The publication of the TIMMS data on mathematics and science outcomes at Years 5 & 9 across a wide range of countries heralds the start of a period of data announcements that will include OECD comparative data and the Chief inspectors annual report; in thelatter case, the last by the present Inspector. As I am away next week – thoroughly bad timing, but needs must – my comments on these reports will have to wait for a while. However, the TIMMS national report for England can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/572850/TIMSS_2015_England_Report_FINAL_for_govuk_-_reformatted.pdf
Slow progress, with better results from the primary sector than the secondary sector might be one interpretation. Another, summed up in the findings is that:
- Forty-six per cent of year 9 pupils in England pupils strongly valued maths: more than their peers in the five highest-performing countries.
- Half (50%) of year 5 pupils in England very much liked learning maths compared to only 14 per cent of year 9s. In both years 5 and 9, three of the highest-performing countries – Japan, Taiwan and South Korea – had smaller proportions of pupils who liked learning maths than in England.
- In both years 5 and 9 in England, and across all countries, on average, there is an association between all attitudinal factors and average achievement. For example, the more pupils feel confident in their maths ability; the higher their average achievement.
The message about the value of mathematics seems to now being heard and accepted in society, at least by young people. The next question is whether squeezing the last ounce of learning out of teenagers makes the process less fun? If so, does that have long-term implications for attitudes to learning, especially where the results are the outcome of longer time at school learning the subject and more tutoring hours outside of school? Is a balanced curriculum better than a narrow one even if results in some subjects are less than might have been achieved? That is not to recommend easing up on learning maths, but to place include it is a broader curriculum.
Whether the current level of success will continue in the next survey is open to question especially as:
Head teachers in England were more likely to report teacher recruitment difficulties and/or finding it hard to fill vacancies than in most other comparator group countries. About half of year 9 pupils were taught in schools with shortages in both subjects, while two-thirds (67%) of head teachers found their year 9 science vacancies somewhat or very hard to fill.
However, schools in England, despite media reports to the contrary are no longer the blackboard jungles they once were. The report states that the findings are:
The vast majority of pupils in England were taught in schools where head teachers reported hardly any problems with school discipline and which teachers reported to be safe and orderly. This compared relatively favourably against most other TIMSS countries. However, six per cent of year 9 pupils attended schools which teachers reported to be less than safe and orderly.
There is a lot more fascinating data in the Report, so it’s good to know that data skills are one we seem to do well. Not a soft skill, but a valuable hard one.