Better Maths for the Millions: well that’s the aim

Schools have four weeks to express an interest in becoming a Mathematics Hub. The aim of providing professional development through some 30 hubs that in the first instance will both host the visiting teachers from Shanghai and identify those teachers from schools across England that will be offered a visit to China’s booming port city is a laudable idea. However, 30 hubs for even 20,000 schools means that, on average, each hub will have more than 600 schools that could associate with it. Put it another way, if there are 4 hubs in each of London, the North West, South East and Yorkshire & the Humber Regions, and three in all other regions except the North East, where there might be just two, you get an idea of how thinly spread the resources will be.

The long list of tasks the Hubs are eventually going to have to manage includes supporting wider partnerships on:

  • leading on national innovation projects such as the Shanghai Teacher Exchange Programme

•     recruitment of maths specialists into teaching;

•     initial training of maths teachers and supporting existing teachers of other subjects wanting

to change to maths teaching;

•     co-ordinating and delivering a wide range of maths continuing professional development

(CPD) and school-to-school support;

•     ensuring maths leadership is developed, for example by coordinating programmes for aspiring        and new heads of maths departments;

•     helping maths enrichment programmes to reach a large number of pupils from primary school onwards.

Interestingly, the development of Subject Knowledge Courses for would-be mathematics teachers is not specifically mentioned in the list, but would no doubt be just as important as helping existing teachers of other subjects convert to become competent maths teachers.

On the basis that you have to invest to achieve progress, the Hubs will no doubt initially take some of the scare maths teachers away from classrooms and department leadership to run the programmes. I worry that the initiative is too secondary orientated when what may be required is a national scheme for upgrading the maths capability of primary school teachers. If they can gain confidence is delivering the subject, then a higher proportion of pupils will achieve the expected level at Key Stage 2, and maths teaching in secondary schools will be more interesting for more teachers. It is not enrichment after primary school that is needed as much as the ability of pupils to achieve their full potential before they move on to secondary schools.

I hope that while the DfE has opened the scheme to ‘expressions of interest’ there will be attempts to ensure national coverage rather than leaving schools in some parts of England devoid of any support. Market-based schemes may have their place, but ensuring national coverage must take precedence over other factors. I am also not sure whether a programme developing maths leader solely alongside other maths teachers is a good idea. Personally, I think groups of teachers from different subjects undertaking leadership development together is a better model, and helps those eventually going forward to senior leadership to start to understand whole school issues as well as those relating to their own subject. No doubt the National College has a view on middle leadership development but, despite having been taken into the DfE, they don’t seem to rate a mention in this document. Hopefully, that is only a temporary oversight in the rush to produce a programme to coincide with the Minister’s visit to Shanghai.


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