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Maths is often seen as a stuffy, difficult subject, writes Joel Goldman for FE News. Memories of maths lessons are often accompanied by disapproving groans of boredom, with what seems like only a handful of people looking fondly back on the formulae, graphs and protractors that so dominated their time in the classroom.

This is reflected by the decline in the number of learners studying maths after the age of 16, a worrying statistic for the government. In response to this decline, a new initiative has been launched in the shape of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), which aims to improve mathematics teaching at all stages of education.

Better Tools for Teachers

The NCETM is a largely web-based resource, with a web portal being the main point of contact for maths teachers. It will aid new and experienced maths teachers with teaching and professional development resources and networking opportunities and will support local and regional activities in schools and colleges.

It will also play an important role in continuing professional development (CPD) for all teachers through government initiatives such as the introduction of functional skills. There will be targeted support for trainee teachers, newly qualified teachers, non-specialists, advanced skills teachers, heads of departments and maths co-ordinators, with teachers being encouraged across every age-range, from primary to adult education.

Speaking at the launch of the £15 million national centre, Education Secretary Alan Johnson MP said: "Having sound mathematics skills is a fundamental part of every child's education and we are committed to ensuring that today's children and young people get every opportunity and support to learn and develop those skills. To do this, we need to make sure that mathematics teachers are also getting the support and professional development they need. That is why this centre is so important, providing a vital tool for the teaching community."

Sharing Experience and Developing Practice

Through the portal, teachers will have the ability to work together, discuss the impact of their work on learning, join discussion forums on current issues and even explore what is said to be a comprehensive external links directory, enabling them to access continuing development opportunities. Teachers will be able to share experience and develop practice with schools across England and in other countries. Tellingly, any new sections added to the portal will be guided by teacher feedback.

The NCETM is being co-ordinated by the Tribal Group, in partnership with the University of Plymouth, who won the three year contract from the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) in December 2005. Professor David Burghes, Director of the NCETM says: "We want to inspire joined-up thinking to improve maths teaching and learning in every school and college. We want to get everyone involved and provide support that is of genuine use to practitioners across every area of mathematics education."

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Do the Sums Add Up?

The formula is as follows: More resources x better teacher interactions + time= better teaching. If the way in which maths is taught improves, students will better their understanding of how mathematics affects us all in everyday life and, in turn, they will learn to appreciate a subject which, on the face of it, can seem dull and unnecessarily complicated. The knock on effect of this should be that a higher number of students will take their new and improved knowledge past GCSE level, carrying on studying maths into further education.

The most important factor in this new equation is time. The change in the downward trend will not be instant, nor will it be easy to sustain the momentum. However, with continually improving resources and teachers developing their own methods, the end result will be positive.

Joel Goldman

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