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In Our Time – Fibonacci Sequence

November 30th, 2007


In Our Time is a BBC Radio 4 presented by Melvyn Bragg. It is an intellectual talking-heads discussion programme about philosophy, science, mathematics and so on. This week the discussion was aobut the Fibonacci Sequence. The podcast can be downloaded here.

For maths teachers, KS3 and KS4 students will enjoy and learn from the discussion between Melvyn Bragg, Professor Marcus du Sautoy, and others. It is well worth a listen.

A new voice calling for exam overhaul

November 17th, 2007


The Education Guardian reports that the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust urge school exam overhaul. It is encouraging to hear another voice added to the growing clamour for change.

The SSAT argue that the government has “consistently exaggerated the technical rigour of national assessments and the GCSE“. They argue that by changing the curriculum and therefore changing the content that is being tested, it becomes extremely problematic to maintain and compare standards.

The SSAT also argue that there are testing cause a degree of stress and that the level of continued stress that students are exposed to has become unreasonable and counter-productive. In place of the SATs they suggest using sample testing of randomly selected pupils to monitor performance.

The response from the DCSF is staggering: “… we are not looking at sample testing of randomly selected pupils … It is hard to see how any sample of children could be truly representative of one school … the idea that children are over tested is not a view that the government accepts … we don’t believe that in this day and age parents can be expected to have hidden from them the real achievements of their children at school.”

If the governmental body responsible for our curriculum do not understand sample testing, then I am deeply concerned with the science curriculum; if do not understand how sample testing can give representative data, then they do not understand science. Science is based wholly upon the statistical analysis of sample data. Given a sample and the overall population size, we can very accurately calculate how representative that sample is. Simply, this argument is nonsense.

The original premise for introducing SATs was as a means of measuring schools performance. The DCSF statement concedes that they have now become GCSEs for younger students – performance assessments for the students and their parents to measure themselves with.

Despite this the government does not accept that children are over tested. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that the government is wrong about this. Sadly, there is no easy way of measuring what level of stress is acceptable to expose children to. However, I would have thought that until tests GCSEs, the natural inclinations of all parents and teachers would be to minimise unnecessary stress. This is not the government’s inclination.