‘History of Maths Education’ Nerd talk

Last week I did a talk at a fun East London event called Nerd Nite (@NerdNiteLondon). Held at the Museum of Childhood, the night consists of 3 speakers who talk to the audience about a specialist interest of theirs. The speakers are given 20 minutes to share an element of their specialist interest and the people who have paid to attend hopefully have their horizons broadened.

My talk was on ‘the history of maths education in England’. I’ve spent the last few months learning about the history of the English school system and how the status of maths within schools has changed a lot over the past 150 years.

I decided to research this particular topic because of the many frustrations I have experienced as a maths teacher in mainstream secondary schools. My main frustrations are:

  • the huge maths curriculum, which is often irrelevant to students’ lives
  • schools’ relentless focus on ‘exam performance’ rather than ‘learning’
  • the epic changes to maths curriculum, making preparation for exams even more difficult

I wanted to find out how we had arrived at this place. The questions I posed that drove the direction of my presentation were:

1. How did the maths GCSE become such an important qualification in England?
2. How were the maths topics that we teach for the maths GCSE chosen?
3. What is the rationale behind the crazy new maths GCSE changes that are taking place this year?


Nerd Nite_1

My talk discussed the development of the ‘school system for all’ in England and its many changes, the increased focus on maths and science education in the 1960s and the introduction of the ‘marketisation’ of education in the 1980s, which has led to the high-stakes testing culture we see now in our schools.

Nerd Nite_2

My talk also tried to explain the extreme changes made to the maths GCSE exam.

Nerd Nite_3

Thankfully my talk was well received and I realised I’d like to share my findings with more people, especially other maths teachers! We (teachers) should be aware of our subject history and our school system history so we are able to take part in deciding the direction of education in the future….. Also, it’s actually quite an interesting story!

I have attached some stills from PowerPoint presentation and I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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