Lack of maths skills of primary concern

Published: 13 November 2014

Scotland’s primary school teachers’ maths skills can be ‘weak’ and specially-trained teachers should be placed in schools to ensure Scotland’s future economic success, Professor Martin McCoustra of Heriot-Watt University told Scottish ministers, education representatives and members of the scientific community on Wednesday 12 November.

Professor McCoustra was speaking at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Science and the Parliament event in Edinburgh. A professor of Chemical Physics at Heriot-Watt University, McCoustra believes that the quality of maths teaching a child receives in primary school will directly affect their chances of success in STEM subjects at further and higher education level.

Professor McCoustra said, “Many of today’s primary school teachers lack a Higher in maths, which colleagues and I feel undermines the quality of the teaching of mathematics.

“If primary school teachers aren’t confident in their own arithmetic, which is the basis of all mathematics, they can’t deliver quality teaching to pupils. If we can’t insist that teachers have at least a Higher maths, then we must embed maths-literate people into primary schools to ensure that pupils are taught correctly and confidently or offer appropriate training for primary school teachers.

“It’s absolutely critical. If children don’t crack fractions in primary school, they’ll never have a good grasp of algebra and ultimately will struggle with studying any STEM subject.”

Professor McCoustra will also call for more colleges to offer university-level maths to students who wish to articulate in the third year of a degree, highlighting evidence from Heriot-Watt University’s successful Engineers for the Future and College Maths programme.

McCoustra explained, “We developed the College Maths programme because it was clear that college students articulating into the third year of a STEM degree at Heriot-Watt University hadn’t had the same maths training and consequently would struggle.

“We’ve been working with Edinburgh and Forth Valley Colleges to address this knowledge gap and the students who received the additional maths training have gone on to be extremely successful in the degree programme. We hope to work with other partner colleges to expand this.

“However, the teaching of maths in early years is absolutely critical and must be addressed if Scotland is to address its STEM skills shortage and our future economic success. We cannot afford to maintain the status quo in primary schools.”

 

Source: Heriot-Watt University

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