There has been some disagreement in terms of where the UK fits in with other countries for performance in maths. This current report is encouraging in the sense that our position is not as bad as we have suspected it to be.
However, we are still dropping down the international league, which cannot be a good thing. As we are now part of a more globalised economy, it matters more how our children compare with other children in the world. We cannot be content to just consider national statistics, and achievement in the context of our own nation.
It really saddens me when I hear again and again of students being coerced into spending Years 10 and 11 at high school focusing on taking and retaking Maths GCSE in the hopes of getting a grade C and then being ignored by the maths teacher for the rest of their time at school.
While I understand the need to ensure that the quality of education in schools is adequate, bland statistic-gathering does not ensure this. All we have achieved by monitoring the number of A*-C’s at each school, is an urge for teachers to get every child into that target group.
No matter if a student with A* potential achieves only a grade B – the teachers will be more chastised for the E-grade student who was only pulled up to a D.
There are no easy answers, so I won’t pretend to have them. But I do see many children wasting their potential and ruling out future careers, because their teachers have become desensitised through over-bureaucratic teaching assessment methods.
It really is the case that parenting is the true differentiator. If a child’s teachers cannot see his/her potential, then the only hope is for the parents to see it and nuture it.
Johnny Ball answers the question posed by a young girl: What number comes before infinity?
I am delighted to note that the BBC Radio 4 website now includes a well-stocked selection of resources on mathematics:
“Primary schools in England need to do more to help pupils struggling with maths, says Ofsted. But have new teaching methods left parents out in the cold and unable to help?”
A handful of new methods, with new terminology, can put parents off helping their children with maths homework. But this doesn’t need to remain the case.
My advice to parents who want to get more involved in their child’s maths education is to make enquiries at your child’s school to see how they can support you.
If you are not confident at maths yourself, now may be the time to build your understanding; it is never too late!
As a maths tutor, I would always encourage parents who want me to explain how to support their children in their homework. It only takes a couple of minutes to explain how the grid method works, for example. Or better yet, ask your child to explain the method to you.
It is not realistic to expect individualised teaching in a class of thirty children
In any classroom, the teacher will generally try to pitch the difficulty of whole class teaching, so that the brightest are challenged while the weakest are able to keep up. But this is not always achievable. Nor is it hard to see how a teacher of thirty children might struggle to find the time to nurture every individual, and pick up on every single misunderstanding – and so we end up with the situation that is now being reported by OFSTED:
The weaker students are being failed, as are the brightest.
Instead of tackling the real, complex problems at play (including, but not limited to: large classroom sizes, issues at home, lower attention spans due to technological distractions, higher national expectations of achievement) the approach by successive governments has been to scapegoat teachers, and to apply yet more bureaucratic burdens on what are already challenging workloads. The teachers find themselves entrenched in a system that promotes short-term thinking. The focus is on the number of “A*-C’s” that each school achieves, rather than a more nuanced, long-term view to improving teaching standards. Governments want quick successes to prove their value – but these are often superficial, papering over the cracks deep within our approach to teaching. Within this political back-and-forth between governments, the children themselves are now merely a statistic.
To truly help your child achieve his or her potential, there is no substitute for individual time and attention.
Every child has different needs, and different ways of learning. Parental support (and tuition) can bridge the gap between a child’s needs and a school’s resources. Just sitting down with your child while she or he does his homework can be a help – whether or not you feel able to assist with specific questions.
Most importantly, the evidence suggests that there is a particular need to focus on children when they are struggling to keep up in class, or if they are not feeling suitably stretched in school.
Good Luck over the coming weeks!
Here are a few exam pointers that will help you to make the most of each exam:
Before the exam:
- Get a good night’s sleep before the exam
- Have a nourishing breakfast in the morning (and lunch, if your exam is in the afternoon)
- Make sure you have the right tools for your exam. Do you need your calculator? Tracing paper? Compasses?
- Arrive in plenty of time so that you can enter the exam hall feeling calm and composed.
During the exam:
- Read ALL the instructions on the front page.
- Work through the questions methodically, allowing time to check over your answers before the exam finishes.
- Read each question carefully
- Show ALL your working, step by step
- Draw graphs and diagrams IN PENCIL
- Write your answer in the space provided, using the correct:
- format (were you asked to give the equation of a line in the form ax+by+c=0, or y=mx+c?)
- units (should your calculator be in degrees or radians mode? did you convert all measurements to cm or m?)
- accuracy (significant figures, decimal places)
- check your answer where possible (e.g. if you solved for x, check the LHS and RHS of your equation!)
- Remain relaxed during the exam – if a question makes you feel anxious, skip it and come back to it later
If you start to panic: STOP. Put down your pen, rest your hands and look straight ahead. Take a couple of deep, calming breaths. Remind yourself that you can get through this better if you just relax.
- Check through your answers at the end – many silly mistakes can be fixed at this time
After the exam:
- Relax. DON’T dwell on what you might have done right or wrong.
- Take a moment to be proud of yourself for trying your best.
- Move on to revision for your next exam.
Please also read this BBC Article about general exam technique for some pointers.