Maths: We’re losing our ability to count

Getting the basics right at school is one of For Britain’s most important policies.  Children are leaving our schools without sufficient skills in the most fundamental subjects, such as maths and English.  

A For Britain member and maths tutor has sent us this account of the mathematics skills she encounters in her work.

I am a private tutor and constantly see poor levels of mathematics skills among pupils.  It is essential in mathematics to really grasp the basics before trying to embark on more difficult work.  The problem in school is that there is a fixed curriculum for the year, and all topics have to be covered regardless of whether the children are ready to learn them.

It is essential that addition and subtraction skills are learnt thoroughly, so children can quickly recall the answers without having to use fingers. Then they can move on to mentally calculate these sums involving 100s, 10s and units.  All too often they are allowed the use of a calculator before they are even able to do a sum such as 65 -38: they have not had enough practice to learn these skills, and just don’t know how to approach them. 

Alternatively, they may be able to do it if they write the sum down in columns, but even many in secondary schools will get this wrong!

Regarding multiplication, I rarely see children who know their times-table well, even in secondary school.  If they do come up with an answer, they often count one at a time – there is no instant recall in sums such as 6 x 7.  Even with the times-table, some don’t realise that 8 x 2 for instance is the same as 2 x 8. 

It is astounding, because within a short time studying these basic skills with me, through daily repetition, they can recall instantly all of the basic addition, subtraction and multiplication sums.  

These skills should form the basis of all mathematics teaching in schools, and pupils should be taught how to work things out mentally. 

When I was at school (many years ago!) we had daily drills on times-tables, and once these are learned, they are never forgotten.

It is impossible for instance to learn how to add fractions if the tables have not been learned thoroughly.  This applies in numerous other areas where these basics also need to be applied.  They cannot understand more difficult concepts without a thorough knowledge of these basic skills.

Of course, the huge problem with maths in primary school is that the classes are often of sizes of 30 or more, and are of mixed abilities. There are vast differences in the speed at which children can learn mathematics, so an overcrowded environment can only be detrimental.  

Overall, the standard is low, and getting lower.  Quite simply, we are losing our numeric and mathematical abilities.

For Britain is fully aware of the low standards in UK schools in the 21st century, and we are determined to turn this around.  There must be greater emphasis on intelligence, thought, and excellence in our education system.

You can learn more about our education policy here:

Video: The Foundations of it All – Our Education Policy 

Blog: The Foundations of it All – Our Education Policy 

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