Last year I wrote a post on subject knowledge and maths ITE, where I argued that we cannot take for granted the subject knowledge of someone beginning to teach maths. There are many reasons for this, which you can read in the post if you are so inclined, but the tl;dr is that most of us (maths teachers) are good at maths at school, move on from it, and never have to think about school maths in any great depth once we’re on group theory or fluid dynamics or the Poisson distribution.
One thing I mentioned in the post that I want to pick up here is that there is so much fragmentation in our system of ITE that guaranteeing a consistent quality experience for trainees across the country is practically impossible. Some will spend huge amounts of time in the university classroom on their PGCE, others on a school-based route might only have six days of direct input in this way. And what is covered in those sessions is down to the choice of those delivering. It might be wonderful, it might be sorely lacking. We don’t know, we can’t check.
I have had discussions with various people on Twitter over the last few weeks about this issue and am more convinced than ever that a core curriculum for maths ITE is long overdue. How many of our trainees meet Skemp, Cockcroft, or Swan? How many are taught how to use Cuisenaire rods, Dienes blocks or Gattegno charts? How many meet the bar model only because it’s newly-fashionable? How many know that some of the best practice we see lauded in places such as Singapore has its roots in England? How many know the debate over the reliability of Piaget and Vygotsky, or between the merits of inquiry and teacher-led instruction, or even when certain techniques are more effective than others? Do they ever meet the history of maths education and the journey that has got us to this point today? Are our trainees encouraged to join the ATM or the MA and read their extensive back catalogues (and are those on school-based routes even afforded the luxury of reading around their subject in this way)?
These are questions we cannot answer but that should be addressed somehow. Such a curriculum would not be exhaustive, but would form the basis of a course that trainers could build upon. It would have to be thrashed out in extensive consultation as there would be a lot to consider, include and omit.
If you think this is necessary, please send me your thoughts. You might have reasons why you think it’s a bad idea – I’d love to hear them too.
When Professor Berinderjeet Kaur, Professor of Mathematics Education at the National Institute of Education in Singapore spoke at my school in November the one thing that struck me was that every teacher trained in that same institute, had access to a highly thought-out curriculum and pedagogies, and had regular annual CPD delivered by the same team of experts. This is a huge factor in the success of maths education in that country. Of course there are myriad other factors, many of which are not transferable to England, but this one thing alone is extremely important – everyone gets the same strong, evidenced training by experts who are constantly researching and refining what they do, and this training continues throughout their career.
Which brings me back to the original point: without a greater coherence in the system we have no idea whether or not an NQT in School A has been afforded the depth of background knowledge that an NQT in School B has, and such a potential difference is a great shame, for the teacher and their students. There are huge numbers of brilliant maths teachers and teacher trainers in this country. If this expertise could be pooled and the knowledge disseminated properly from the start it would be a great advantage to the profession.