More focus needed on maths in primary school, study finds

Report recommends greater emphasis on teaching children problem-solving

The findings are contained in a study of 8,000 primary school children in 150 primary schools across Ireland which assessed students’ reading and maths performance. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

The findings are contained in a study of 8,000 primary school children in 150 primary schools across Ireland which assessed students’ reading and maths performance. File photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

A greater focus on maths teaching at primary school may be needed to improve children’s performance at maths, a major study has found.

While there has been a significant improvement in maths performance in recent years, the ability of children to tackle problem-solving has emerged as a real concern.

The findings are contained in a study of 8,000 primary school children in 150 primary schools across Ireland which assessed students’ reading and maths performance.

Time allocated to teaching maths in Ireland is still lower than in several higher-performing countries.

The average weekly teaching time for maths is four hours and 43 minutes, compared with about five hours for English.

The study found a quarter of pupils in sixth class were taught by teachers who deemed the time allocated to mathematics still to be insufficient.

Time allocated

Dr Gerry Shiel, one of the authors, said policymakers should consider adjusting the way in which time is allocated in maths classes.

He said it was important to ensure more time is spent on “higher order” thinking such as on reasoning and problem-solving.

Parents of pupils in sixth class also identified problem-solving as the area of greatest concern relating to their child’s maths performance.

The study found just over half of sixth-class pupils were taught by teachers who want more training in the area of problem-solving and reasoning than in any other aspect of mathematics.

The report recommends that schools and teachers should be supported in implementing innovative approaches to teaching maths, with particular emphasis on modifying the learning environment.

This, it says, should feature high levels of “math talk”, modelling, argumentation, reasoning, and collaborative work.

The findings are contained in a national assessment of English reading and maths, carried out by the Education Research Centre, a State body. These assessments take place every five years.

The latest study – based on data collected in 2014 – shows a major improvement in students’ performance at second and sixth class, compared with the last study in 2009.

It was the first time that average performance improved significantly in national assessments at primary level since the early 1980s.

Questionnaires

This latest report analyses responses to questionnaires given to pupils, parents, teachers and principals as part of the 2014 national assessments.

It confirms that national targets for English reading and maths performance at primary level were achieved by 2014, well ahead of the target date of 2020.

Researchers also found that despite overall progress, there has been “no real reduction in the gap” between pupils in disadvantaged urban schools and pupils in other school types.

The large proportion of very low achievers in reading in the most disadvantaged schools was of particular concern.

With some exceptions, maths performance in these schools was also well below national standards.

Report findings: By the numbers

88% – Proportion of sixth class pupils who had access to broadband

37% – Proportion of sixth class pupils with access to electronic books

5 hours – Average weekly time spent teaching English to primary schoolchildren

4 hours 43 mins – Average time spent teaching Maths to primary schoolchildren

75% – Proportion of parents who feel very confident helping their children with English homework

69% – Proportion of parents who feel very confident helping their children with maths homework