If Brian Cox needed to practise Maths…

Last year, at Christmas, I went with my husband and children to see the Compendium of Reason at the Hammersmith Odeon in London.  This is 3 hour extravaganza of music, comedy and science put on by Prof Brian Cox and Robin Ince of The Infinite Monkey Cage.  Brian Cox is, of course, known for presenting Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe, amongst other things.  He is a gifted orator with a talent for sharing his love of science.

Would you, however, be surprised to know that Prof Cox got a D at A Level Maths?  He is quoted as saying “I was really not very good…. I found out you need to practise”.  As, a maths teacher, it is a quote I trot out time and again, to both students and parents.

Why do I do this? Because Prof Cox is right, you need to practise maths.  It`s a bit like learning to drive. The driving lesson is only one part of the process, you need to get in the car between lessons and put those things you have learned into practice.   Every time you drive the car you are strengthening and extending your understanding of your new learning.  I suggest to parents that half an hour`s maths practice three to four times a week will greatly increase their child`s understanding of maths (and increase the chance of said parent`s investment in lessons bringing the required result).  Often there is a reluctance to do this as far as parents are concerned because they don`t want to create unnecessary friction at homework time (as if it isn`t stressful enough) but if you can convince your child to practise between their tutoring sessions you and they may well be surprised at how this improves their learning.


GCSE Maths is Changing

The Department for Education has made changes to the Maths GCSE taking effect from 2015 (when the first teaching started) and leading to the first assessment against these changes in 2017.  For students taking their GCSEs before that time they will continue to be taught and examined against the old syllabus.  There are significant changes within this new programme of study that will challenge teachers and students alike.

Summary of Changes

The current, 2-Tier system, with a Foundation and a Higher Tier is retained but the content of these Tiers has changed substantially.  In addition to a lot of new content there is also a large shift in content from the Higher Tier to the Foundation Tier.  This is part of a wider pattern which sees some content coming down from A Level into GCSE and some GCSE work going down to Key Stage 3 and so on.

The grading will also change with marks awarded from 1 – 9 with 9 being the highest and the possibility of a U below the 1 so, effectively, 10 grades available.  As previously there will be an overlap between Foundation and Higher Tiers with Foundation ranging from 1 – 5 and Higher ranging from 4 – 9.

There is also a greater emphasis on problem solving and mathematical reasoning than before, although at the same time there is an increase in the formulae that students will have to learn.

And last, but not least, these changes will have an impact on the decision about which Tier to take.  This is an area where we have been able to advise and help students and parents previously.  So don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss any concerns you have about this choice or these changes.



Overcoming a Fear of Maths

The key to mastering any subject is practice and this is especially true of Maths. What I often see is a lack of confidence in Maths that is caused by pupils who find it difficult to keep up with the pace of the class. Whilst they are still trying to understand, the class has moved on having assimilated and practised the method. Usually this means that the pupil is experiencing a sinking feeling as they listen to the teacher extend the topic whilst they are still trying to get to grips with the first part. This is why people have such emotional reaction to Maths and why you hear adults saying “I don`t like Maths”. All of us dislike things that make us feel uncomfortable or inadequate and this dislike can very easily become anxiety or fear and these feelings clearly have a negative impact performance and an impact that is independent of skill.

The use of a tutor gives the best chance to practise and question the techniques either one to one or in a small group. Linking the tutoring to school work builds a solid underpinning of what is being taught in class. Additionally, the learner has the chance to question and verbalise their own understanding.

These are my top tips for successful tutoring:

  • Link the tutoring to what is being taught in class
  • Encourage to learner to say what they think the method is – under-confidence goes hand in hand with under-achievement in the class.
  • Repetition: Practice, practice, practice

Putting these together is the key to tackling underconfiderce and, therefore, underperformance.