Cockcroft (1982)

1982 Cockcroft Report (text)

The Cockcroft Report (1982)
Mathematics counts

Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Teaching of Mathematics in Schools under the Chairmanship of Dr WH Cockcroft

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1982
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Notes on the text


In March 1978 Jim Callaghan's Labour government informed Parliament that it would 'establish an Inquiry to consider the teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales, with particular regard to its effectiveness and intelligibility and to the match between the mathematical curriculum and the skills required in further education, employment and adult life generally'.

The 21 members of the Committee of Inquiry into the Teaching of Mathematics in Schools, under the Chairmanship of Dr WH Cockcroft (1923-1999), then Vice Chancellor of the New University of Ulster in Coleraine, met for the first time on 25 September 1978. They submitted their report to Keith Joseph, (Conservative) Secretary of State for Education and Science, and Nicholas Edwards, Secretary of State for Wales, in November 1981.

The report online

The full text of the report (including the Appendices) is presented in a single web page.

Many of the headings and all the footnotes in this report were printed in the left hand margin beside the paragraphs to which they referred. For this web version, I have incorporated the headings into the body of the text and placed the footnotes at the foot of the page. Where there was more than one footnote on a page I have used the traditional footnote symbols.

The page headers (chapter title on both left and right hand pages) have been omitted.

As you would expect in a report about mathematics, a number of fractions and other symbols appeared in the text. Since only simple fractions can be rendered in HTML, I have reproduced most of them as 1/16, 1/32 etc.

In the printed version, large numbers were shown thus: 319 246. I have rendered this as 319,246. Where a number is less than 10,000 I have omitted the comma (eg 9620) which is how the printed version displayed such numbers.

Where references to paragraphs in other chapters are shown, I have added the relevant chapter number, thus: '... to which we referred in paragraph 98 [in chapter 3]'. I have also added chapter numbers to the paragraph references in the Index.

Some of the tables are presented as images.

I have corrected a couple of dozen misprints. Anything I've added by way of explanation is shown [in square brackets].

Some points from the report

  • mathematics is useful because it provides a means of communication which is powerful, concise and unambiguous
  • maths teachers should:
    • enable pupils to develop the mathematical skills and understanding required for adult life, for employment and for further study and training;
    • provide pupils with such maths as may be needed for study of other subjects;
    • help pupils to develop an appreciation and enjoyment of mathematics itself;
    • make pupils aware that maths provides a powerful means of communication.
  • adults need to be able to count, tell the time, pay for purchases and give change, weigh and measure, understand timetables, graphs and charts, and make estimations and approximations;
  • numeracy means more than computation;
  • there is widespread misunderstanding among the public as to the levels of attainment in maths which are to be expected among school leavers;
  • schools should enlist the help of parents by explaining the methods and aims of maths teaching;
  • maths requires hard work and much practice;
  • pupils should not be allowed to experience repeated failure;
  • teachers should not expect pupils to commit things to memory without understanding them;
  • it is not desirable or possible to dictate a definitive style for the teaching of mathematics;
  • excessive concentration on the purely mechanical skills of arithmetic will not assist the development of understanding - the results of a 'back to basics' approach are most unlikely to be those which its proponents wish to see, and we can in no way support or recommend an approach of this kind;
  • the primary mathematics curriculum should enrich children's aesthetic and linguistic experience, provide them with the means of exploring their environment and develop their powers of logical thought, in addition to equipping them with the numerical skills which will be a powerful tool for later work and study - practical work is essential throughout the primary years;
  • the overall performance of children in England and Wales is not markedly different from that of children in other countries;
  • more consideration is needed of the use of calculators as an aid to teaching and learning in primary maths;
  • all secondary pupils should, as part of their mathematics course, be taught and allowed to use a calculator;
  • if LEA testing is carried out, the tests should not concentrate exclusively on particular aspects of the maths curriculum;
  • standardised tests measure only some aspects of mathematical attainment;
  • the overriding requirement in deciding how to form teaching groups is to achieve a form of organisation which enables pupils to work at a level and speed which is suitable for them;
  • an element of teacher assessment should be included in the examination of pupils of all levels of attainment;
  • in secondary schools mathematics should be taught in suitably equipped specialist rooms;
  • there is a need to increase the mathematical expertise of primary teachers and the number of maths teachers in secondary schools;
  • much more needs to be done to improve the public image of teaching, and of mathematics teaching in particular;
  • additional funding in some form is necessary if the present situation of acute shortage of maths teachers is to be alleviated;
  • any improvement in the standards of maths in schools must come largely as a result of the efforts of those teachers who are already in post - there is therefore a need for more in-service support.

The 1982 Cockcroft Report and the above notes were prepared for the web by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 14 October 2007.