Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Higher Maths for Teacher Training Not the Solution

The proposal that higher level Maths will be a subject requirement for entry into Primary Teacher Training Colleges offers no guarantees that it will prove to be more than a cosmetic change. While the report from the National Competiveness Council in relation to our numeracy standards deserves careful consideration, it is important not to pursue policies that could potentially do more harm than good. While the various teacher training colleges and the Teaching Council are currently examining this proposal, I would have grave concerns in relation to the effectiveness of the measure in terms of pupil learning and also about the potential of placing unnecessary restrictions on entry to the teaching profession.
1. Effectiveness of Measure is in Question:
Seán Delaney PhD of the Marino Institute of Education stated in his study ‘Knowing What Counts’ in December 2010 that:
 ‘Such a move may be of more symbolic than of concrete value, because at best it is likely to improve only the common content knowledge held by prospective teachers.’
See report here: 
Such a change would clearly have the impact of placing a higher emphasis on Mathematics amongst those intent of pursuing a career in teaching, however evidence would suggest that the effects within the classroom would be minimal.
Mr Delaney and seperately representatives from the INTO have previously stated that the provision of substantial teacher professional development, especially during initial teacher education, is a priority which will have a much more far-reaching impact on the delivery of excellent mathematical tuition in schools.
It is my view that the competence of the teacher when leaving training college is of a much higher priority than the marks obtained by college entrants in their Leaving Certificate Examinations.

2. Broadening the Base of Teachers

I have long held the view that the teachers in our classrooms should, as much as is possible, reflect the society that is served by the education system. My view was articulated clearly in this article I penned for the Irish Times last March entitled ‘Teachers Must Come From All Sections of Society’:

See article here:

The reality is that placing an extra requirement for entry into teacher training college however well-meaning, should demonstrate a demonstrable return, otherwise it is merely symbolic. All it does is to create greater problems for those of us who wish to improve access and to create a teaching profession more reflective of society and of the children that populate our classrooms.

Many disadvantaged secondary schools, do not have the capacity to offer Higher Level Mathematics at Leaving Certificate. It is my belief that the existing Irish Language requirement has acted as an unintentional barrier to the teaching profession. It can only be acknowledged by all reasonable observers that a requirement for Higher Level mathematics will only succeed in preventing excellent prospective teachers in disadvantaged areas fulfilling their dreams of creating a career for themselves in primary school teaching.

Reform is important, and we are working in a period of exiting change in the educational system. However I feel that this measure would not have the desired effect and could potentially do more harm than good.