Gibb Accuses UK Teachers Unions of Blocking Math Standards

Fingerpointing is in full swing in England as the former Schools Minister Nick Gibb is accusing the “education establishment” of creating a barrier to the adoption of any program that would substantially improve British students’ showing in mathematics. In particular, Gibb took educators to task for opposing the requirement that each student learn the times tables by heart as a first step towards improving their mathematical knowledge.

Graeme Paton of The Daily Telegraph reports that Gibb called the assertion by educators that such requirement would be “stultifying” as a “bar on progress” and said that such attitudes didn’t do very much to help students become numerate. Gibb delivered these remarks in a Telegraph editorial that is part of the paper’s Make Britain Count campaign.

Gibb’s remarks also coincided with the release of a proposed math curriculum for English primary schools which substantially raises the age-related goals for the country’s students. Included among the goals is the requirement that five- and six-year-olds should be able to count to 100 and be able to manipulate fractions and perform simple mathematical operations such as addition and subtraction by the time they’ve been in school for one year.

By the age of nine, pupils should know all their times tables up to 12×12 and confidently work with numbers up to 10 million by the end of primary school, it was recommended.

Currently, children only need to know up to 10×10 and familiarise themselves with numbers below 1,000 by the age of 11.

It represents a dramatic toughening up of requirements in primary school maths.

Gibb played a large role in drafting the standards prior to losing his position atop the Education Department after a government reshuffle earlier this year. Still, he expressed concerns for what he saw as the efforts by the teachers unions to undermine the proposed curriculum by attempting to weaken some of its provisions.

He said that the entrenched educational interests strongly opposed the introduction of more rigor onto the primary school requirements because they were fundamentally distrustful of the tried-and-true approaches to teaching mathematics and similar subjects.

Mr Gibb, the Conservative MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said: “On one side of the argument are those who believe that primary school teachers should put more emphasis on the teaching and understanding of mathematical concepts and less emphasis on the techniques or algorithms of calculation. “Traditionalists, on the other hand, believe that by being taught the algorithms with a lot of practice children not only become fluent and confident in calculation they also develop an understanding of the concepts underlying those calculations as familiar patterns emerge from practice.”