As I outlined to this House previously, the issues raised in the correspondence in question are many and varied. They relate to the teaching of Maths and the qualifications of Maths teachers. The correspondent makes some interesting points and statements, many of which, however, I would not support. I do not propose in this statement to address each of these considerations. Rather, I will provide an overview of just some recent developments aimed at improving mathematics education in Ireland, particularly at second-level.
Prior to the OECD's PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study steps were already being taken by my Department to improve the educational outcomes of our students in Maths. The proportion of Mathematics teachers without a major qualification represents a challenge to the system, however, this is also a feature of education systems in other jurisdictions. For example, the Project Maths Implementation Group report of June 2010 states that Finland, Canada and Australia, (which ranked 2nd, 6th and 8th respectively in mathematics out of 57 countries in the 2006 OECD PISA (Programme of International Student Assessment)) have 32%, 75% and 28% respectively of students taught by certified teachers without mathematics as a major qualification.
Last September proposals were announced by Minister Sherlock to introduce a course for teachers of Mathematics who may not have a qualification in the subject to up skill to the recognised levels. The tendering competition is now over and the assessment process is at an advanced stage. Arising out of this competitive process, I hope that there will be a contract and course/s in place in time for the forthcoming school year. The course/s will aim to provide teachers with suitable mathematical content knowledge along with appropriate pedagogical strategies in line with the Project Maths initiative.
The provision of the training programme addresses the following recommendation of the Report of the Project Maths Implementation Support Group: "The Department of Education and Skills should work towards ensuring that all post primary students at all levels are taught mathematics solely by teachers who hold a qualification in mathematics by 2018. Post graduate courses for existing teachers should be provided on a scale and level commensurate with this objective." It will provide unqualified maths teachers with the opportunity to up skill their knowledge of mathematics and study the strategies best suited to the new Project Maths syllabuses. Providing for high quality teaching and learning of mathematics is of key strategic importance to the State.
Project Maths itself is a major programme of reform in mathematics in second level schools, which is designed to encourage better understanding of mathematics, to reinforce its practical relevance to everyday life, and to ensure better continuity between primary and second level, and junior and senior cycle. It began in 24 project schools in September 2008 and was introduced in all schools in September 2010. The curriculum will be phased in over a number of years covering the following five strands of mathematics:
Phase 1: Strand 1 — statistics and probability; Strand 2 — geometry and trigonometry.
Phase 2: Strand 3 — number; Strand 4 — algebra.
Phase 3: Strand 5 — functions.
In tandem with the roll-out a comprehensive programme of professional development is being provided for teachers of mathematics. Support is provided on a rolling basis as each strand of the curriculum is implemented, and will continue until at least 2013.
In addition, schools have been asked to attend to the following measures which are supportive of enhanced mathematics learning:
to make every effort to ensure that students have access to a mathematics class every day, particularly in junior cycle;
that Transition Year, where available, should be used to provide innovative learning opportunities and increased mathematics teaching hours to develop core transferable skills;
that every effort should be made to deploy teachers who hold a qualification in mathematics to mathematics teaching, which is particularly important in the formative years of junior cycle;
to provide optimum support and encouragement to as many students as possible who have taken higher-level mathematics in junior cycle to continue to study the subject at higher level in senior cycle.
An additional 25 bonus CAO points will be available from 2012 to candidates who score Grade D3 or higher in Higher Level Mathematics in the Leaving Certificate examination. These arrangements have been agreed by higher education institutions for a four year trial period from 2012 to 2015 inclusive, with a review in 2014.
In relation to appropriate mathematics qualifications, the Teaching Council is currently working on a process of consultation about the undergraduate degree requirements for all post-primary subjects, including Mathematics. The Deputy's correspondent may have taken this opportunity to engage with the Council on this matter which he has obviously considered in detail. My Department has also passed his correspondence on to the Council in the past. The Teaching Council will consider all feedback prior to finalising the criteria. It is anticipated that the effect of the combined efforts of my Department, the Teaching Council, maths teachers and other stakeholders will result in better educational outcomes in Maths for our students.