HL Deb 05 April 2004 vol 659 cc1587-90

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to implement the recommendations of the Smith report on the teaching of mathematics.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, we welcome Professor Smith's report Making Mathematics Count, which raises serious and longstanding issues about mathematics education. The problems are complex and it is important that the remedies are effective. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is considering the report carefully.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and I am glad that the Secretary of State is considering the report carefully, but is her department according the report the priority that it deserves? Professor Smith says in his letter to the Secretary of State in the foreword to the report that mathematics, provides the language and analytical tools", that are central to our scientific and industrial future. Yet the report reveals what in all respects must constitute a crisis in the teaching of mathematics; that is, inadequate teaching, an inadequate number of properly trained staff and inadequate infrastructure for the support of that staff. The first of the recommendations is the most important; namely, that there should be a post within the department for someone to champion the report and mathematics within the curriculum and across departments and agencies. Will the Minister assure us that a high-level post is being created within the department, that a budget has been assigned to that post and that the necessary powers are being given to that person to enable proper co-ordination to be carried out across departments and agencies?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, in terms of the noble Baroness's final point, work is in hand to advertise the appointment of a chief adviser of mathematics. Budget issues will be determined as we examine the consequences of the spending review. Professor Smith did a fantastic job; he made 44 recommendations, many of them in the context of the Tomlinson review. We look forward to discussing in your Lordships' House the outcome of our deliberations on those recommendations.

Lord Dearing

My Lords, will the Government take early action to implement the recommendation in the Smith report to set up national and regional centres to promote excellence in the teaching of mathematics? Will she comment on the recommendation for the QCA to look into developing multiple streams for teaching mathematics after key stage 3? That is also recommended by the Nuffield Foundation.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, in answer to the first point of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, we have, indeed, asked the inquiry to present us with costed options for a centre to cover mathematics, whether that is a national centre or, as Professor Smith describes, a centre that has regional arms. We are examining very carefully the QCA and the multiple streams. As I say, the report makes 44 very important recommendations that we shall discuss.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I declare an interest; namely, that Adrian Smith is principal of Queen Mary College. where I taught economics for many years. It is an enormously important report and I am glad to hear my noble friend acknowledge that. It is one that we ought to discuss in your Lordships' House. Has my noble friend looked at one particular part of the report that refers to mathematical pedagogy? All of us are aware that mathematicians are very good at teaching young people who are good at maths and want to learn it. The task, however, is to teach people who are not good at maths and do not want to learn it. Mathematical pedagogy, therefore, is of vital importance in opening their minds to this wonderful world. Will my noble friend draw to the attention of our right honourable friend the vital importance of teaching mathematicians how to teach?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I have no need to draw that to the attention of my right honourable friend, who is as passionate as is my noble friend on the subject of mathematics and these issues. Within the terms of reference that were given to Professor Smith, pedagogy played an important part. As I have already said, these matters are also being discussed in the context of the Tomlinson review. However, I am well aware of how important it is to ensure that our children, young people and adults receive the benefit of good mathematics teaching.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the recent Skills for Life survey, published by the DfES in October 2003, found that almost half the population—47 per cent—had numeracy skills which were comparable to, or worse than, those expected of an 11 year-old? What are the Government going to do about this very worrying situation?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, we have discussed many times in your Lordships' House the work that we are doing to support adult skills. As the noble Baroness rightly points out, huge numbers of our population—7 million adults in total, I believe—have literacy problems and, as the noble Baroness pointed out, many have numeracy problems. We have set ambitious targets to ensure that we are able to support training for adults. That is very important and I believe that we are successful in carrying that out.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

My Lords, the Smith report recorded that there is a shortfall of something like 3,400 specialist maths teachers in maintained secondary schools. What are the department and the Teacher Training Agency doing to expand mathematics teacher training places, the vast majority of which will need to be in higher education institutions? I declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, 670 more training places in mathematics are available in 2004–05 than was the case in 1999–2000. That is a 40 per cent increase. I can say to my noble friend that we are working with the Teacher Training Agency on the teacher supply model to examine what we should be doing to ensure that sufficient numbers of potential teachers come through. From 1998 to September 2003, recruitment to maths PGCE and Bachelor of Education courses rose by 74 per cent to 1,950—the highest level since the 1980s. Therefore, the strategies that we have in place are making an impact, although I accept that there is more to do.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the quality of the prospective maths teachers who enter teacher training is good enough to produce eventually successful maths teachers? If the trainees do not have the necessary subject knowledge when they embark on the course, their teacher training, as now constructed, is unlikely to produce it so that they can teach well when they come out.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am entirely certain that the TTA and the higher education institutions, which are working to ensure that we have high quality students, have that very much in mind. Ofsted has proved time and again that our teachers are of the highest quality that we have ever had in this country, and we should be very proud of them.