method came in and some organised meetings to explain the technique.
However, many parents who gave it the benefit of the doubt began to panic when their children entered the teenage years unable, for example, to divide 196 by six or multiply 56 by 27 with speed and accuracy.
The lesson plan for the numeracy hour introduced in 1999 instructs teachers to use the "grid" method for multiplication. Numbers are split into tens and units which are multiplied by each other in turn to give four totals which are then added together.
In division pupils are taught to subtract multiples of the divisor until they end up with a number less than the divisor. They then add up the number of times they have multiplied the divisor and express the number less than the divisor as the remainder. Children are not allowed to "carry" numbers or put figures in vertical lines, such as 56 with x27 beneath it. They are also strongly discouraged from using the bracket form of dividing each number in turn with the answer above the line and the remainder placed before the next digit.
The proposed new framework says the techniques of the last six years may still be used with younger children, especially to help with mental maths, but that by the time they reach the age of 11, pupils should be able to use the "standard written method", by which they mean the way parents were taught.
In a joint statement, five leaders of the Mathematical Association opposed the change. "Don't let us go back to the bad old days with books full of pages of vertical sums when only a minute percentage of pupils understood what they were doing and only a third could carry out calculations," they said. National statistics for maths show that 25 per cent of 11-year-olds failed to reach the basic standard expected for their age last year rising to 26 per cent of 14-year-olds.
The decision to return to the old methods will come as a relief to many parents.
Christine Turno says she dreads the twice-weekly homework with her nine-year-old daughter.
"She goes ballistic," she said. "We have massive rows because she says I'm doing it wrong and she has to do it the way the school says. But she can't understand what they want and it's a complete mystery to me."
A 20-minute homework session turns into an hour.
Mrs Turno, of west London, said: "The teachers say it is the new way and if the answer is wrong it doesn't matter as long as she is using the right method. It's quite bizarre."
Of 30 in the class, 10 get private tuition.