Address to Maths Counts 2015 Conference in UCD

17th April 2015

Address by Damien English T.D., Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation at the Maths Counts 2015 Conference in UCD


I am delighted to be here this evening to formally open the Maths Counts 2015 conference and I would like to thank Dr Anne Brosnan, the National Coordinator of the Project Maths Development Team (PMDT) for inviting me. Well done to you and the team for what promises to be a great event.

The keynote speaker for the conference is Associate Professor Geoffrey Wake. Professor Wake’s contribution to the proceedings will be invaluable in terms of his insights and experience in relation to problem solving, mathematics teaching and learning and beyond.

I am glad that the NCCA, SEC and DES Maths Inspectorate are well represented here this evening.

I would like to take the opportunity to officially thank Anne and the PMDT team for their ongoing leadership and support for mathematics teachers and school principals in bringing about change in the approach to teaching and learning in maths classrooms through the CPD programme, and through their work with the NCCA as they developed these important changes.

Led by the NCCA, Project Maths was introduced to an initial group of 24 schools in 2008 as a ground-breaking curriculum development.

It was introduced nationally to all post-primary schools in 2010. This period has been one of significant change for students, teachers and parents and has required their commitment and dedication, along with those of a range of other stakeholders. It emphasises student understanding of mathematical concepts and the use of contexts and applications that enable students to relate mathematics to their everyday experience.

Over the last decade the need for this change had been identified in a number of studies. In addition to the findings of these studies, the decline in the uptake of higher level mathematics, particularly in senior cycle, meant that fundamental changes to the manner in which mathematics was taught, learned and assessed were essential.

While there has been progress and huge investment in mathematics teaching and learning across a number of sectors, challenges still remain and we still have work to do.

The Chief Inspector’s Report 2010-2012 points to many challenges for teachers that still exist if Project Maths is to be successfully implemented. Some of the key findings regarding mathematics were as follows:

·        Teaching in Mathematics should focus on teaching for understanding. It should emphasise the connections between mathematical ideas and engage students in finding multiple solutions, as they establish links between the solutions and processes. Effective differentiation of lesson content should be a feature of all mathematics lessons.

·        In order to improve student learning in Mathematics, the range and quality of questions encountered by students should be extended to include open-ended and multi-step questions. The need for students to justify their solutions and explain their strategies should be adopted as standard practice.

·        Subject planning should include approaches to enhance students’ learning and teaching for understanding. Common approaches to teaching the more important mathematical procedures, resource integration and strategies to explore and exploit links between the different curriculum strands should also be included.

·        Assessment for learning should be more widely adopted as a tool in improving students’ understanding and appreciation of Mathematics.

The Chief Inspector’s report also highlighted that it is heartening to see the commitment of teachers to developing a Project Maths approach. Having keenly followed developments in post-primary mathematics over recent years, and having had the opportunity to meet many practising maths teachers, I fully agree and I commend all teachers participating in this conference for that.

I also wish to make reference to a number of other relevant reports. One of the interesting findings of the final report of theNational Foundation for Educational Research, which investigated the impact of Project Maths on student achievement, learning and motivation, related to the suggestion that the degree to which teachers employ traditional teaching methods diminishes with increased exposure to the new syllabuses.

Project Maths and PISA 2012, which compared the performance in initial Project Maths schools on PISA 2012 to those in non-initial schools at Junior Certificate level, revealed that students in Initial schools scored 10 points higher on PISA than those in Non-Initial schools.

There was also evidence of stronger performance on PISA Space & Shape, with female students in Initial schools showing most improvement. Evidence of the positive impact of Project Maths at school and classroom level was also observed. At Junior Cycle, the curriculum associated with Project Maths was judged to equip students better for tests requiring real-world application of mathematical reasoning than the previous curriculum.

Therefore it is anticipated that, with the passage of time, and continuing professional development supporting the change in teaching approaches a greater shift from the teaching approaches deployed heretofore to those espoused by the new curricula will be made.

I look forward to tracking this development as time goes on and I think conferences like this one will provide further impetus for change.

As you know, the Department of Education and Skills has implemented a range of measures to support the continued roll-out of Project Maths.  These measures include the prioritisation of Continued Professional Development for all second-level Maths teachers, and the provision of a greater amount of time for the teaching of maths at both primary and post primary levels.

I am particularly pleased to see that interest in Mathematics continues to grow. It is heartening that well over half the Junior Certificate cohort are now sitting the higher level mathematics examination.  54% of learners took Higher Level Mathematics in 2014, up from 52% in 2013.

At Leaving Certificate the proportion of students taking the Higher Level option has increased from 16% in 2011 to 27% in 2014.

The 25 additional bonus points available for those who achieve a D3 or higher has had a major impact, but the increase also reflects the introduction of the new Project Maths syllabus.

This increase in interest and competence of our post primary students in Mathematics is welcome and is an important step in continuing to build Ireland’s knowledge economy.

I would like to acknowledge the work of individual teachers, in schools across the country, and their commitment to improving how students experience maths and students’ learning outcomes.

Teachers’ participation in and feedback on CPD has also helped in shaping workshops, modular courses and online supports to better address needs.

I acknowledge also the forty post-primary schools nationally, and one hundred and fifty teachers, who, with the facilitation of the PMDT, committed to six evenings, after school hours, to plan and design a research lesson, teach the lesson with peer observation and to reflect with their peers post-lesson.

I wish to particularly acknowledge the significant contribution made by teachers to improving the way Mathematics is taught and learned, in order to achieve the important high level national goal that learning outcomes in mathematics are improved for students, in accordance with the National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People.

It is appropriate and fitting indeed in the context of both Project Maths and this conference that the keynote speaker, Associate Professor in Mathematics Education Geoffrey Wake from the University of Nottingham, is going to address the conference on “Solving a Problem: Lessons for Problem Solving”. It is great that much of the conference will be filmed for the web so that those who can’t be here will be able to view the content later.

The workshops tomorrow will present part of the rich tapestry of teachers’ experiences in Reflections on Practice, a professional development exercise which captures and promotes individual teacher and school group collaborative planning, observation and analytic reflection, and active student engagement in learning mathematics. You will hear directly from teachers as they disseminate their strategies based on real classroom experiences. I know that teachers find this form of peer to peer sharing a particularly beneficial form of professional development. I am impressed by the wide variety and topics covered which I’m sure will give conference participants a wealth of ideas and inspiration for their own work.

Also on the agenda tomorrow will be key messages on assessment, learning and teaching to be presented by guest speakers from the State Examinations Commission, NCCA and the DES Inspectorate.

Finally, I warmly welcome all of you to this, the second conference held by the Project Maths Development Team.

I hope you enjoy this evening’s esteemed speaker and the workshops tomorrow and I look forward to hearing about the fruits of your labour here this weekend. I also very much look forward to catching up online.

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