Saturday, April 30, 2011

Emergent vs Divergent curriculum

Early learning in Australia has a great focus on Emergent learning.  I know little of this idea but I see clear parallels between it and failed OBE approaches.  Yet those that go back three years in my writing know that I actually support the ideals of OBE, just not its implementation in WA.

If (as I suspect) emergent learning focuses on letting students travel in directions best suited to their current status as a learner, I would draw notice again to the frailties of this model.

  • In general, it is very difficult for any but a highly skilled practitioner to maintain an individual focus on a classroom of children - especially in the first five years of being a teacher.  The skills to diagnose, resource, devise, integrate and execute multiple programmes in a room is near impossible for a learner teacher.  It is a sure path to burnout and disenchantment with the profession.
  • Students resist learning in lieu of fun.  If left to their own devices they will not learn optimally.  Pacing a course at the speed requested by a student will ultimately fail the student.  A highly motivated student is a challenged student, not necessarily an 100% happy one.
I would be a poor educator if I didn't offer an alternative, especially for our practicum and graduate teachers.  I call it a divergent curriculum and again I don't doubt it has been suggested before, though it hasn't been brought to my attention.  If we want more teachers that can embrace the best of OBE or Emergent curriculums, then I would suggest this approach.

  • Create a baseline syllabus that dictates 80% of the course, when, what and how it should be taught for all teachers under 5 years of experience.  Have these teachers mentored, assisted and monitored by experienced teachers (5 years+) regularly.
  • In the remaining 20% allow for remediation and extension. 
  • The teacher must return to the syllabus each time a new topic is encountered.
  • Experienced teachers that embrace emergent or variant curriculums are reduced to .8, have increased pay, given EA support and set high performance metrics in order to renew courses.  If courses do not meet metrics teachers return to the syllabus.
  • Results are centrally coordinated and used to justify changes to the syllabus or suggested alternate programmes for special needs areas or developing teachers.
Thus the curriculum is only allowed to diverge by 20% unless the experienced teacher judges that more is necessary.  The load for curriculum design in the early years of teaching is reduced and by the end of five years the 20% "focus" becomes the resource for when syllabus restrictions are released.  Only teachers with experience to create emergent or purely outcomes based curriculum are allowed to do so (as they have a thorough understanding of what needs to be taught and a baseline for how long it takes to teach it) and it is closely monitored.

If we want to draw a line in the sand of where teacher pay rates should increase, it should be here.  Some might be cynical and say choosing five is because I am five years out.. but being more cynical, even if this idea was embraced, it would take another five years to implement and gain momentum.  I have no idea what I will be doing by then :-)

Learning as a parent

I have a two year old and she is too often my teacher. I learn more about myself through our interactions than through hours of teaching. At the moment she is going through a "wake up at four" phase, waking up screaming (thus the 5am blog). Normally, I'm tired and half awake so I bring her in with us. Being on holidays, I sat with her and after much screaming of "big bed" she let me give her a cuddle and said "scared daddy". So I sat with her on the chair in her room, closed the cupboard door and she fell asleep in my arms.

I wonder how many times a student has felt scared of a new Maths topic and I have gone into autopilot and shortcut the issue by providing a question specific solution that does not generalise for the elementary problem. Rather than giving the answer, I should allow a student to elucidate what the issue is and then provide abstract tools to prevent it happening again. Time notwithstanding, I think this is what maths should be more about.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Experts in their field

According to the Australian council of professions, a profession is:

"A disciplined group of individuals who adhere to high ethical standards and uphold themselves to, and are accepted by, the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised, organised body of learning derived from education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to exercise this knowledge and these skills in the interest of others.

Inherent in this definition is the concept that the responsibility for the welfare, health and safety of the community shall take precedence over other considerations."

As a computer programmer, analyst and manager, I had a group of skills and worked ethically to provide a service.  There was both an effort and reward to what was being sought and achieved.  I was paid well for my knowledge and was accountable for any advice given.

As a teacher I bring my old skills and have a set of new skills, yet demand for this knowledge is limited to submission requests by national curriculum, moderation requirements by curriculum council and occasional tutoring programmes.

As teachers, the transition from seniority based government workers to teaching professionals is not being well managed.  Career progression is poorly defined and clearly needs additional work.  It's in nobody's interest to address this issue as it will make a large workforce considerably dearer to work with.

What no-one is considering is that the increasing requirements on teachers to perform to metrics is creating a specialised workforce that will increasingly require differentiation and alternate wage scales to retain key performing employees within the workforce.  When this starts to happen the knowledge of key employees will gain value, diminishing the willingness to share knowledge especially where a market advantage is gained by the organisation.

It reminds me that when WACOT release ethical standards for teachers (after they finish that wad of registrations that is their revenue source), we need to be certain to ascertain how limiting they are to ensure that the remuneration is consistent with expectations.

Specialisation and professionalism needs to be properly re-established at the teaching training level.  The image of a  teacher in a mortar board and gown, cane in hand, standing over students studiously working on chalkboards, feared by parents, admired for their knowledge is long gone.  Perhaps, with the rise of an 'education first' approach to teaching training, a teacher delivering developmentally relevant content to a group of engaged students that understand the consequences of under performance on their future vocations, teachers will become again become valued members of a community. Maybe this person should be paid more.

A teacher that performs at a high level within a community and is visible in promoting education of parents' children may even become respected again.  Maybe this is a viable pathway to raising the profile of groups of teachers in the profession at a local level.  Maybe these people should be paid more.

A teacher that brings a wider knowledge of life through experience would help make better citizens.  Maybe this person should be paid more.

Maybe when those in high places actually consider the fiscal issues of a metric based educational economy they will reconsider this whole notion.  Who is looking after or taking chances on the kids that don't make good metrics?

Teaching is and should be always be a vocation well supported by all so that what needs to be done, gets done.  Let's hope it stays that way.


Friday, April 22, 2011

More work not less

Students in low socio-economic areas need to do more work in high school despite behavioural distractions.  I've listened to colleagues that studied in NSW espousing the benefits of a multi stage course in senior school. I've never really bought into the argument for the majority of students, but for our top end I'm not so sure.

We have the maths academy twice a week after school.  The year 10 students are a keen bunch and are willing to work.  Taking out the two advanced students (and placing them in with year 11 and 12's), the majority of the rest have shown a vast improvement through the extra two hours a week.

This attention for the middle has raised class averages from sixties to eighties (resulting in an avalanche of praise) something I have never been able to achieve before.  Given the statement - students that are behind have to work harder (such as in areas where students start with a social disadvantage) and the fact that extra attention can work for these students (who come in their own time for nothing but the potential for a better grade), it identifies an equity issue that is difficult to ignore.

We put vast amount of effort (and money) into students with behavioural issues - but in many cases we ignore those with academic needs because they cause little trouble and parents are unaware of their potential.  With the lack of performance data in this area - I would say not only parents are unaware of actual potential, I would say schools, teachers, administration and society are also unaware of this potential.  Since our middle management and bureaucracy comes from this pool, we endanger future performance with this neglect.  We are creating a large welfare/low income group onto which we will have to support well into the future.

Teachers are in some part to blame for this - as we individually protect these students by investing our own time, allowing the system to abuse the goodwill teachers have towards their students.  Why pay teachers for putting in extra time if they are willing to do it themselves?  Private schools take this one step further and write donations of family time into school time as a part of extra curricular requirements.  Good people enter teaching - and as such set themselves up to be burned out by unscrupulous employers.  It takes other teachers within the system to identify when this is happening as teacher management itself is near non-existent (as management focus is placed on behavioural issues with students rather than optimising teacher delivery).  If teacher management is attempted it usually a band aid prior to slingshotting them into another role or school.  Result - students fall through the cracks (chasm) on a regular basis.

Once upon a time schools protected academic performance as the core business of a school.  Since losing this focus schools now have other metrics such as attendance and suspensions (resulting in lower crime figures) and year 9 performance on standardised tests (resulting in funding advantages).  Neither of which examine the output of a school vs the input of a school.  It is difficult to take a snapshot of a school as the main metric is measured over 5 year periods.  During this time anything could have changed - especially as student performance can be greatly modified through teacher, principal or community involvement (positively or negatively).

Where schools seek to keep out of the news and have a status quo with students, rather than seeking excellence and pushing them to their limits, it raises students with little resilience and little understanding of their own capabilities.  This is a poor outcome for everyone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Singstar Competition

It's interesting to see those that are willing to put themselves out there for kids, those that aren't and those that can't.  I've run Singstar competitions at the end of term 1 for a number of years.  I do it for a number of reasons:

  • We don't have a music programme at our school, and it gives kids an outlet to express themselves
  • It encourages students to make a fool of themselves and know there is no lasting consequence
  • It's an opportunity to teach empathy - laughing with, not at
  • It builds confidence for shy kids, who over a number of years learn to have a go
  • It's an opportunity to talk about why building confidence is important
  • It's class building
  • It builds school spirit
  • Students I don't teach get to see us have fun and the learning environment I expect (mildly chaotic but productive).
  • It's a but of fun

Bridges get built during these lessons where students that don't perform academically are allowed to shine and it provides a talking point with those that can perform.  There is a purpose to it, a pastoral care activity with real academic outcomes.  We know from past experience that classes that participate are more willing to ask seemingly "stupid" (to them) questions and resolve issues quickly rather than hiding at the back of a room.  If I can sing in front of peers, then I can ask a peer of the class a question that everybody might need to know.

Our principal had a go at David Bowie, TA's had fun (best Math's lesson ever supposedly!), one of the other maths teachers beat his highest score of 850 (he doubled his previous best), an English teacher was mildly inappropriate but very humorous.. and my poor prac student looked like she was going to die when she was gently "encouraged" to have a go.  Our chaplain went white as a sheet when asked by 60 students to sing.  One of the deputies ran in fear.  I don't know if that was the best role modelling - but it was funny.

I was giving rewards to students randomly, to those that wouldn't normally perform (although I endeavoured to not make this obvious).  One performing/drama student felt that she deserved one and had a wee tanty when I declined.  It's interesting that students still believe that they deserve a reward for doing something that they enjoy rather than for something that extends them.  I felt like quoting the workers in the vineyard parable to her.  They're my rewards, I can give them to winners, losers and anyone inbetween.  The tanty showed an area we can work on before they go into the workforce and forever feel hard done, yet not knowing underlying strategic reasons for rewards!  Take pleasure in what is given - enjoy the pleasure others get by being rewarded.  Resentment is not a good path to be on.

The great thing is, from year 8 to year 12, by the end of each period the majority of students wanted to have a go and it identified those that could benefit from some leadership training to extend themselves.  I was later told that you could hear the better part of 60 students singing, enjoying themselves from 50m away outside the school.  It's days like this that remind you of why you teach.

Five hours and five classes is a bit much to do on my own, with typically 60 students in a room each time.  By the end of the day my head was throbbing.  Being careful to limit the songs that students can use, I would heartily recommend it, though be aware it may take a couple of years to create groups in the school that can "get the party started", a PS3 and about $500 worth of songs/microphones/CDs.

Knowing the quality of the singing I would always suggest turning the mics down to zero ;-)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Welfare and schooling

I read this article today and wondered at the effect welfare has on education.  The article discusses how different areas have large welfare elements and inferred that it needed fixing.  The Balga area (30% on welfare) and the Girrawheen area (21% on welfare) were mentioned as two of the highest areas on welfare in Australia.  They also happen to be two of the areas that I grew up in.

The cost of housing drives the low/no income population into areas,  welfare and those on subsistence incomes. Both areas mentioned in the article were also state housing areas before policy distributed state housing across all suburbs.  This population will always be grouped to some degree.  The article identifies how concentrated the "have nots" have become in WA compared to other states.

Gentrification is the only thing that "fixes" an area.  As the area becomes more desirable (due to proximity to jobs in the city), low income earners will "cash out" and move further away or be forced out by increasing rent values.  Although it does just create a new area elsewhere with the same issues.

Low levels of education drives this segment of the population people into low paid/subsistence jobs or welfare whether due to lack of language skills, poor health and hygeine, poor diet and obesity, large family caring requirements (3+ children), poor financial management ability, low base EQ or IQ, low levels of schooling or mental health issues.  Many see the education system as failing them (and it does in many cases fail to provide them with pathways into the workforce) and pass this prejudice onto their children.  This article talks about the entry point of children into year 1.  In these areas it is not surprising that children cannot read, where parents cannot model these behaviours to children prior to school.  Thus the cycle occurs from generation to generation.

This is most obvious in our indigenous or welfare families.  Those students not affected by alcohol and drugs in vitro, have difficult home environments in which to learn.  We need to rethink "quick fix" solutions and focus on long term measures.  Schools are succeeding across the state if with every generation (16-20 years) one level of schooling is achieved.  Education to year 7 and wishing for higher schooling, education to year 10 and work ready, and finally the holy grail of education: education to year 11/12 and achieving TAFE or  university entry.  This is not shown in NAPLAN results.  Furthermore, the problem doesn't go away with each generation, as the next wave of immigrants will have the same issues.

I don't know if any amount of "fixing" can actually correct this number of issues.  Certainly lack of public transport as mentioned in the first article is not a major solution.  Breaking up public housing was certainly a start as it gives families better role models than was available by grouping them together in state housing slums. 

The message that "education" is the only way out of the rut will not work until educational equality is again established for this group from a very young age.  This has been lost as many schools have a pastoral, rather than academic focus - attempting to ensure happy environments rather than taking a narrower focus and focusing on the long term issue of education.  Pastoral approaches need to be tied closely to curriculum success. To reach parity, students that start at a lower level, have to work harder and/or smarter.  They don't need pampering, school will not be the best time of their lives (if it is then it is to the detriment of their adult life).  Eggs will get broken along the way and they need caring for by a different system outside of schooling. 

Schools cannot be a catchall for social change.  They are one element of a big picture that can work for the majority of students.  If we allow diminishing returns (increasing support to students that cannot be supported without additional funding) then we will fail the majority of our students.

Where parents cannot provide adequate support, the welfare state must step in to assist and parents must support this assistance. It is a public service message that needs to be supported with real results for the majority of students and ultimately for Australian society as a whole.

Otherwise, sadly, a two class system (with the "haves" in private schooling and the "have nots" in underfunded public schooling) will be the result as opposed to the "occassional" problem family causing issues for society.  Creating and promoting a two class system through education would be a sad event indeed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hello out there!

Last month we hit 1000 visitors in a month for the first time (1111 in fact).. which is a fair bit for my little blog.. hello to everyone out there.. I hope there's a snippet you can take something from.

I'm sure that there's a few teachers looking forward to the holidays and wondering how we can finish off the mini term and get into exams before starting semester 2.  Gathering up the last of my tests for the term has left a load of marking that needs to be completed next week.

It's usually about this time that I reflect on the term and try and figure out how I could do it better next time.    I'm very cynical about NAPLAN and can see on a daily basis the negative side of it.  There is pressure being put on administration to make difficult cohort's perform.  There is pressure on teachers to put curriculum aside to teach topics out of sequence to "optimise" student NAPLAN results.  There is pressure on students to learn techniques to optimise their performance as it is a significant factor during their subject selections in year 10.

I tried to analyse NAPLAN pre-tests this year to get an indication of expected NAPLAN results.  Having done the analysis myself, I have confidence in my analysis but comparing results to past years makes me question the validity of the data or the value in repeating the exercise next year.  After looking at individual student performances in year 12 and their NAPLAN results, I see little correlation between the two - in fact in many cases the results are contrary.  Comparing year 7 results with year 9 would indicate that many students are in fact going backwards during their transition to high school.  Performances in individual outcomes is disturbing, with some areas of the syllabus lacking depth to any level.  Some individual student results were bizarre to say the least, with some very high results in some classes from some students that had no opportunity or ability to learn the work that they managed to get correct.

Given the change in syllabus, this year I had the opportunity to align year 10 and year 9 coursework for a short period.  I noticed not only a maturity factor affecting performance, a cohort ability factor but also a significant NAPLAN factor.  Whereas the yr 10's were given a structured sequence of algebra lessons, the yr 9's were given a fractured course, interspersed with NAPLAN revision.  My feeling is that the 10's understanding is far greater and more likely to be retained than the 9's (both having similar backgrounds in the material presented) after completion of the course of work.  Given this I can only conclude that NAPLAN is disrupting learning in year 9 - potentially for a term and a half (which in any case has always been typically a slow group to settle) preventing them starting serious learning.

I'm sure we are not the only ones spending inordinate amounts of time on NAPLAN especially as the measure of a school's performance rides on the public perception via  It seems a little unfair that the reputation of a high school rides on what can be done in 4 terms during year 8 and one term in year 9.  Sadly all the good in making students work ready, TAFE ready and University ready up to year 12 is disregarded and stupid charts in a stupid website designed by stupid people is used to measure a school instead.  More important is how many indigenous students are present, how much money the school is given for each student and whether the school compares with a dubious set of like schools.

I can say two things with certainty this term.  Firstly, teaching middle school is significantly easier than senior school.  I look forward to attacking it with gusto without the overhead of NAPLAN nonsense.

Secondly, middle schooling has lost its way and needs to refocus around curriculum rather than pastoral care.  The lack of programming and consideration of actual learning (especially in the mid to top students) is frightening.  I don't claim to be a genius at planning but I can show at all times what the intent is of my teaching, have it vetted by a teacher in charge and supported by text and resources.  I can't and don't condone the time wasting that is done with rewards programmes, homogeneous programmes in heterogeneous classrooms, mental mathematics and the general avoidance of teaching, assessment and grading standards.  With the loss of staff that can measure the effectiveness of learning programmes and the movement of responsibility for curriculum to administration incapable of monitoring progress, middle schools are languishing in apathy and poor performance.

I don't think I am alone in this thought.  I love the idea of middle schooling but am yet to see it work in any but very affluent schools.  Maybe, as I was informed early in the year - as a "classically" trained teacher I lack some flexibility in this regard.

I'll try and keep a more open mind.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Outstanding Teacher... Nonsense.

I was in school.  I had an English teacher that was rude, abrupt and many students couldn't stand him.  He changed my life in that he found issues with my essay skills and fixed them.  Every Friday afternoon for two years we wrote essays.  On the day before we finished he said to the class.. whatever you do.. leave the creative question alone in the university entrance exam.  After class he took me aside and said.. do the creative question.

Despite being a Mathematics teacher, it was my English score, followed by my History score that lead me into university.  My Maths and Science scores came next.  I attribute my success to him.

I remember another teacher in primary that let me get away with murder in the classroom because I always finished my work.  I needed to be mobile, so she let me, on condition that the same work was completed that all other students did.  Over time, (and after some work on diet), I settled down and was able to work with others.

Yet, on another occasion I had the lead English teacher, who was adored by my peers that I couldn't get along with at all and I failed her class.

By declaring "outstanding" teachers we fail to recognise that it takes a variety of teachers to raise a child, especially those with different social, emotional, physical or intellectual needs.  Sadly, generally the rule is that an outstanding teacher is one that sings their own praises loud enough or one that creates the time to write spurious documents about what they had achieved.  Not the one that knuckles down and gets the job done (or the experienced teacher that has done the hard yards and makes it look easy).

An outstanding teacher (in a student centred world) is someone that makes a lasting difference to student lives, something that is not often measurable until after students have left school.  I'm not sure what is hoped to be achieved by awards such as here except another media release for Peter Garrett in the future.  Parents certainly don't want to know that a great teacher is in another state and teachers know that the odds of being recognised for doing their job well is highly unlikely especially in difficult environments.  Students would likely dispute it even if it was won.  There really is very little upside for the majority of teachers short of political posturing.

I remember the year a teacher won the award for taking her class on 400 (exaggeration) field trips.  One wonders how direct teaching requirements were met?  Same could be said for excessive IT, collaborative learning and any one of a hundred "innovative" approaches.

If awards are an attempt at raising the profile of teaching, the idea fails as it only rewards a few - creating an elite rather than a college or fraternity.  It really is a daft idea.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quick and easy game to promote retention

I gathered up some practice for students and was thinking about how I could get them to do some revision.  I hated revision as a student as I had a quick memory and remembered things fairly easily.

It's not true of all students though.  So I found 300 questions on the topic (simplifying and balancing equations) and made up an A5 booklet of 12 pages.  Then I made up some little reward packs and said that the first three students that completed page 1 with 100% accuracy would get a pack. Whatever revision work was left at the end of the period would be done for homework over the next week (to give encouragement for those that for a second considered loafing).

In the past marking of each page has been an issue.  To get over this I combined two of students favourite things - writing on the white board and finding errors in each others work.  Students wrote their name on the board and had to mark the work of the previous name on the board. Five students (randomly chosen from the rest) that had completed a page of work and had marked another students work would also get a reward.

We all had a laugh when the last and hardest question was repeatedly incorrect so that the 3rd place prize was ultimately won at student 15.  The random draw was good incentive to keep going.

All in all students completed about 75 questions each in an hour (writing the question and answer for each sum).  At the end of the lesson we talked about how it was important to develop concentration for the full 60 minutes in preparation for 2 hour exams later in the term and the need to strengthen muscles in the hand to withstand the onslaught of essay writing.

I tried it with both 9's and 10's and had success in both classes with 90% of students engaged and only a couple of students needing to "have words" with at the end of the lesson.  Many students asked if they could complete the remaining questions over the weekend and I supplied answers for them to check as they progressed.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Teaching Linear Equations and Functions

Linear "anything" can send chills down the spines of many adults.  For many students it is an exit point from mathematics.  The inability to grasp the connection between an equation and its graph can mean a student languishes in any but "maths for living" type classes.

Yet there seems to be different reasons why students don't like linear algebra and linear functions.  My top ten suspicions why students don't understand linear topics is listed below.

Mum says its hard
We should not estimate the impact we have as parents.  By placing the kernel that we found it hard, our students will have to face the likelihood that they have the potential to know more than the most respected person in their lives.  It's ok for it to conquer them because it conquered you.  As an adult it really is rather easy to learn!  Before passing on our prejudices, we need to find time to grab a text and figure it out from a worked example.  It will make you feel good and your student will benefit from someone that can help too.  Excel books can be found at booksellers for around $15 and can be a good starting point.

Girls can't do Maths, Boys can't be neat.
BS.  I don't accept this from students and nor should you.  Girls have outperformed boys for many years in mathematics, (esp. up to year 10).  We have to be careful to walk softly when girls start noticing boys and don't want the nerd slur.  Similarly, boys seem to think that sloppy work is acceptable - it's not and they can do better when monitored and prompted.  It also improves their accuracy and notation.

Lack of primary algebra & directed number knowledge
This is not a dig at primary teachers, but it is a dig at the Curriculum Council.  The lack of a syllabus has harmed education in WA and the implementation of OBE failed our students.  In saying that, the CC is trying to make amends with the new courses in senior school and if the do-gooders don't get started again, we may have some reasonable curriculum reform.  The trick will now be to get year 7 out of primary and get students into the hands of specialists in mathematics, whilst upskilling secondary teachers in ways to deal with younger students.

Lack of sufficient practice and connections to context
Many students grasp the major concepts quickly (like finding an equation for two points) but lack scaffolding in their understanding to establish lasting recall.  Those eloquent in eduspeak will know the edubabble for this concept but the idea is sound.   The motivation for this blog entry was a group of year tens currently struggling with remembering how to create a linear equation.  In after school classes we have worked to connect the idea to shooting aliens (with an equation driven gun), distance time graphs, ice cream sales (using tables and difference patterns), intersection points, changing slope, y intercepts and x intercepts over a three week period.  With a solid understanding of linear, extending concepts into quadratics and other functions is considerably simpler.  These simple (but growing in numbers - we're now over 30 students) after school classes are leaving students enthused and ready to work once classes start.

Limited value seen in abstract knowledge
Sadly, many students are unable to see value in abstract algebra in year 10 and this limits their development.  Without rudimentary skills in linear algebra much of the senior courses in mathematics are inaccessible by our students.  A lack of rote learning and a focus on problem solving has reduced the ability of students to value skills based work.

Lack of connection between reward and effort
This is a huge concern not limited to linear algebra. The year 9 C grade standard lists linear algebra requiring fluency by year 9.  If students don't meet this standard - their grade in year 10 will be a D or worse, even if developmentally they are finally able and work hard to understand abstract algebra.  This lack of reward for effort will start to be seen throughout the mathematics course if we (and our regulators) are not careful.

Poor environment to complete assignment work
Many students in low socioeconomic schools do not have home environments conducive to homework.  This is especially prevalent in at risk students.  Schools need to encourage usage of safe areas to complete such work either under punitive (which can be more socially acceptable) or extra curricular environments.

Lack of study
An average student will not gain a lasting understanding linear algebra if they do ten questions and then move to the next topic.  Given that the key concepts need some level of memorisation (how to collect like terms, establishing the equation of a line, the connection between an equation and a plane, creating ordered pairs, plotting them, difference tables etc), students needs to spend some time considering what they know and what they would like to recall freely.

Lack of in class revision
It is a topic that must be revisited over and over again throughout the year until it is as fluent as order of operations or times tables.  It is the next key plank after basic numeracy is established.

A reluctance to start early
We need to ensure that linear algebra is introduced as soon as directed number, fractions and place value beyond thousands is understood.  Those capable of dealing with abstract knowledge need it and we should not delay because heterogeneous classes typically teach to the middle.  We need to challenge ourselves and seek to find when students are capable of starting algebra and find ways to provide opportunities to these students to advance.

There we go.. It's everyone's fault - students, parents, teachers, administration, regulators.  Now let's get out there and fix it!