I wasn’t going to post this today but having seen Mel @justmaths’ latest blog it seems somewhat pertinent:

I’m going to put it out there right now – I am really proud of my boys.

The eldest is in Year 6, is working hard on his SATs and getting some top scores. He plays football for the school 2^{nd} team, plays guitar and is a member of the local scout group.

My youngest is an amazing story teller in the correct way – he was winner of Student of the Week a couple of weeks ago for his Art work; he plays piano and is a cub scout to boot.

All these things are fantastic but the real reason I am chuffed this week with them is because they have shown me what I need to be aware of in the future – of students who can already produce the kind of mathematics that I want my Year 11s to be doing!

There has been a change in Primary since the new syllabus appeared there a year ago – the students who appeared in my classroom in September were all well versed in methods that students higher up the school would have no idea about (column multiplication “What, not grid method Sir?”, division in all it’s glory “Can’t I just do multiplication to find how many 23s go into 576 instead?” and more excitingly, functions – they know what they are!!!)

Here are two examples:

1.

The scene: my dining room, Saturday morning

Son2: Daddy, can you help me with this please?

Me: Which question?

Son2: 8x – 1 = 15

Me: OK. How are you going to start?

Son2: Well I do the inverse of take 1 which is add 1 so I get 8x is equal to 16. Then I divide by 8 to get 2.

Me: Thud

Son2: Daddy, why are you on the floor having fallen off your chair?

2.

The scene: my classroom, late (probably) marking a pile of Foundation papers in which the question about the tank and the barrel of water is being examined.

Me: Nope

Me: Nothing

Me: Oo – 1 for working out the volume in litres

Me: Nope (this continues for about another 30 scripts)

Me: Nope

Me: Oh my goodness – 23.6cm – the correct answer

*turns to the front to see who it is*

Me: Blimey

The only student to get full marks was my son who had done the paper and put it in my pile to get it marked.

Now I know this is bragging (it’s not even close to might be) but it does raise an interesting point. We, as the maths fraternity are struggling with this year’s papers and I think the current Year 10s are going to do so as well, but there is some light – the Primary schools are producing Numerate students who can problem solve, who are not afraid of maths and who are resilient enough to attempt the questions.

It does also raise the point that we should have waited until this cohort were in Y9 or 10 before introducing the new syllabus to Ks3/4 but as I am a glass half full kind of guy I’m going to close that can of worms right back up again. Nor am I going to mention the fact that these numerate children are being tested with 67% of their papers using a calculator thus deskilling them. Oh no I’m not.

What I will say is that we need to continue to nurture, feed and support these new breed of children – I’m not writing off the elders just yet – just looking at them the way they seem to be looking at maths at Primary – with awe rather than despondency.

Phil McBride is a Lead Practitioner of Mathematics at Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, and part of the Teaching and Learning team affiliated to the Pathfinder Teaching School Alliance in York.