The Joint Mathematical Council of the UK and the Royal Society Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education invited teachers of mathematics to complete a survey on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the teaching and learning of mathematics for 3-19 year olds in primary and secondary schools and colleges in the UK.
The survey had the following aims:
- Investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the teaching and learning of mathematics in the second half of 2019-20 and during the Autumn term;
- Understand the challenges and opportunities with current policy initiatives to support the teaching of mathematics (e.g. tutoring programme, online curriculum materials) and identify what else teachers need in the mathematics space;
- Consider possible future impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on mathematics teaching and learning;
- Explore how teachers have made use of online and blended resources and the challenges of engaging learners at distance;
- Inform teachers, leaders, policy makers and other stakeholders on the impact of the pandemic and give consideration to how the mathematics education of young people can be best supported during these challenging times.
Nearly 500 teachers of mathematics answered our survey between 2 November and 23 November 2020. The teachers were asked to answer 12 select response questions and 5 open-ended questions about their experiences of teaching mathematics, and of their students' learning, since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The teachers responding to this survey identified the following issues:
Student motivation, participation and attainment
- Students’ engagement with mathematics and motivation for learning was negatively impacted at the start of the pandemic.
- Lack of student engagement and motivation were more detrimental to the learning of mathematics than the lack of access to digital technology.
- More than half of students are three months or more behind in mathematics as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- A level Mathematics students have found the transition from GCSE more challenging this year compared to normal.
Teaching of mathematics
- More than half of the teachers responding to this survey have had to change what they teach which is likely to impact on learning in this academic year.
- Social distancing rules are likely to impact on students’ learning since mathematics teachers are not able to provide the same range of interactive learning environments for students.
- High levels of staff and student absence this academic year are likely to have a further negative impact on students’ motivation and progress in mathematics.
- The mathematics teaching workforce may suffer as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic – teachers are ill, leaving the profession, feeling undervalued and under-resourced.
- Teachers require funding to better support students’ learning of mathematics, e.g. for resources for manipulatives which cannot be shared in the usual way, digital technology or online mathematics learning materials.
Current Government interventions need to be monitored to ensure they have desired impact
- Half of respondents in England were not making use of the catch up premium and/or the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) for mathematics.
- Teachers recognised the utility of online resources available for mathematics but highlighted the challenges with using the resources with diverse groups of students for whom they were not necessarily designed.
The findings of this survey highlight the importance to further monitor and assess the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on mathematics teaching and learning to inform future Government interventions and to minimise the impact of future disruptions.
There is a need for systematic collection of quality and timely data with swift, safe and ethical access to inform government interventions and monitor their uptake. The Department for Education should rapidly publish data on how schools and colleges have spent money provided, any problems that they have encountered, numbers of those who have enrolled, types of tutoring provided and impact of the projects funded on student progression and attainment. This should be used to identify and address barriers and inform the design of future interventions.
These activities would be further enhanced by a more coordinated and systematic approach to the commissioning, undertaking and capture of educational research. This would enable a greater understanding of the current and future needs relating to the impact of Covid-19. It would also enable wider reflection from the lessons of the pandemic on future educational provision.
Those needs might best be served by the establishment of a coordinating body bringing together key actors – researchers, teaching practitioners and policymakers. This could form part of the remit of the Office for Educational Research recommended by the Royal Society and the British Academy.
If you have any questions about this work, please contact the Education Policy team by emailing EducationPolicy@royalsociety.org.