March 5, 2024


International Student Club UK

Maths experts’ scathing letter to Ofsted over its use of ‘outdated’ sources

Experts criticised a recent maths review published by education standards watchdog Ofsted for being ‘poorly researched’ and including dated and irrelevant sources.

The Association of Mathematics Education Teachers (AMET), which comprises of a group of educators from universities across the country, published a scathing letter asking Ofsted to withdraw its latest research review into maths.

The review is criticised for using sources that date back to 1939, and they even use a study from 1988 for a statement related to computer use.

The paper also cited many American sources that were calling for a national curriculum to be enforced, which seemed pointless in the UK, where there is already a national curriculum in place.

Mathematics with pencil
The Ofsted paper uses a source from 1939 as well as a study in computer use from 1988

According to the Mirror, studies involving university students, not school age learners, are also cited.

Ofsted said its reviews are aimed at supporting and informing those leading the thinking on subject education in schools, which AMET felt was not good enough.

They scrutinised the document and found more than 100 references come from the USA, despite the fact England has outperformed it in maths in the international Pisa rankings.

The paper also uses reports from the USA, calling for a national curriculum – something England has had for decades, but the USA does not. It also appears to muddle the school ages of pupils in the US and England.

In a hard-hitting letter to England’s school inspectorate, AMET said it has “identified some serious problems with the scholarship in the document.”

Members went through all 201 footnotes and 307 references in the report and also found:

* A study from 1988 is used for a statement related to computer use, which the experts say “seems ill-advised because of the fast rate of change in technology and the huge differences in children’s familiarity with computers”.

* “The age of the sources is sometimes a concern”. The report includes research ranging from an article published this year to an article from 1980, with a book from 1939 used to illustrate a historical point.

* Approximately 50% of the references come from sources published within the last 10 years. That means that nearly half of the sources were published before the current National Curriculum. This can result in discussing practices that no longer occur.

* Most of the studies did involve school children but some were conducted with college or university students.

* One footnote relates to research with first and second grade children (sic to eight years old) in the USA but is erroneously equated to the “start of the academic journey” in England, which would be nursery or reception classes (three to five years old).

A young teacher doing maths equations on the whiteboard
The review was criticised for being ‘poorly researched’

The letter from AMET added that: “Several of the American sources cited were calling for the creation of a standard curriculum in the USA so it was not clear why these were being used for a review in England that already has a national curriculum.”

Calling for the document to be removed AMET told Ofsted: “We do not feel that the evidence base for this report, which sets itself out as a research review, is secure and call for its withdrawal until this can be corrected.”

Ofsted said it had “every confidence” in its research review and would not remove it.

A spokesperson said: “Research is important in informing the curriculum in mathematics, as it is in all subjects. That is why we are publishing a series of subject reviews.

“The reviews set out the research that has informed our thinking on subject quality. We are not aiming to summarise the totality of research in education.

“When selecting literature for the reviews, we are drawing on research that aligns with the established principles for quality of education, as outlined in the education inspection framework (EIF) and summarised in our ‘Education inspection framework: overview of research’.

“We are in the process of responding to AMET’s letter. We have every confidence in our research review and will not be withdrawing it.”

In its principles behind the review document Ofsted said: “Educational research is contestable and contested, and so are documents such as these research reviews. Therefore, we are sharing our thinking with subject communities so that we can get input from the broader subject community.”

AMET said it hoped its response would be welcomed by Ofsted as input from the broader mathematics education community.