The day I agreed with Nick…

Blog: Ian Davies, Director of Secondary

The day I agreed with Nick…

Posted: 25/07/16

No, not that Nick – that’s so 2010.  I’m talking about Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister.  Now, those who know me may be quite surprised to hear me say this, this so I’d better explain…

As a member of the Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education Outer Circle, I was quite excited to attend the annual ACME conference on 12 July. Highlights were to include a workshop on professional development for teachers and a session on prime numbers.  Proper geek opportunities.

To be honest, the morning keynote by a government minister was not top of my ‘can’t wait for that’ list!

By the time I got there, the key announcement Mr Gibb was due to make had already been widely reported by an excited media (no leadership shenanigans that morning apparently) – a £41M funding boost to support ‘mastery-style’ mathematics teaching.

Although this was great news, it raised two concerns: people might think the money was destined for Mathematics Mastery (it’s not of course, but we’re still excited), and now the keynote would be even less interesting as I knew what he was going to say.

Not for the first time, I was completely wrong.  Yes, Mr Gibb did talk about the money and the planned NCTEM roll-out of support, but he also talked quite a lot about mathematics.  And I agreed with many of the things he said!

The ‘I can’t do maths’ attitude should be consigned to the past

Although he didn’t explicitly mention growth mindset (Charlie Stripp of the NCETM did in his response to the keynote), the minister was clear in his message that all pupils can succeed in maths.  He even referred to ‘attainment’ rather than ‘ability’.   I almost cheered.

Conceptual understanding of mathematics is needed to support procedural fluency

The emphasis on developing a deep conceptual understanding of mathematics is one of the less reported aspects of the Shanghai and Singapore approaches, but it’s a core element of the Mathematics Mastery programme. It was great to see the minister specifically mention and support this.

Precise mathematical language is key

I couldn’t agree more with this one! Language and communication is fundamental to our approach, from Reception right through to Year 11.

Complex problems have simple problems with them

There’s often a misconception that a mastery approach – with a focus on developing number sense – means ‘doing the basics’ at the expense of developing problem-solving skills.  We believe (and were pleased to see the minister does too) that they need to be taught alongside, from the start so that when more and more complex problems arise, the resilience to tackle these has already begun to build.

In the interests of full disclosure, there were a number of things the minister said that I didn’t agree with (seating arrangements in classrooms, for example). But this tends to be the case when I have a discussion on education with anyone – friends, colleagues in schools and even colleagues within Mathematics Mastery.  Debates are healthy and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve changed my views on educational approaches many times over the years.  In fact, I’d be ashamed if I hadn’t!

To reassure you all – no, I haven’t suddenly turned into an automaton, falling in line with all government pronouncements just to further my own stand on mastery teaching.  But it was refreshing to hear such precise, considered arguments in a political speech.

I had expected to be bored (I wasn’t) and to disagree with the vast majority (I didn’t).  There’s me being wrong again.  Still learning every day…

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