We take a look at some recent information about the National Curriculum as it relates to measures and measurement.
The influence of education on the successes and failures of the UK’s metric transition has been a frequent topic of discussion on Metric Views. For example, in 2008 we asked if schools are entrenching the muddle of two measurement systems:
and in 2010 we reported the views of a person who had taught maths for thirty years:
We have now come across an informative article on the National Curriculum in Yardstick, the newsletter of the British Weights & Measures Association (BWMA), published last year, and we are pleased to reproduce it here.
On 8 December 1970, in response to a Parliamentary question on the need for school education in imperial units, Secretary of State for Education and Science, Margaret Thatcher said: “In October 1969, the Department issued a memorandum suggesting that, although pupils should become increasingly familiar with metric units, they should retain an adequate knowledge of imperial measures for everyday needs”.
From 1974, the metric system became the primary system. According to a government spokesman in late 1979: “The Department of Education and Science issued advice in 1974 that teaching should be conducted principally in metric terms while maintaining general familiarity with imperial units, and this still stands”.
Since 1999, the position regarding imperial has been that pupils should know “… the rough metric equivalents of imperial units still in daily use”, which implies pupils should think of imperial units in terms of metric, rather than as units in their own right. Earlier this year, however, the government made noises that this imbalance may be adjusted, at least, to acknowledge that the mile and pint are still in use, as this correspondence shows.
BWMA letter to Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, 7 July 2013
“Dear Mr Gove
National Curriculum: metric and imperial measurements
In January 2013, the press reported proposed changes to the national curriculum regarding the teaching of imperial measurements in schools. For example, according to the Daily Telegraph:
“Ministers said that a new curriculum “goes further” than previous documents drawn up under Labour by requiring schools to place imperial units at the heart of maths lessons. Under new plans, a draft primary school syllabus requires pupils to understand and use the “basic equivalences” between metric and common imperial systems. The document also makes greater reference to miles to make sure children are fully aware of the standard measurement of speed and distance on British roads, it was revealed”.
Our Association (the BWMA) campaigns for the retention of imperial measurements, and would be grateful if you could please explain the new position on the teaching of imperial and metric measurements in schools, and how this differs from what went before? In particular, are imperial units now regarded as ‘equal’ to metric units, or is metric still the standard system of measurement in the national curriculum?”
Reply from the Department for Education, 30 July 2013
“Thank you for your letter of 7 July, addressed to the Secretary of State for Education, about the teaching of imperial measurements in schools. I am sure you will appreciate that the Secretary of State receives a vast amount of correspondence and is unable to reply to each one personally. It is for this reason I have been asked to reply.
The requirement to know about imperial measures is included in the current national curriculum. For example, in the key stage 2 curriculum, it states that pupils need to know how to solve problems involving a range of measures, including being able to undertake basic equivalences between metric and common imperial units, set in a variety of contexts.
This requirement remains in the new draft curriculum in year 5, in that pupils are required to understand and use basic equivalences between metric and common imperial units. Miles and pints are still units of measure in use today and therefore it would seem sensible that pupils should be familiar with their use.
Once again thank you for writing.
Jane Myers, Ministerial and Public Communications Division”
Here is the wording of the Minister’s statement, provided as an answer to a Parliamentary question on 7 January 2013:
Andrew Percy (Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to improve and extend teaching of imperial measurements in schools to ensure an understanding of their use on roads and amongst the public.
Elizabeth Truss, Education Minister (Conservative): As part of the review of the National Curriculum, we propose to include imperial units within the new Programmes of Study for mathematics. We have undertaken an informal consultation on the draft primary mathematics curriculum which was published in June, alongside English and science. The draft goes further than the current National Curriculum in terms of what pupils are expected to learn in relation to imperial units, including explicit reference to miles. We are currently considering feedback on these proposals and the Government will publish a revised draft for full public consultation in early 2013. The consultation will also include proposed changes to the secondary curriculum.
Here is the relevant wording of the current national curriculum, as relating to imperial, published in 1999 and in place until early 2014:
Pupils should be taught to … know the rough metric equivalents of imperial units still in daily use
The proposed wording of the new national curriculum:
(Year 5) Pupils should be taught to … understand and use basic equivalences between metric and common imperial units and express them in approximate terms
(Year 6) Pupils should be taught to … convert between standard units … including between miles and kilometres
The word “still” is removed, which otherwise infers imperial units are an aberration, and the need to know metric equivalents of imperial is replaced with a more even-handed “equivalences between metric and common imperial units”. As before, however, imperial units are not taught as measurements in their own right; they are referred to only in terms of conversion. One needs to see the rest of the curriculum on measures to see how far imperial units are sidelined:
Draft curriculum, from 2014, as relating to measures, for primary schools
- · compare, measure and record the following using standard units for: lengths and heights (e.g. long/short, longer/shorter, tall/short, double/half); lengths and heights (metres, centimetres); mass (grams, kilograms); capacity and volume (litres); time (hours, minutes, seconds)
- · compare, describe and solve practical problems for: lengths and heights (e.g. long/short, longer/shorter, tall/short, double/half); mass (e.g. heavy/light, heavier than, lighter than); capacity and volume (full/empty, more than, less than, quarter, three quarters full or empty); time (quicker, slower, earlier, later)
- · recognise and use pounds (£) and pence (p) with different denominations of money, including coins and notes
- · tell the time to the hour and half past the hour
- · sequence events in chronological order using common terms such as: before and after, next, first, today, yesterday, tomorrow, morning, afternoon and evening
- · recognise and use the language of dates, including days of the week, weeks, months and years.
- · choose and use appropriate standard units to estimate and measure length/height in any direction (m/cm/mm); mass (kg/g); temperature (°C); volume and capacity (litres/ml) to the nearest appropriate unit using rulers, scales, thermometers and measuring vessels · compare and order lengths, mass, volume/capacity and record the results using >, < and =
- · read relevant scales to the nearest numbered unit
- · tell and write the time to 5 minutes including quarter past/to the hour and draw hands on a clock face to show these times
- · recognise and use symbols for pounds (£) and pence (p); recognise coins
- · and notes of different values; combine amounts to make a particular value and match different combinations of coins to equal the same amounts of money; add and subtract money of the same unit.
- · recognise and use full names and abbreviations for metric units of measure
- · measure, compare, add and subtract: lengths (m/cm/mm); mass (kg/g); volume/capacity (l/ml); and time (hours/minutes/seconds)
- · measure the perimeter of simple 2-D shapes
- · tell and write the time from an analogue clock, including using Roman numerals from I to XII, and 12 hour and 24 hour digital clocks
- · estimate and read time with increasing accuracy to the nearest minute; record and compare time in terms of seconds, minutes, hours and o’clock; use vocabulary such as am/pm, morning, afternoon, noon and midnight
- · know the number of seconds in a minute and the number of days in each month, year and leap year
- · compare durations of events, for example to calculate the time taken up by particular events or tasks
- · add and subtract amounts of money to give change, using both £ and p.
- · convert between different units of measure, for example: kilometre to metre; metre to centimetre; centimetre to millimetre; kilogram to gram; litre to millilitre; hour to minute; minute to second; year to month; week to day
- · measure and calculate the perimeter of a rectilinear figure, where each side is labelled in centimetres and metres
- · find the area of squares and rectangles and related composite shapes
- · read and convert time between analogue and digital 12- and 24- hour clocks
- · estimate, compare and calculate different measures, including money in pounds and pence.
- · add, subtract, multiply and divide units of measure (e.g. length, mass, volume, money) using decimal notation
- · understand and use basic equivalences between metric and common imperial units and express them in approximate terms
- · measure force in Newtons (N)
- · calculate, estimate and compare the area of squares, rectangles and related composite shapes using standard units, including centimetre squared (cm2) and metre squared (m2)
- · recognise volume in practical contexts, for example using sand and water, 1 cm3 blocks or interlocking cubes to build cubes and cuboids.
- · use, read, write and convert between standard units, converting measurements of length, mass, volume and time from a smaller unit of measure to a larger unit, and vice versa, including between miles and kilometres
- · recognise that shapes with the same areas can have different perimeters and vice versa
- · calculate the area of parallelograms and triangles
- · recognise when it is necessary to use the formulae for area and volume of shapes
- · Calculate, estimate and compare volume of cubes and cuboids using standard units, including centimetre cubed (cm3) and cubic metres (m3) and extending to other units, such as mm3 and km3
- · use decimal notation to three decimal places to solve problems involving calculation and conversion of measures.”
The quotation from Yardstick ends here. We assume the use of a bold type face for units in the above was included by its editor for emphasis.
Although tempted to comment on the article, Metric Views would prefer to hear readers’ views.