Children to learn maths through ‘cooking and playing’

A new government initiative to help children learn maths through cooking and playing has been announced today by the schools secretary Ed Balls.

The plans come as part of a review by Sir Peter Williams and follow a damning report last month by right-of-centre thinktank Reform which criticised the standard of mathematics teaching in the UK.

Sir Peter said: “The United Kingdom is still one of the few advanced nations where it is socially acceptable to profess an inability to cope with mathematics. We need to urgently reverse this trend so every pupil leaves primary school without a fear of maths.”

Learning about numbers at an early age should be “rooted in play” the report recommends, and parents should help their children through games, puzzles and even cooking at home.

“Basic maths concepts and language need to be firmly embedded in children’s minds at a young age so all children are confident using numbers,” Mr Balls said.

“Therefore, it is critical that we engage all children early in maths in order for them to do well at secondary level and in their GCSEs.”

The report also recommends having a maths specialist in every primary school within ten years. The teachers would receive a £8,000 incentive and rewards to train towards a maths teaching masters, with a target of 1,000 specialist teachers a year set for the next ten consecutive years.

The government will invest £24 million over the next three years to set up and begin implementing a major training programme for the 13,000 existing primary school teachers.

There are also plans to give children failing in maths personal one-on-one tuition before they turn 11. Recognising the deterioration in the nation’s mathematical ability, the report says “effective intervention at an early age could break this trend”.

A renewed focus on mental mathematics should also be introduced, reflecting a concern among experts that calculators and computers are blunting young people’s interest and ability in the subject.

Ed Balls thanked Sir Peter for his report and said he was determined to “address his stark observation that it’s acceptable in England to admit being poor at maths”.

“Every school will have a ‘maths champion’, who will act as a mentor and coach to their colleagues as well as being an outstanding classroom teacher for their pupils.

Minister for schools, Andrew Adonis, said: “Children need to feel really confident using numbers from an early age and to do that they need to use maths in different ways, like in the playground with sand and water and games like hopscotch.”

Carol Vorderman, the TV presenter, welcomed the report.

“I am thrilled that at long last an official body is raising the spectre of our negative cultural attitude to maths, particularly in the media,” she said.

But Liberal Democrat children and schools spokesman David Laws said the plans did not go far enough.

“Initial teacher training in maths is not good enough,” he argued.

“All primary school teachers should have at least a grade B in GCSE maths, so we can be confident that they have a good grasp of the subject.”