Monday, February 02, 2009

Consonant, vowel, consonant, consonant

It is one thing to have a celeb front up a government campaign - Carol Vorderman was the face of the Year of Mathematics in 2000. She also lent her name in support of a government proposal last year to put a specialist maths teacher into every primary school as part of a programme investing £24 million into training existing teachers, which came out of a report chaired by Sir Peter Williams who is a very serious scientist - he chairs the National Physical Laboratory and is Treasurer of the Royal Society. The panel included Sir Jim Rose, an experienced primary head teacher and former director of inspection at OFSTED, amongst other serious educationalists. Carol welcomed that report and the proposals, even offering a quote
"I am thrilled that at long last an official body is raising the spectre of our negative cultural attitude to maths, particularly in the media. Ask any parent in the land if they think it's important that their child is good at maths, and they will emphatically say "yes". And yet, we hear (to the point of boredom) on children's tv, on soaps, on news and daytime shows 'oh I'm rubbish at maths' or 'you're a nerd' or 'I don't need to be good at sums cos I can just use a calculator'. Do we say the same about English? Would anyone approve of 'oh I'm rubbish at reading', or 'I don't need to be able to read or write cos I can just watch the telly' as messages to send out? No they wouldn't... Our children are not stupid: our children are not inherently inadequate: our children are not born hating maths, we just manage to convince them that they should.

You do have to ask how much she actually knows about the detail of education - a woman who has described Shakespeare as 'as dull as ditchwater.' I know that she's been a talking head to help sell the private Kumon method - which has been criticised by some maths teachers - but that's hardly a qualification. In her time, she's flogged her ghostwritten detox diets and - controversially - spent a decade advertising a sub-prime lender in TV ads aimed at people with a rather poor understanding of maths. No wonder she had to drop that gig if she's trying to improve the quality of maths education - she'd be reducing the number of people likely to fall for their high-cost loans.

Should we be surprised that after spending a lifetime translating her gameshow fame into a profitable sideline in advertising, she's come round to selling another dodgy product to the great British public. Her involvement is just another vacuous publicity stunt to push the Tory party rather than actually developing policies to improve outcomes. Mind you, I suppose that Cameron had to find somebody from a comprehensive school to leaven the mix of Etonians.

Asking Carol to head up an inquiry that will - presumably - influence a future Conservative policy, is somewhat akin to asking Jeremy Clarkson to lead on the future of the British motor industry.

Or have I just broken a story embargoed for next week?

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