Concerns over pupils' maths skills at half of Welsh schools

Classroom scene
Image caption Estyn said too many pupils still struggle with basic concepts like division sums

Schools in Wales must show a "greater sense of urgency" when it comes to improving maths skills, says Education Minister Huw Lewis.

It follows a report warning that Welsh pupils' number abilities are "at best average" at over half the schools inspectors visited last year.

Despite improvements, Estyn says too many pupils struggle with the basics.

The minister said schools need to ask themselves honest questions about the issue and how to address numeracy.

As a result, Mr Lewis said he was organising a conference of maths teachers to be held in the new year.

Education priority

In an interview with BBC Wales, Mr Lewis said: "We need a greater sense of urgency from schools.

"It really is time now for head teachers in particular to ask themselves very honestly: 'Is my school operating well enough in terms of that whole-school numeracy policy or do we need to apply some urgent attention to this?'."

Improving numeracy is an education priority for the Welsh government and it introduced the National Numeracy Programme in 2012.

Since its introduction, the Welsh government has also introduced:

  • Statutory National Numeracy Tests for pupils from Year 2 to Year 9, focusing on procedural numeracy skills only (May 2013)
  • National Support Programme to help ensure the successful implementation of the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (June 2013)
Image caption Education Minister Huw Lewis will hold an all-Wales maths conference in January next year

While the situation is improving, there are still too many pupils struggling to use basic number techniques such as division, Estyn said.

Inspectors have been looking at the effectiveness of numeracy strategies to gauge how far schools have made progress since the first baseline survey last year.

Estyn's findings

  • In just under half of primary and secondary schools inspected in 2013-2014, pupils develop good or better numeracy skills
  • In the remaining schools, pupils' numerical skills are at best average
  • The majority of pupils have an appropriate understanding of times-tables, the four rules of number, place value and fractions
  • However, there are still too many pupils who lack confidence with division and percentages
  • In around half of schools, planning is still superficial on numeracy
  • In a majority of schools visited, teachers are uncertain of what the term 'numerical reasoning' means
  • Maths is a real problem area for schools in Wales
  • Last year, despite narrowing the gap with England overall in our GCSE performance, in maths, the gap more than doubled
  • In 2013, 52.8% of pupils in Wales achieved an A*-C grade in maths, but by this year the figure had dropped to 50.6%

Estyn's chief inspector, Anne Keane said: "Pupils' numerical reasoning skills are generally not strong enough and this is something that we see too often in school inspections and thematic work.

"Staff need more support to widen their knowledge and understanding of strategies to help pupils to use numeracy across the curriculum."

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