You are here

All-Attainment Teaching in Secondary Mathematics

Colin Jackson
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Duane Graysay
, on
This book is a scholarly report of Colin Jackson’s research on the experiences, supports, and obstacles faced by teachers in the United Kingdom who are committed to all-attainment teaching in mathematics at the secondary level. “All-attainment teaching” is defined as teaching that occurs in classrooms that are deliberately organized to include students with a variety of prior achievement and from a variety of social classes and communities—an educational context and an instructional ethos that Jackson is quick to note has become rare and uncharacteristic in the U.K. The book is necessarily contextualized by the particular educational systems and testing regimes of the U.K. The context means that the technical vocabulary for describing educational systems and practices will be unfamiliar to some readers. However, there are substantial parallels between the systems and practices of the U.K. and other western nations, including the United States. Jackson’s book, therefore, has relevance for readers who are familiar enough with educational systems in their own nation to recognize those parallels.
Jackson presents a thorough exploration of the influences of social and political ideologies on the ways that schools and teaching are organized in the U.K. and a very scholarly review of research on educational outcomes for students in homogenous grouping and heterogenous grouping contexts. From that review of research and policy, Jackson crafts a compelling argument that prevailing educational practices lead to inequitable outcomes for students that bifurcate across social class. Jackson argues that contrary to the widely held belief that homogenous grouping is a necessary condition for education, there is scant empirical evidence to support that belief -- in fact, there is more evidence that mixed-achievement settings promote social justice by improving achievement and attainment for all students, particularly those who are most poorly served by existing systems. The argument will be interesting to those who are willing to engage with its substance – and, perhaps, to subject their own beliefs to rigorous scrutiny.
The primary purpose of the book, however, is to present stories of teachers who have deliberately worked to introduce and sustain an all-attainment ethos in their teaching and in their schools. Those stories highlight the critical supports and obstacles that enabled -- and limited -- the teachers’ efforts to align their teaching with their commitment to social justice. Jackson’s work demonstrates the significant challenges that teachers and schools face when squaring up to the demands of improving educational outcomes, particularly for those who are most poorly served by current systems. Although the book is not written as a guide for others, the insights from Jackson’s research will be valuable to those who share the participants’ goals of transforming secondary mathematics education in the pursuit of more just opportunities and outcomes for students.
Duane Graysay is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at Syracuse University, where he researches methods for teaching mathematics and for preparing prospective secondary mathematics teachers.