Tuesday 23 January 2018

Variations in time that secondary schools devote to maths teaching putting some pupils at a severe disadvantage

Over the three years of junior cycle, the total difference in tuition time can amount to 211 hours -  with the highest allocation of 439 hours, almost double the lowest, 228. (Stock image)
Over the three years of junior cycle, the total difference in tuition time can amount to 211 hours -  with the highest allocation of 439 hours, almost double the lowest, 228. (Stock image)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Massive variations in the time that second-level schools devote to maths teaching is putting some pupils at a severe disadvantage.

A new report says the Government must act to end the unfair treatment of students who receive less tuition in the subject than others,  by laying down fixed time allocations for maths.

By the time they sit the Junior Cert, some pupils have spent almost twice as long in maths classes as others.

The biggest gap is in first year, with some timetabled for only 67 hours in the year,  while others receive up to  167 hours.

Over the three years of junior cycle, the total difference in tuition time can amount to 211 hours -  with the highest allocation of 439 hours, almost double the lowest, 228.

Across fifth and sixth year,  the hours devoted to the subject in different schools or classes range from 198 to 323.

It means that -  Transition Year excluded -  some second-level students may benefit from up to 762 hours maths tuition overall, while others have to get by with 426.

Variations on that scale are likely  to have an enormous impact on the grades that students achieve in the junior and leaving cert exams, and how well  equipped they are  for future study and life in general.

Proficiency in maths is a cornerstone to future academic success generally and regarded as  essential for employment in the modern age.

Differerences in scheduled class allocations can be further compounded by voluntary classes put on by some teachers.

The disparities are down to factors such the school attended, the class group a pupil  in, teacher they have and whether they are doing higher or ordinary level.

But the report published today by EPI-STEM, the National Centre for STEM Education  say that all students should receive the same amount of  maths instruction time. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and maths.

The analysis is the first of its kind in Ireland to offer insights into the allocation of maths tuition time in post-primary schools..

 “The overarching finding to emerge from this study is that current arrangements relating to the time allocated to maths masks a significant inequity in the treatment of students at all levels, and across all years, say authors Niamh Meara of the University of Limerick and Mark Prendergast of Trinity College Dublin.

They insist that, regardless of school they attend,  students “are studying the same syllabi and preparing for the same state examinations and there is no argument to support the variation in instruction time evident in the results of this study” .

There are Department of Education guidelines on the amount instruction time for maths,  but the report calls on the Government to specify a fixed amount of class time to be allocated to all curriculum subjects at second level.

The EPI-STEM findings come against a backdrop of concern about Ireland’s “average” performance in maths when compared with other countries in the developed world.

In the Leaving Cert, almost three in four students aim only for the ordinary level paper, and about one in 10 of those don’t achieve a minimum 40pc mark in the exam.

The report cites international research  that found that the number of hours, days and years that students are formally required to take instruction in a subject has an impact up their academic success.

Although the proportion of time given to maths in Irish second-level schools is on a par with the international average, the relatively short school year in Ireland means that the overall allocation is less.

Online Editors

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