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THE government has been criticised for not spending enough on maths books for schools.

Education reporter MARK FORSTER visits a Coventry classroom and discovers that cost is only one part of the equation.

POTTERS GREEN is a successful Coventry primary school already meeting government targets for 2002 in numeracy and literacy.

As one of the city's larger primary schools it also attracts more money than most.

But any book company representatives visiting the 461-pupil school could not help failing to notice the collecting bins for vouchers off crisp packets, and occasionally children helping to remove them.

If every child at Potters Green were to have the three maths text books the government says they need the school would have a maths library of more than 1,400 books.

To buy that many books the Ringwood Highway school would need to spend much more than the pounds 365 average primary schools can look forward to from April and more than pounds 2,200 it had for maths books and equipment this year.

So it has to make do, like many schools, with a lot less maths books.

As part of the National Numeracy Strategy the government has told teachers what is expect ed of them and their young charges.

To meet government targets students need text books just as much as teachers need their own text books and training.

Photocopies and school worksheets, culled from several different books, have their place, but there is nothing like the real thing.

The Educational Publishers Council says that schools need to spend between pounds 2,000 and pounds 6,000 on maths text books, but claims six out of 10 schools nationally have spent less than pounds 500 since the Numeracy Strategy began in September.

As a large school Potters Green gets more money than a 200-pupil school such as nearby Eburne, but proportionately it is the same with cash allocated per pupil depending on age.

Books can cost more than pounds 20 each and schools have to keep up with trends in the way maths is taught, as well as replacing damaged and lost texts.

Acting head Sue Brodie admits: "There is no way we could afford to spend pounds 6,000 on one area of the curriculum when there is so much to be spent on everything else. Our allocation for the Numeracy Strategy last year was pounds 2,200, but that was not just for books, that was for other materials and equipment.''

From April the school will get about pounds 1,000 for numeracy from the city council, the same as every other primary school in Coventry. Then maths co-ordinator Sarah Murphy will have to bid for cash for maths lessons out of the central school budget.

She said: "I have to bid for resources from the school budget, as do all the other subject co-ordinators. In an ideal world every child needs three textbooks according to their age, but when you add in all the teachers books, resource books and other books you need, you are talking a lot of money for any school.

"Text books are very expensive and to equip a school when you are on a budget is getting impossible. We also need other equipment, such as calculators, counting sticks, even weighing machines. It all costs money. Text books are important because of the presentation. Maths books have changed a lot and keep on changing. There are a whole variety of publishers who would love me to buy their maths books. It is a question of having to make the right choice for our children and on the money available. We could always do with more money.''

The Educational Publishers Council claims the government will spend an average of pounds 6,500 per school on books for the National Literacy Strategy from April, more than 20 times the average schools will get for maths books.

It, together with the School Book Alliance, wants David Blunkett, the education secretary, to up the amount being spent on maths book in schools.

The EPC says the government is spending more on the National Literacy Hour in primary schools in terms of teacher training, equipment and books than on the Numeracy Strategy, which has become a similar success in raising standards.

And it warns schools will find it hard to meet the government's target of 75 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching the level expected of them by 2002 unless more money is poured into maths books.

Mark Treadwell, a maths teacher at Potters Green School, says the National Numeracy Strategy has drastically changed the way maths is taught in primary schools.

Daily maths lessons begin with 10 minutes of "fast paced and enjoyable" mental maths. Then it is heads down in text books or worksheets for the rest of the lesson, with the last five minutes being another group exercise.

What is taught is quite prescriptive, with every maths teacher working from the National Numeracy Strategy framework, a large folder which sets out what lessons should be taught when and also the standards children should aim for.

As a grassroots maths teacher he wants more books for the children he teaches to help them improve their overall maths ability.

Mr Treadwell said: "I like the idea of doing mental maths with children. At Potters Green we set a target for each child every week and give them clues how they can meet the target and try to involve their parents.

"But books are extremely important. You can find different ways of getting maths across to children in different maths text books.

"All are very good, but you have to remember the days of ploughing through a workbook are long gone.''
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Author:Forster, Mark
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 2, 2000
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