Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quality of British school books hit by changes

Constant tweaking of math syllabus mean textbooks are 'less coherent' than in Asia. Far be it from me to defend ANYTHING about British government schools but IQ tests do show greater mathematical aptitude among East Asians so not all the fault for British pupils falling behind can be placed at the door of their schools. The Asian advantage is inborn.

Pupils of East Asian origin do extraordinarily well in Australian schools too. Some Asian first graders have more literacy in English than do some American High School graduates. That is a bold statement to make but I have seen it with my own eyes

Constant changes to the national curriculum have left school textbooks floundering in their wake, according to a major international study of maths performance published today.

The authors of the report single out a deterioration in the quality of textbooks as the key factor for England lagging behind the top performers in international league tables.

"Countries that perform consistently well in maths use carefully constructed textbooks as the primary means of teaching," says the study by academics at King's College London.

"By comparison, use of textbooks in English schools is relatively low and English textbooks use routine examples and are less mathematically coherent than those in other countries. Pupils in high-performing countries (such as China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore) are also more likely to use textbooks at home than their English counterparts."

The authors, Professor Mike Askew and Dr Jeremy Hogden, argue: "Over the past 20 years the educational system in England has been subject to frequent reform and review. One consequence of this has been to limit the time available for the development and trialling of textbooks with publishers competing to produce textbooks quickly. This has led to a reduction in the quality of textbooks." In a separate study of books used in English, French and German schools, the English textbooks were found to be "less coherent".

The report also comes to the conclusion that children do not have to enjoy maths to do well at it."There is no link between achievement and enjoyment in maths education," it says. "High-performing countries are as concerned over pupils' dislike of mathematics as we are in England." One factor in the success of eastern countries could be the fact that in China, for instance, parents have to buy their children's textbooks. "That may influence expectations," the report's authors argue. "Colleagues in China have expressed surprise that in England textbooks are provided by the state and the lack of expectation that pupils would do extra work from textbooks at home."

One of the most respected international studies into maths standards, known as Timms, places England seventh in the world in the tests for 14-year-olds. In the other respected international maths standards study, Pisa, 18 countries outperformed England.

It explains the Asian pupils' success in maths by concluding: "Pupils in these countries may be less interested in the mathematics itself and more in the status afforded by exam success. Success within such exam-oriented systems requires effort and any pleasure is as a result of the success attained rather than derived through the processes of learning per se."


British grade inflation as Cambridge rejects record 5,800 straight-A pupils

Fears over A-level grade inflation were revived last night after Cambridge revealed it rejected a record 5,817 straight-A applicants last year. The university said the figure was up 323 from 5,494 in the previous year.

The figures highlight the difficulties faced by admissions tutors in sorting between well-qualified applicants. Cambridge is introducing an A* grade to conditional offers this year but most other universities will shun the new grade for the first years of its operation.

Pupils from independent and grammar schools were significantly more likely to be accepted by the elite university last year, despite a multi-million pound drive to recruit talented comprehensive pupils.

Cambridge said that in 2008, state school pupils had claimed their biggest share of places since 1981 - a sign their efforts were paying off. But 2009 figures show that state school numbers slipped back, falling 5 per cent to 1,675.

At the same time, the numbers admitted from private schools rose 3 per cent. It meant that 58 per cent of British students accepted were from state schools, compared with 42 per cent from the independent sector. This compares with a 59/41 split the year before.

Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, said the fact nearly three quarters of rejects went on to achieve three As - once regarded as an elite achievement and a likely passport to a top university place - reflected the 'highly competitive' nature of Cambridge admissions.

But critics say grade inflation is to blame. In 2009, one in eight students gained a hat-trick of As. Cambridge has set conditional offers of one A* and two As for many students this year, and some for two A*s.

Mr Parks said: 'We hope that will seem to be a fairer system because students who get into Cambridge will by and large have higher grades than those who don't.' He said ministers had been 'bending his ear' over the decision.

There are fears that the proportion of state school pupils will fall further if A* grades are used to discriminate, amid claims independent schools will be better geared to prepare candidates for questions linked to the new grade.

Mr Parks said the university was hopeful of progress in widening access to state school students. He said: 'The proportion of home students from state schools admitted in the 08/09 admissions cycle is 58 per cent. 'While this represents a small decrease, minor fluctuations in the figures are common, and a one percentage point change is not statistically significant.

'Cambridge is pleased that the gains made in this area last year, when we reported an increase of four percentage points, have to a large extent been retained.

'While the figures remain reasonably stable, we are also very conscious of the need to keep reinforcing the message that Cambridge is a welcoming and inclusive place.'


British Fee-paying schools hit by recession as pupil numbers drop

Independent schools have had their first fall in pupil numbers for five years as the recession hits admissions.

The overall figure in Britain fell by 2,645 to 511,886 at the start of this year, down 0.6 per cent. Were it not for a big rise in admissions of overseas students it would have been greater — the number of British children fell by 1 per cent.

Fees rose to an average of £12,558 a year, up by 4 per cent, although this increase was limited by schools deferring building projects.

The independent sector said that given the recession, the drop in pupil numbers had been modest.

In the recession of 1990-91, admissions to independent schools held up — but they fell for the next three years and were flat for a further year before recovering from 1996. Pupil numbers have risen continuously since, bar a fall in 2005 that heads attribute to demographics, and reached a peak last year.

Independent schools continued to be increasingly popular with parents from across the world. Numbers of overseas pupils from non-British families rose by 7.4 per cent to 23,307.

Hong Kong sent the largest number of children to British schools, 5,308, followed by the rest of China, with 3,109. Between them they accounted for more than a third of non-British overseas pupils. There were 2,265 German children, the next largest group, 1,197 Russians and 1,006 Americans.

Schools reported demand to be growing most strongly in Europe and Asia — with the exception of Japan where there had been a significant drop.

More than one in three children at British boarding schools are from abroad, compared with fewer than a quarter six years ago.

Having competed by offering ever-improving facilities during their boom years, independent schools slashed spending on new buildings last year by £42.6 million, or 11.3 per cent, as they sought to keep fee increases down, although in some cases tougher bank lending played a part.

The proportion of children who received help with their fees dropped slightly from 33.1 per cent last year to 32.5 per cent. Of those, only 7.2 per cent were children from families on modest or low incomes on means-tested bursaries. The largest proportion of subsidies was for pupils with siblings at the school or parents on the staff, in the Armed Forces or the clergy, followed by merit-based scholarships.


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