Numeracy skills

I regularly watch the Child Genius programme on Channel 4. What has perturbed me was that even at this high level of education the children have no concept about the methodology of mental arithmetic and maths, whether or not they arrived at the correct answer, they did not seem to know how they arrived at it. The expressions on the children’s faces told stories.

It is not just about knowing the times table up to 12. There are methods for adding up long lists of numbers in one’s head-digits can be counted by using a base of 10, so that 7+3=1, 6+4=another 1 etc. The figures do not even have to be adjacent in a row, they can be a few digits apart, and the eye will scan each base of 10. I once had a race in a maths classroom as several columns of digits were listed on the board and while the pupils used their calculators, I summed everything using my head. I not only won the race with the correct answer, but very few pupils arrived at the correct answer. When I was an accountancy student (16 years old), I timed myself to add up a day book in my head, and could do 100 pages in 30 minutes. The client of the Estate Agents where this too place, complained to my boss, accusing me of being asleep.
For multiplication, one child was asked the sum of 37 times 12. 37 is one of the easiest numbers to multiply. Times 3 is 111, times 6 is 222, times 9 is 333, times 12 is 444 etc. The 11 times table is very easy with large numbers. For two digit numbers 11 times 45 is 495, you add the digits together 4+5 and put the result in the middle. This works throughout with 11. Dividing by 3 is easy-add the figures together and if they total a sum divisible by 3, then the whole number is also divisible by 3. Nine is another such number (3 times 3). Dividing by 5 will only work out exactly if a figure ends with 5 or 0.
There are lots of games that can be played with numbers, and many numbers can be remembered through being significant and having a connection with something else such as with history or sport. Teachers can make their maths classes interesting-remember 147, the maximum break in snooker etc., or zero not being used in any form of maths until 1300 years ago, first used in India.

In favour of Grammar Schools

Having been to school in the fifties and early sixties, without having passed my 11 plus, and having the comprehensive education imposed on me in the desperately poor education system of Hackney, I feel more qualified to write an opinion on grammar schools, than subsequent generations in which this type of schooling has generally died out (much the same as those referendum who were around in the days before the UK was a part of the European Union).

My education since leaving school in 1963 has been superb, having obtained a professional qualification and a 2nd masters degree, but I was taught very little in school, and this article shows the reasons behind this.

I am not arguing in favour of grammar schools alone, but a return to a 4 tiered system that died out in the early sixties. In those days the UK had a) Grammar schools (generally thought of for people interested in sciences), b) Central Schools, for pupils who had marginally failed their 11+ (in my case by just 3 marks), who were generally interested in office work, c) Technical schools generally for pupils interested in an engineering career and d) Secondary Modern Schools, for the remainder. There was also a 13+ available to allow pupils a second chance to qualify for a grammar school.

The problem with the old system was that it did not fully cater for late developers. There was an unfair threshold for pupils who sat the 11+ depending upon the month they were born. The school year runs from August to July, so those born in August were almost 12 when they sat the exam (depending on the exam date) and those born May-July were still 10. Unfortunately there was and never has been a 12+. The other problem is that with schools being for social as well as academic education, for those pupils who do pass the 13+, they have probably already made firm friends in their existing school, and would be reluctant to switch schools at any age. Thirteen is also very close to the start of the build-up to G.C.S.E. studying.

By mixing the education standards within one school, it just adds to the bullying problem that may already exist, as jealousy abounds from those who are below the educational norm towards the clever pupils, and possibly in the other direction where bragging rights enter the equation. Bullying is going to happen anyway, but this exacerbates the situation, giving more reasons for it to occur.

Another problem at my school, which I understand has now been eliminated was the issue of grouping students en bloc for their total academic mark, rather than separating by abilities in individual subjects. We all have individual talents and somebody in my class was academically illiterate and could score zero in Maths and English, but capable of achieving 100% in Art. I was the opposite and scored 91% in an end of year Maths exam, but 5% in Art. Why were we grouped together and learning the same curriculum? I can barely draw a straight line even now, but with an IQ of 150, could challenge anybody at my level in Maths.

The standard of comprehensive education is poor. Compared with other countries e.g. Germany. I was lecturing 2nd year degree students at UEL in Management Accounting. Those educated in the UK had a numeracy ability of about aged 13, and could barely understand simple percentages. The German students were fantastic by comparison. Why should that be? In 1989 my daughter achieved a full scholarship to a very prestigious private school, and was in a class to achieve an A grade or A* in Maths, when 3 years later an asset stripper shut the school down, forcing the pupils to attend a local comprehensive school, where my daughter and her schoolfriends were put into a B grade maths class because there was no room in the higher class. She did eventually go to University to achieve a 2.1.

I therefore propose that Grammar schools should return as well as the other 3 categories of school, but with a 12+ to accommodate late developers.