William Wynne Wilson

William Wynne Wilson

Those with access to the JSTOR database of all past copies of the Gazette (up to a 'moving wall' of 5 years ago) will be able to read his Presidential address, published in July 1994.

For those without, it is available to members for a small supplement: contact Marcia Murray at HQ, here are his opening remarks.

Five types of ambiguity

Recently, especially during the last fourteen years, the Presidential addresses given at MA Conferences have tended to have a strong political content. My predecessors have offered advice to education ministers and their advisers, and discussed what the Association and its members should do in the face of changes being imposed. All too often the question has not been how to improve Mathematics Education, but what could be done to enable us just to maintain standards with the introduction of so-called reforms which I believe have often been ill- advised, ill-considered and unhelpful. But I propose this evening to take a rather different sort of path, and I should like first to explain why.
It is emphatically not because of a belief that the Association should keep out of politics: indeed I think that one good reason for the existence of subject associations is to try to put pressure on all sorts of other groups, - politicians, examination boards, and parents for example. There have been signs recently that the government is now prepared to take some notice of professional advice from subject associations. Since Sir Ron Dearing replaced Lord Griffiths the Association has twice been invited to send representatives to SCAA to discuss the current re-drafting of the Mathematics Curriculum, and, as I was publicly told in a letter from SCAA to the Guardian two weeks ago, they are also looking forward to our contribution to "the crucial phase of consultation" from May to July. Moreover the appointment of Sir Ron Dearing was itself a response to the test boycott, and this in turn arose from pressure from the teachers of English. My own belief is that part of the reason for the effectiveness of the lobbying of our English colleagues derives from the fact that they, unlike us, are represented by a single subject association.

But while I entirely agree with the importance of the political dimension to the Association's work, I believe that there is a danger that it will crowd out everything else. Indeed some of the changes introduced by the government seem designed to do just that. Increasingly one finds the assumption being made that school mathematics is the national curriculum in mathematics, no more, no less, (at least up to the age of 16). The assessment at the end of a key stage is not just one measure of performance, it is the only measure of performance, perhaps even the only thing that matters. And so on. It seems to me to take considerable will-power to overcome the pressures designed to force us into these moulds, and I would like to feel that the MA can help to support teachers who are trying to live up to a fuller, truer, more ambitious view of the nature of education in mathematics. There is no way of avoiding spending time and energy planning coverage of attainment targets and preparing for and administering key stage assessments, but we must remember that these are artificial and bureaucratic means, not ends. One way to do this is to fight to find time and energy to spend on the real problems of mathematics education. I want to spend the rest of my time this evening on what I believe to be one such issue, a challenge in the teaching and learning of mathematics which I am sure will still be around long after Key stages and ten-level scales are forgotten pieces of educational history.