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Not adding up: Parents turn to rugby and private maths tutors to tackle Salford schools’ worrying Ofsted records

By Chris Higgins

The problems of struggling maths pupils are being compounded by falling standards in schools and dwindling numbers opting to teach.

MM investigate and find the situation in Salford is not always ‘satisfactory’ – at least by Ofsted standards.

Salford’s performance in mathematics has been mixed over the past year, with half of Ofsted reports published in the last six months outlining specific problems in maths teaching.

The critical reports, examining five primary schools in the Salford LEA district, found problems with maths tuition in schools with overall effectiveness ratings ranging from ‘poor’ to ‘good’.

St Edmund’s RC Primary in Little Hulton was found to ‘require improvement’ in their latest Ofsted report from November 2012, particularly in maths.

Inspectors noted that achievement in mathematics was ‘particularly low’ owing to gaps in pupils’ knowledge of times tables and other basic skills.

However, this failure to bring pupils up to speed in maths is not just consigned to those schools struggling to maintain standards across the board.

Observations at Wharton Primary School, also of Little Hulton – which achieved a ‘good’ rating in their November inspection – suggested that although the school’s achievement has improved since last report, mathematics is still a stumbling block.

Salford City Council and several schools were contacted for statements but declined to comment, however MP for Salford and Eccles, Hazel Blears, provided her standpoint.

Ms Blears said: “It is concerning that Ofsted has raised concerns about the quality of maths teaching at some schools.”

“There is always room for improvement,” she added. “However some schools clearly need to make a big effort to ensure their pupils reach those standards.”

Key Stage 2 results released in December, revealed the full extent of the problem with many other schools in the area failing to reach the national average for pupils achieving Level 4 in Maths.

While the overall Salford average increased to 79%, matching the national average, many schools in poorer areas of the city fell dramatically short.

St Edmund’s RC and Wharton Primary in Little Hulton both failed to reach the average attainment, with only 59% and 66% respectively.

Other schools missing the mark were All Saint’s CoE (63%), North Walkden Primary (60%) and Holy Family VA, which fell short by an incredible 31%, with less than half of their pupils reaching Level 4.

The reasons for this underperformance in particular areas of Salford are complex and vary from case to case, however a suggested hypothesis points to the relative poverty of areas.

In a statement from Teach First, a charity to bring top graduates into the toughest schools, they said that under-achievement among pupils from poor homes is far greater in maths than other subjects.

Supporting this claim is the household income of parts of the city, such as Little Hulton and Walkden, home to several of the schools mentioned above.

In 2011, census results put the median income per household at £25,360 in Little Hulton, well below the average national income of £33,000.

On top of that, the number of those claiming out of work benefits was 22.2% compared to 12.1% nationally, suggesting high unemployment in underperforming areas.

The most telling statistic in all of this, however, is not the actual attainment figures of the schools, but the percentage change since last year’s KS2 results, with many falling by as much as 14%.

This change since last year could be explained by the drop in dedicated maths teachers due to the lack of graduates entering the profession.

In figures published this week by the Graduate Teacher Training Registry, the number of maths applicants fell 10.3% last year, from 1090 to 978.

To try and combat the loss of high quality teachers, £20,000 teacher training scholarships are being offered to mathematics graduates with first class degrees who become trainee teachers in 2013/14.

But the government’s seemingly slow response to the deficits in maths teaching has prompted parents to seek alternatives.

Gemma Batty, Sale Area Manager for Kumon Educational, a nationwide maths private tuition provider, suggests that parents are increasingly looking outside the system for help.

“We have continued to grow each year, despite the recession, due to the value parents place on their child’s education,” she said.

“I find that families often enrol at my centre because they have friends or family members who already attend a Kumon centre and have recommended us because they have seen the positive impact Kumon has had for their child.”

Remarking on the difficulties of keeping children engaged with maths in a digital age where screens serve as ever-present distractions, Gemma said maintaining concentration was a big hurdle.

Teaching methods outside the classroom are becoming increasingly common as a way to get around the idea of maths being boring to children.

Ms Blears said: “Maths is an essential life skill and teachers need to make maths exciting and relevant to everyday life.

 “We saw a great example of this recently in Salford with the launch of the Tackling Numbers numeracy programme at Salford City Stadium.”

Tackling Numbers, a numeracy programme developed by Premiership Rugby, aims to teach children basic number skills and financial literacy in a fun and engaging way.

Wayne Morris, Community Manager at Premiership Rugby said: “Rugby has long been seen as a social game that unites and brings people together. In more recent years rugby’s ability to engage with children is being used to transcend into the classroom.”

Picture courtesy of doviende, with thanks.

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