Countdown to 2015

By Zoe Baker, Maths Heaven Online Tutor

In anticipation of the A Level and GCSE Maths results due in the next few weeks, I felt it pertinent to read Carol Vorderman’s report as commissioned by Michael Gove and David Cameron under the opposition Conservative Party in 2009.

Counting on an abacus... a lost art, I feel.

Image: nuchylee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To be fair, I know why Carol is the choice of the Conservative party. She demonstrated her aptitude in mental arithmetic in front of the unemployed nation for 25 years. She spent a considerable period (ten years) sandwiched into the Channel 4 programming schedules, as the face of First Plus; attracting customers to the ethically questionable debt consolidation scheme. She’s been the face of several publications in Maths, English and Science. She’s also written some best-selling titles on detox dieting. Scrub that last one, I have no idea why that would help. But she is lovely, though, isn’t she?

It’s an interesting thought. First Plus knew how to select somebody for their marketing campaign who represents maths to the general public: somebody whose image is engrained within the public psyche, and unquestionably much more clever than most of yow; preferably somebody with a fantastic arse (who is freely available to attend promotional events). I challenge anybody to name somebody in the public eye who represents maths in a more effective way. Carol Vorderman’s lack of educational qualification or teaching experience at this point is less important in her role as chair; she is clearly the outward face of “maths” to the UK audience; the façade behind which the mathematics academics are hiding in order to facilitate mathematics educational reform.

Despite this, plenty of people have questioned Vorderman’s ability to chair the task force. But it is pretty short sighted to suggest that a civil engineering graduate could not be a representative of maths or numeracy. But I would say that. I’m biased.

But I do question Vorderman’s objectivity as a government advisor. She is currently fronting her own maths website (www.themathsfactor.com) which is selling subscriptions to parents aimed at children of primary school age. I have my own opinion about the product being touted, but I’ll save that for another time.

If you’re responsible for a commercial product that helps primary school children “get ahead” in maths, then your role as a voluntary government advisor in mathematics education (for a specific political party) is compromised. As much as I welcome many of the findings of the report, it is a travesty that Carol Vorderman is fronting it. Of course it’s voluntary! This is a PR campaign to die for; plenty of opportunities for Carol to do the rounds on the national media just before the results come out; plenty of controversy over educational standards; lots of harrumphing and excuses to call for “back to basics”. Those parents who actually give a toss would likely be concerned about their child’s maths learning – to the internet to read that report! Google “Carol Vorderman maths”… what do you notice?

Zoe Baker is Managing Director of www.MathsHeaven.co.uk and is a Functional Maths Lecturer in an FE College in Hampshire.

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