Should an honour in Leaving Cert maths be a requirement to train as a teacher?

Ruairí Quinn’s maths plan has pluses and minuses

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said this week he would like to see a requirement for student teachers to take higher-level maths at Leaving Certificate level. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said this week he would like to see a requirement for student teachers to take higher-level maths at Leaving Certificate level. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Sat, Apr 26, 2014, 01:15

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said this week he would like to see a requirement for student teachers to take higher-level maths at Leaving Certificate level, provoking an angry response from teachers when he appeared to link the issue with the “feminisation” of teaching at primary level.

But does a requirement for honours maths for primary teaching add up?

James Gleeson, a professor of industrial and applied mathematics at the University of Limerick and co-director of the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry, says it does.

“Maths is language; it’s a way of expressing ideas. If we require Irish primary school teachers to have honours Irish we should also require them to have honours in maths,” he said.

“In as far as maths is the language of engineering, science and technology, if we expect teachers to pass on a familiarity and comfort to their students, we should require them to have that same level of familiarity and comfort.”

Áine Hyland, emeritus professor of education and former vice-president of University College Cork, said that while it was true many students gave up honours maths after their Junior Certificate, it was not because they were not able for it.

She said students taking Bachelor of Education courses were drawn from the top 12.5 per cent of secondary students, adding that, as a result, Ireland was internationally recognised for the quality of its teachers.

“Almost all of the students who go into teacher training are probably well able for the higher maths paper; they are very high-achieving students,” she said.

However, she cautioned that a small number of schools do not offer honours maths, adding that any move to making higher-level maths a requirement should not disadvantage those students.


Teacher effectiveness
Others are more cautious on the issue. The president of St Patrick’s College, Prof Daire Keogh, said: “We need research to demonstrate whether there is a correlation between entry requirements and subsequent teacher effectiveness.

“One school of thought might suggest that the way maths is taught to student teachers is actually more important than their graded entry and it would be important that policy decisions would be based on research.”

For its part, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said there “probably is an argument for increasing the entry level for mathematics but whether that requires an honours maths requirement is a matter for further discussion”.

However, the INTO spokesman added: “Ruairí Quinn’s glib suggestion that the introduction of an honours maths requirement would solve all our problems is totally misguided.”

He said increased support for teachers on an ongoing basis, a look at the quality of textbooks and digital material available to them, and other supports to promote maths in classrooms were required.