Pupils failing maths skills

NORFOLK and Suffolk were last night exposed as hotspots for poor maths among children as an influential group of MPs revealed more than one in five youngsters leaves primary school without basic numeracy skills.

NORFOLK and Suffolk were last night exposed as hotspots for poor maths among children as an influential group of MPs revealed more than one in five youngsters leaves primary school without basic numeracy skills.

The commons public accounts committee (PAC) said it was “disgraceful” that so many 11-year-olds did not have a firm grasp of the subject.

The problem is even worse in Norfolk and Suffolk, where about one in four 11-year-olds moves to high school without reaching the target level in maths.

Last night, a Norfolk education chief agreed that “not enough” of the county's 11-year-olds were decent mathematicians.

In the county, 75pc achieved the target level four in maths tests last year, putting it 122nd out of 150 local authorities. Suffolk fared little better, with 76pc hitting the mark. Cambridgeshire was just above the 79pc national average, at 80pc.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, a member of the committee, said: “A good grasp of basic mathematics is essential for every child. It is a crucial

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life skill which also helps to unlock a range of other school subjects.

“It is shocking that more than one fifth of primary school children start secondary school without a firm grasp of basic maths.”

Commenting on today's publication of the PAC report on maths performance in primary schools, he added: “There are nearly four million primary school children in England and this means that some 830,000 of them have poor numeracy skills. Even worse, 90pc of these pupils will never catch up, severely limiting their future prospects.”

As revealed last month, more than 2,100 11-year-olds left Norfolk primary schools in 2008 without hitting the mark in maths.

Mr Bacon said teachers' subject knowledge was “not strong enough”, and said it would be 2019 before the government's 13,000 specialist primary maths teachers were in classrooms.

“How many children will have fallen into a lifetime's struggle with numeracy in the meantime? The government needs to do much better than this.”

Fred Corbett, deputy director of children's services at Norfolk County Council, said: “We agree with much of what Mr Bacon says. We want to see our children being good mathematicians and at age 11 currently not enough of them are.

“This is a long-standing issue, nationally and locally, and while we are in no way complacent, our children are achieving at a much higher level in maths than they were 10 or 20 years ago. By age 14 Norfolk's results in maths are consistently above the national average.”

He said the council was “working hard” to support schools to raise standards in maths at age 11, and added: “It is a high priority for improvement and we recognise the need for more Norfolk children to have better maths skills and reach national expectations by this age.

“Every Norfolk school is given funding to focus on raising standards in mathematics, which includes access to training for every school on the most effective ways of teaching mathematics. Some schools with the lowest results are also being given support in school from a specialist mathematics adviser.

“It is important that we catch children early who are at risk of not achieving well in mathematics and are one of only five local authorities in the country taking part in a national pilot called Every Child Counts.

“This is targeted at seven-year-olds who are struggling with maths and consists of a programme of daily one-on-one teaching with a specialist maths teacher for 30 minutes, and the results have been fantastic.”

The nationwide figure of 79pc of 11-year-olds reaching the target level four in the key stage two national tests is well short of the government's target of 85pc by 2006.

The report also found that, in 2007, only 10pc of pupils who had not reached the expected standard by the end of primary school went on to achieve at least grade C in GCSE maths at age 16.

It added that 5pc (30,000 children) started secondary school last year with the maths skills of a seven-year-old at best.

In 2006-07, �2.3bn was spent on teaching the subject, an average cost of �570 per pupil and a quarter of the �10bn total expenditure on primary teaching and teaching support