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Eastern Daily Press, Saturday, February 4, 2012

www.EDP24.co.uk/news

OPINION 35

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Success all adds up to an understanding of maths


DAVID PRIOR
Rachel de Souza, the principal of the Ormiston Victory Academy at Costessey, and I are proposing to establish a new free school in, or close to, Norwich. It will be a sixth-form college specialising in maths and the sciences. The core curriculum will be maths, physics, chemistry, computing and biology. It will also offer other subjects including Mandarin and time will be reserved for leadership, entrepreneurship and communications. The school will relentlessly pursue academic excellence, there will be an expectation that the students will obtain A grades and go to the best universities. We want to inspire and motivate students to reach for the stars. Why do we feel so passionate about this? The history of human progress has been driven by mathematics and the power it has given mankind both to understand and to shape the world. This was as true for Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire as it was for 19th-century Germany and 20thcentury America. Archimedes and Pythagoras would have felt very much at home in Silicon Valley Our . own country has been the perfect illustration of this synthesis between mathematics and civilisation. It was the mathematical genius of Sir Isaac Newton, described as the Godfather of the Enlightenment, that freed us from superstition and ignorance and that laid the basis of our industrial revolution and the British Empire. If you want a one word answer to the perennial question Why was Britain so successful in the 18th and 19th centuries? the answer would be maths. Human progress never stays still; great empires and civilisations come and go. Today the pendulum is swinging fast, away from the west to the east. We are falling behind. Anyone who thinks that the Chinese are content to make cheap toys and the Indians are happy to man call centres needs to wake up and smell the coffee. They are producing engineers, physicists and chemists by the million. In China the number of science and engineering degrees trebled between 1998 and 2006. By contrast our education system has left thousands of our children illequipped to compete in a world driven by technology. Many lack basic numeracy skills, let alone any

NEIL HAVERSON FORTRESS H

Picture: HGHGHG

A military operation to finish off the nibbles


Its the time of year when my mood becomes tinged with melancholy It has nothing to do with lack of . daylight, frosty mornings or failing to achieve Mrs Hs New Year resolutions. Brat Major has just had a birthday and Brat Minors is on the horizon. These milestones have me taking stock and wondering where the time has gone. Even they get a bit gloomy over how old they are. Mrs H decided to celebrate Brat Majors birthday with a family tea. She billed it as finishing off the Christmas nibbles. That may sound fairly straightforward, but, as ever, Mrs H treated it as a full scale military operation. She compiled one of her comprehensive lists detailing food, drinks and timings. Inevitably some of these tasks were prefixed with my name. Neil get extra chairs down. The big blowout was timed for Sunday teatime, but the house had to be pristine so Mrs H began preparations on Saturday morning. I was allocated the vacuuming. Fortress H echoed to the roar of the cleaner as I zoomed from room to room. I dont know how you do it that quickly, Mrs H said with a hint of exasperation. It takes me a lot longer! I kept the motor running as long as possible. If I switched it off Mrs H filled the ensuing silence by bawling further instructions. Get the vacuum hose out to do along the skirting! By early Sunday afternoon, the family tea was taking on the appearance of a banquet. Food was defrosting, salad was ready, table laid; what could possibly go wrong? Then Mrs H began to worry that she had got enough variety of food that there would be something everybody liked. She phoned Brat Minor. Mistake. What have you got? he enquired. Well theres all sorts of cheeses and prawns Sounds a bit frugal, her son replied. But theres a lot more than that, she cried, reeling off the list of goodies. But it was too late, the damage was done. Its all right, I said in an attempt to calm things down. Ill nip to the shop and get some stuff. See if you can get some pasta salad and that cheese Catherine likes. And I havent got any ham. Do you think we should have some? Oh no dont bother. With this detailed and precise brief I headed to the shop. Using my initiative I did get some ham. And by the time we had laid everything out there was enough to sustain us through a siege. We dont need all this, Mrs H whined. Weve got more than we had at Christmas and we had too much then! Mrs Hs sister and husband were first to arrive. They brought more food including ham. Then we had the trauma of the sausage rolls. To keep them out of the way while they defrosted, Mrs H stood a plate of her famous homemade sausage rolls in the combination microwave. A few hours later it was time to cook the spring rolls her sister had contributed. So she switched the oven on. Suddenly there was a shriek. Mrs H rushed to the microwave and extracted a plate of steaming sausage rolls. Theyre hot, I cant reheat them now, she howled. I dont want to make us all ill. She grabbed the plate and our bewildered guests found themselves invited to tuck in to a starter of hot sausage rolls. This did not spoil our appetites and we manage to make a sizeable dent in the spread. By the time doggy bags had been filled there wasnt anything much left. My hopes that an abundance of excess food would herald an early tea when I got home the following evening were dashed. Mind you, there was enough spare for me to have packed lunches for work this week. Trouble is, you can only eat so many ham sandwiches.

INSPIRING: The mathematical genius of Sir Isaac Newton laid the basis of the industrial revoution. understanding of calculus or quantum mechanics. In the latest world education rankings p ro d u c e d by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the UK was shown to have slipped downwards significantly from eighth to 28th in maths and from fourth to 16th in sciences. The head of the OECDs educational programme concluded that the UKs performance was stagnant at best. And if the story is not good for the UK, it is worse for Norfolk. The number of students achieving A*, A and B grades in maths GCSE who go on to take maths A-level is only 23pc compared with a national average of 34pc. And those that do go on to take maths A level do worse: 40pc achieve an A* or A grade compared to a national average of 43.6pc. There are, of course, individual teachers and individual schools who are doing better, but overall the performance of Norfolk is not satisfactory let alone excellent. We must not let this continue. The revolution in the east is raising the tide. If we carry on as we are we will be swamped, and a once-great nation will be left stranded on the mudflats of history as Rome was once stranded in the path of the Barbarian hordes. Our new school must be excellent; it will be academically rigorous; its curriculum will be wider and more demanding than the dumbed-down modular A-levels that students now sit. Our students will go to top universities and we hope that many of them will pursue a career in engineering, sciences, medicine and industry . We must raise our game and shake off our inherited complacency. That is what our new school is all about. In Norfolk we have some world-class science and engineering on the Norwich Research Park (NRP) and the Hethel Engineering Centre; and I am delighted that the chief executive of the NRP and the chairman of Hethel have both agreed to become governors of the new school. In 1919 the great economist Alfred Marshall wrote: The small band of British scientific men have made revolutionary discoveries in science; but yet the chief fruits of their work have been reaped in other countries where industry and science have been in close touch with one another. We are going to build close links between the school and the academic, scientific and engineering community . Our country today needs scientists and engineers more than it needs bankers and hedge fund managers. We hope our school will help produce world-class scientists and engineers and help make Norfolk a true centre of excellence where the technologies of tomorrow are both discovered and developed. This is our dream. It is a dream that may one day see an Autonomy or an Apple or a Google founded in Norwich; or may one day produce a Nobel Prize winner in nuclear fusion or plant biology. This dream can only be realised by unleashing the talent of the young which we intend to do. Anyone interested in the Sir Isaac Newton Free School can visit www.sixthformschool.co.uk

We hope our school will help produce world class scientists and engineers and help make Norfolk a true centre of excellence where the technologies of tomorrow are both discovered and developed