Conceptions of Excellence in Primary Mathematics Teaching

McCullouch, Judith Mary (2015). Conceptions of Excellence in Primary Mathematics Teaching. EdD thesis The Open University.



This research had two drivers: the persistent demand by policy makers for educators to achieve 'excellence' in teaching without defining what is meant nor agreeing how to achieve it; the paradoxes encountered by teachers across education who create their identity through a need to reconcile their personality, life stories, professionalism and the political agenda. The research question was 'How is excellence in primary mathematics teaching perceived by primary teachers and mathematics teacher educators in England?' and analysis drew upon literature about education, mathematics education and the theoretical perspectives of social constructivism and socioculturalism. An interpretative approach was adopted to explore understandings and beliefs about what comprises excellence in mathematics teaching. Data were gained from four groups: student, non-specialist and mathematics specialist teachers, and university mathematics education lecturers - through interviews which produced both narrative and mind-maps. These were analysed thematically.

The analysis revealed and illuminated surprising and interesting new perspectives. The main outcomes were: three interwoven and interdependent themes (confidence, knowledge and supererogation) which contribute together to create excellent teaching in primary mathematics; two dichotomies exemplifying the complexities of teaching; and the unexpected emergence of 'good enough' being sufficient to meet targets. The three key themes will resonate with the teaching profession, providing an aid to articulating their embedded, implicit guild knowledge. The dichotomies and the notion of 'good enough' highlight the professional conundrums that teachers encounter. They have to reconcile their professional identity and beliefs with the exigencies of belonging to communities of practice as well as outside expectation and requirements. The research showed that excellence is an aspirational ideal, embodied in the child who is the product of excellent teaching. This research contributes to an understanding of factors impinging upon the development of excellent teaching (in mathematics education and beyond), thereby offering ways forward to educators and policy makers.

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