Friday, 24 April 2015

50 Million

Ok, apologies for the self-congratulatory tone of this blog, but I'm really rather proud of Emaths.
In February 2004, I was giving a speech to a conference of teachers. There I was pontificating on the benefits of collaboration: how we, the 350,000 maths teachers in England are stronger together. That if we could network and share resources and ideas, the system really could improve. I talked about the need for a one-stop-shop, a place where any teacher could add their resources and find support materials.
As the speech went on in my usual evangelical manner, a delegate stood up in yelled – and I mean really yelled – at me "why don't you just do something about it?"
On that stage, in those seconds, my life changed forever.
I drove home that night with his words going round and round my head. He was, of course, right.
So, I started to write Emaths. And on March 4th 2004, the site was launched.
I don't watch my site stats very closely, but this morning I noticed that the number of users was approaching a pretty significant number and knew that it would tip over that number at some point today. And it did.
50 million users.
At some stage this afternoon, the 50 millionth user of Emaths did some maths or found some support or used some material.
Emaths has been a labour of love over the past decade – though it looks after itself nowadays (except for the funding required!).
I am proud of what the site has achieved. I created, designed and wrote Emaths from scratch, by myself. No grants, no government funding, no corporate money. Just me, at home trying to find a solution to that heckle all those years ago. And then, of course, all those teachers who have been generous enough to share their approaches on the site.
50 millions users. I am proud that I have played a part in the education of many millions of children and proud that the site continues to do so.
Emaths has drained my wallet and has driven me to the edge over the years – those nights of working on the site at 4am when I had to be up for school in the morning!
For over a decade now, my every waking moment has been filled with the obsession to 'do something about it'. I am absolutely sure that the answer lies in large scale collaboration, that every single teacher of mathematics can benefit from the knowledge and skills of every other teacher. Bringing these teachers together, creating a 'social brain' of all our experiences and knowledge is what continues to drive me. I have tried several possible solutions, Emaths being the first (and like the first born, has a special place in my heart). Other attempts have included the NCETM and 'wiki-curriculum' in Canada. Today, after much experimenting and research and pain and tears and success and failure, all of the wisdom is being rolled into my last hurrah, Complete Mathematics – never before have we created something so powerful and never before have I felt we are so close to realising the vision I had on that stage in 2004.
For now though, for today, I'm going to spend a few hours thinking about my beloved Emaths and all that it has achieved. I hope that the site has helped you over the years and, if you have one to hand, would like you to raise a glass to the old girl.
So, excuse the self-indulgent blog, but I think that 50 million is worth celebrating and am proud that Emaths will continue to give free of charge support for many years to come.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Some Things I Would Change

Just a random stream of thoughts as I sit in a cold railway station trying to get home...

Primary curriculum

• Scrap current curriculum
• Primary maths to be solely concerned with

1. Numerosity / Number sense
2. Place Value
3. Base 10 System
4. Arithmetic
5. Proportional Reasoning
Each of these 'primary domains' is effectively infinite and can be studied to post-degree level! A minimum standard in each domain to be set, which every child must attain. However, those children who become secure with these domains at the minimum standard continue their learning in each domain to as high a level as appropriate.

Primary teaching

• Scrap the structure of one teacher teaching multiple subjects. Mathematics to be taught by maths specialist teacher (these can be drawn from existing workforce, with the appropriate support to ensure they become specialists – primary teachers would be given a lead-in of 5 years to choose and up-skill their new specialist subject)
• Improve subject specific pedagogy of those teaching mathematics with extensive support to ensure understanding of concrete-pictorial-abstract, multiple representations of problems and solutions, and connectionist approaches.
• Scrap teaching assistants and direct funding to special schools
• Scrap learning walks, lesson observations and SMT inspections
• All teachers must be part of a professional learning network, undertaking continual teacher enquiry / lesson study

Secondary curriculum

• Complete removal of probability and statistics from the mathematics curriculum
• The formation of two new subjects; Pure Mathematics and Statistics
• Pure Mathematics compulsory for all students aged 11 – 18
• Statistics optional to all students aged 11 – 18
• Pure Mathematics builds on the foundations of the five 'primary domains'
• Raise the bar for the Pure Mathematics qualification at aged 16 by introducing basic calculus as a requirement for all by end of KS4
• Emphasis on mathematical modeling, increasing year on year
• Complete ban on 'conveyer belt' curriculum models
• Scrap homework and replace with 'prep' – all schools to have provision for 'prep' classes after hours

Secondary Schools

• All secondary schools to have a dedicated 'primary domains' provision – any child who arrives at secondary school without the minimum standard in the five primary domains does not begin studying Pure Mathematics, instead they attend the provision and then join a Pure Mathematics course one year late (if they have secured the five domains) in a year 7 class.
• Reopen the 1000 special schools closed in the late 1990s (you can read why on my blog "Inclusion is a Misnomer")
• Scrap teaching assistants and direct funding to special schools
• Scrap learning walks, lesson observations and SMT inspections
• All teachers must be part of a professional learning network, undertaking continual teacher enquiry / lesson study

The Workforce: New Entrants

• Employ really bright people
• The schools minister, Nick Gibb, said in 2010: "I would rather have a physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE". Interesting, considering he didn't go to Oxbridge, but the general gist of raising the aspiration that teaching becomes a profession welcoming of great intellects is one I agree with. However, subject knowledge is utterly useless without subject specific pedagogical knowledge and skill. ITE courses should only attract funding if they robustly address subject specific pedagogy, but being a teacher does not necessarily require QTS – it is foolish to have such a blanket rule (particularly when much of that provision is poor quality)
• Wherever possible employ those who have had a career prior to teacher training (fill schools with those who can talk eloquently about working as a mathematician, engineer, etc). We desperately need people standing in front of maths classrooms who can speak to students about why the are a mathematician and what that means
• Require all teachers to gain a master's degree with focus on mathematics specific content knowledge and mathematics specific pedagogy within first 5 years of teaching
• Every teacher to be linked to at least one research partner from a different school or HEI for the duration of their career

The Workforce: Existing Teachers

• Fundamental to what I believe is that the 350,000 people who teach maths in England's schools each and every day are good people who want the best. I have almost never met a teacher who goes to work wanting to give their students a crap experience.
• National recognition of the expertise of this group of people
• Those who do not already hold at least a masters degree, to do so within 5 years (again the focus must be on mathematics specific content knowledge and mathematics specific pedagogy).

School Management

• Every SMT to contain at least one maths specialist with a deep understanding of mathematics specific content knowledge and mathematics specific pedagogy.
• Drastically raise the bar for entrance to headship – scrap NPQH and replace be demands on proven track record of teaching expertise and a demonstrable level of intellect, so that headteachers are first and foremost leading, with intellect, teaching. Remove all of the business management functions from head teachers, with each school having a COO, preferably drawn from successful experience in the private sector. Fundamentally, a head teacher should be a figurehead who commands the respect of the teaching workforce because they themselves are incredibly successful teachers. Wherever possible, head teachers should hold doctorate level qualification, with emphasis on planning, carrying out and evaluating education focused research. A 10 year lead in to achieve this.
• All head teachers to linked to at least 10 other head teachers in an enquiry / research group. Each critique and support each other. Held jointly responsible for standards across their institutions

School Inspection

• Scrap Ofsted
• Only maths specialists have any place in inspecting maths provision
• Inspection to be concerned with the output and not to take a view on the how and why of approaches. This can be largely a data exercise
• Other forms of inspection to be scrapped. Replace with national programme of teacher enquiry. Each teacher to work with the research partner(s) over the course of their careers in a continuing spiral or enquiry – all teachers theorise, test, evaluate, publish every academic year. As the research partner of a teacher in a different school, their role is to challenge, test, support and learn from their colleague.

Department for Education

• Wherever possible, SoS to serve full term and be held to account for delivering the mandate the electorate gave them (rather than going off on a personal crusade)
• Wherever possible (though not always easy from a pool of just 650 people), SoS to be a towering intellect
• DfE to be concerned solely with the output of the education system and to leave the how and why to those who actually know what they are doing
• Complete autonomy to be devolved to head teachers and their local communities, but this to be hand-in-hand with complete accountability, with the local community able to remove head teachers where school performance is not good enough