AMT’s Trust Issue

Last year, I wrote about the Australian Maths Trust, on CEO Nathan Ford’s absurd censoring of an AIMO question, and on the aftermath. I later wrote a little about my maddening correspondence with Ford and Board Chair, Belinda Robinson. I then considered it done, at least for me.

A few weeks ago, however, I was contacted by a person who has worked with AMT. That person had some interesting things to say about the current state of AMT. The person has kindly permitted me to reproduce what they wrote, and it follows.

Continue reading “AMT’s Trust Issue”

A Quick Question About ACER

I’ve written very little about the Australian Council for Educational Research (weird italics in the original). I recently whacked some nonsense from ACER’s CEO, Geoff Masters, and of course there was the gender madness, courtesy of some clown at ACER’s UK offshoot. I also have another ACER-related post in the works, but mostly I’ve left them alone. As I wrote in the preamble to whacking Masters,

Unlike VCAA and ACARA, for example, ACER has not appeared to be omnipresently idiotic. For the most part ACER just professionally goes about its business, quietly screwing things up. Continue reading “A Quick Question About ACER”

An AMT Coda

A few months ago, I wrote about the Australian Maths Trust and their recently held competition, the AIMO. AMT’s CEO, Nathan Ford, had demanded an alteration to an AIMO question at the last minute, based upon an absurd and absurdly argued concern about “gender contexts”. Ford’s behaviour resulted in the writer of the AIMO question resigning from his volunteer role on the AIMO committee and all his paid work at AMT. This post is a coda to that shameful episode. Continue reading “An AMT Coda”

AMT’s Gender Fetishism

A few weeks ago, the Australian Intermediate Mathematics Olympiad took place. Administered by the Australian Maths Trust, the AIMO is a high level mathematics competition and serves as a testing ground for invitation to even higher level programs. It is a serious and important competition.

The AIMO paper is the creation of a committee, consisting mostly of volunteers. After this year’s paper was finalised, proofread and ready for the printer, AMT’s CEO, Nathan Ford, vetoed a question on the paper. This is the question that Ford vetoed:

There are 10 boys and 10 girls learning a traditional dance. They are to be arranged into 10 boy-girl pairs. To avoid height mismatches, each boy is assigned a number from 1 to 10 in ascending order of heights, and each girl is assigned a number from 1 to 10 in ascending order of heights. A boy may partner with a girl if and only if their numbers differ by no more than 1. For example, Boy 4 may partner with Girls 3, 4 or 5, but not 2 and not 6. How many ways can the boys and girls be partnered for this dance?

Regular readers can guess where this is going, but we’ll spell it out.

In an email to the chair of the AIMO committee, Ford noted his “concerns about the gender context” of the above problem:

“The expectations around gender contexts have changed significantly in society and amongst school leadership, teachers and students. As we serve these students and teachers, we need to be responsive and sensitive to these expectations.”

Ford then noted the existence of guidance for organisations such as AMT:

“For example, both the Australian Government and the Australian Council for Educational Research have issued specific guidance on presenting gender contexts.”

We shall pause to note that the Australian Government Style Manual to which Ford refers seems to have absolutely no bearing on the AIMO question at issue. As for the second document, it is strained to characterise it, as Ford does, as specific guidance issued by ACER; the document is simply a comment piece by one UK-based ACER research fellow. Moreover, as we have argued, this comment piece is utterly absurd, offering guidance for nothing more than an overtly political and highly perverse crusade.

Ford gave the AIMO committee chair the non-choice of either de-sexing the question himself, or of accepting a revised question that Ford and AMT employees had constructed. Here is the revised question that Ford presented, which, according to Ford, includes “an equivalent context which achieves the same goal while ensuring we are as inclusive as possible”:

Two local sports teams, the Tigers and the Lions, are coming together for some practice. There are 10 Tigers and 10 Lions. They are to be arranged into 10 Tiger–Lion pairs. To make the game as competitive as possible, we want to avoid height mismatches. So, each Tiger is assigned a number from 1 to 10 in ascending order of heights, and each Lion is assigned a number from 1 to 10 in ascending order of heights. A Tiger may be paired up with a Lion if and only if their numbers differ by no more than 1. For example, Tiger 4 may pair up with Lions 3, 4 or 5, but not 2 and not 6. How many ways can the Tigers and Lions be paired up?

The AIMO chair refused to change the original question, which he noted received “acclaim” from the more than a dozen people who vetted the AIMO paper, and which he argued was entirely unproblematic in terms of any gender issue. The chair also refused to endorse Ford’s replacement question, which he regarded as “artificial and confusing”. The chair also objected strongly to the manner and the timing of this demanded change to the AIMO paper.

It is fair to say that Ford ran roughshod over the chair’s concerns, and those of the writer of the original, vetoed question.* Ford barrelled through to include the revised question on the AIMO paper. To our knowledge, no one on the AIMO committee, excepting a single AMT employee, voiced either private or public support for Ford’s change. The chair and the question writer consequently disassociated themselves from the AIMO paper. The question writer, a long-standing and highly respected AIMO volunteer, was so upset by Ford’s contemptuous response that he resigned from the AIMO committee, and has also resigned from his other, paid work for AMT.

We emailed Ford, indicating that we were writing this post and offering Ford the opportunity to discuss the matter or to make a statement. This is Ford’s response, in its entirety:

“One of the 2023 AIMO problems was changed prior to the competition date. 

The change was contextual, not mathematical. 

It was made in the interests of inclusivity and in support of the diverse cohort of students and teachers the Trust serves.” 

Readers can make of this episode what they will, but our opinion should be obvious. We believe that there was zero argument to change the original question and that the revised question, while adequate, is clearly inferior. We believe Ford acted foolishly and arrogantly and rudely. It seems clear to us that Ford owes the AIMO committee, and the chair and the question writer in particular, a sincere apology. If Ford were not to provide this, we believe the AMT Board should then act accordingly.


*) Disclaimer: the question writer is a colleague and good friend of ours.

ACER’s Guide to Gender Correctness

ACER, which began life ninety years ago in Camberwell as a tiny educational research institute, is now a worldwide, um, thing. Courtesy of ACER’s UK branch, we have a very informative guide, titled,

The assessment community has promoted gender stereotyping for decades. How can we stop?

The guide, written by a single ACER “Research Fellow”, is labelled as a comment piece. As such, the guide presumably does not rise to the level of ACER policy. Nonetheless, it’s there on ACER’s website and it seems fair for ACER to take the credit.

Continue reading “ACER’s Guide to Gender Correctness”

Education Experts Notice the Disintegrating Dyke, and Advocate More Fingers

Yesterday, the Grattan Institute released a report:

Tackling under-achievement: Why Australia should embed high-quality small-group tuition in schools

Great idea. While you’re at it, maybe give each kid their own pony. Continue reading “Education Experts Notice the Disintegrating Dyke, and Advocate More Fingers”

Signs of the TIMSS

The 2019 TIMSS results are just about to be released, and the question is should we care? The answer is “Hell yes”.

TIMSS is an international maths and science test, given at the end of year 4 and year 8 (in October in the Southern Hemisphere). Unlike PISA, which, as we have noted, is a Pisa crap, TIMSS tests mathematics. TIMSS has some wordy scenario problems, but TIMSS also tests straight arithmetic and algebra, in a manner that PISA smugly and idiotically rejects.

The best guide to what TIMSS is testing, and to what Australian students don’t know and can’t do, are the released 2011 test items and country-by-country results, here and here. We’ll leave it for now for others to explore and to comment. Later, we’ll update the post with sample items, and once the 2019 results have appeared.

UPDATE (08/12/20)

The report is out, with the ACER summary here, and the full report can be downloaded from here. The suggestion is that Australia’s year 8 (but not year 4) maths results have improved significantly from the (appalling) results of 2015 and earlier. If so, that is good, and very surprising.

For now, we’ll take the results at face value. We’ll update if (an attempt at) reading the report sheds any light.


OK, it starts to become clear. Table 9.5 on page 19 of the Australian Highlights indicates that year 8 maths in NSW improved dramatically from 2015, while the rest of the country stood still. This is consistent with our view of NSW as an educational Switzerland, to which everyone should flee. We’re not sure why NSW improved, and there’s plenty to try to figure out, but the mystery of “Australia’s” dramatic improvement in year 8 maths appears to be solved.

UPDATE (09/12/20)

OK, no one is biting on the questions, so we’ll add a couple teasers. Here are the first two released mathematics questions from the 2011 year 8 TIMSS test:

1.   Ann and Jenny divide 560 zeds between them. If Jenny gets 3/8 of the money, how many zeds will Ann get?

2.   \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac{4}{100} + \frac{3}{1000} = }

(The second question is multiple choice, with options 0.043, 0.1043, 0.403 and 0.43.)

To see the percentage of finishing year 8 students from each country who got these questions correct, you’ll have to go the document (pp 1-3).

PoSWW 12: They is Bach

There’s much we could write about Matthew Bach, who recently gave up teaching and deputying to become a full-time Liberal clown. But, with great restraint, we’ll keep to ourselves the colourful opinions of Bach’s former school colleagues; we’ll ignore Bach’s sophomoric sense of class and his cartoon-American cry for “freedom”; we’ll just let sit there Bach’s memory of “the sense of optimism in Maggie Thatcher’s Britain”.

Yesterday, Bach had an op-ed in the official organ of the Liberal Party (paywalled, thank God). Titled We must raise our grades on teacher quality, Bach’s piece was the predictable mix of obvious truth and poisonous nonsense, promoting the testing of “numeracy” and so forth. One line, however, stood out as a beacon of Bachism:

“But, as in any profession, a small number of teachers is not up to the mark.”

We is thinking that is very, very true.


The PISA results were released on Tuesday, and Australians having been losing their minds over them. Which is admirably consistent: the country has worked so hard at losing minds over the last 20+ years, it seems entirely reasonable to keep on going.

We’ve never paid much attention to PISA. We’ve always had the sense that the tests were tainted in a NAPLANesque manner, and in any case we can’t imagine the results would ever indicate anything about Australian maths education that isn’t already blindingly obvious. As Bob Dylan (almost) sang, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

And so it is with PISA 2018. Australia’s mathematical decline is undeniable, astonishing and entirely predictable. Indeed, for the NAPLANesque reasons suggested above, the decline in mathematics standards is probably significantly greater than is suggested by PISA. Greg Ashman raises the issue in this post.

So, how did this happen, and what are we to do? Unsurprisingly, there has been no reluctance from our glorious educational leaders to proffer warnings and solutions. AMSI, of course, is worrying their bone, whining for about the thirtieth time about unqualified teachers. The Lord of ACER thinks that Australia is focusing too much on “the basics”, at the expense of “deep understandings”. If only the dear Lord’s understanding was a little deeper.

Others suggest we should “focus systematically on student and teacher wellbeing“, whatever that means. Or, we should reduce teachers’ “audit anxiety“. Or, the problem is “teachers [tend] to focus on content rather than student learning“. Or, the problem is a “behaviour crisis“. Or, we should have “increased scrutiny of university education degrees” and “support [students’] schooling at home”. And, we could introduce “master teachers”. But apparently “more testing is not the answer“. In any case, “The time for talk is over“, according to a speech by Minister Tehan.

Some of these suggestions are, of course, simply ludicrous. Others, and others we haven’t mentioned, have at least a kernel of truth, and a couple we can strongly endorse.

No institution we can see, however, no person we have read, seems ready to face up to the systemic corruption, to see the PISA results in the light of the fundamental perversion of mathematics education in Australia. Not a word we could see questioning the role of calculators and the fetishisation of their progeny. Not a note of doubt about the effect of computers. Not a single suggestion that STEM may not be an antidote but, rather, a poison. Barely a word on the “inquiry” swampland that most primary schools have become. And, barely a word on the loss of discipline, on the valuable and essential meanings of that word. What possible hope is there, then, for meaningful change?

We await PISA 2021 with unbated breath.