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We are still open and working, despite Covid-19 but, as with everyone else, we have had to adapt our approach.

Effective from mid-March 2020, all of our tuition is being conducted on-line using Zoom on a one-to-one basis. We are working with whiteboards, able to share topic sheets during the sessions and setting work to be done at home by e-mailing worksheets. This seems to be working well with the students still with us, all aged between 10 and 19.

It is not all bad. We now have a student living in Scotland!

How YOU Can Help Your Child

As if being a parent wasn’t difficult enough, here comes a bit more pressure!

GCSE Maths has, since 2012 and even more since 2017, a significant emphasis on ‘functional’ maths, essentially solving everyday problems that adults take for granted but children seldom understand or have experience of.

Anything that you can do to strengthen your child’s understanding here will be a great help to them and their teachers. This includes things like ( and, believe it or not, every one of these has been a GCSE/IGCSE maths question in recent years):

 Measuring common objects to work out areas and volumes; knowing how big is a teaspoon, a cup, a litre bottle, a person, a car, a bus, what these weights are in kg, tonnes etc.

 Reading times on digital and analogue clocks, working in 12 and 24 hour times; when on holiday abroad looking at what time it is at home; calculating flight times with date differences.

 Rounding measurements up and down and talking about error bounds when things are too big or too small.

 Using maps to work out distances, especially with different scale factors; also recipes to scale up or down; using scale drawings of rooms or gardens.

 Going shopping in the local supermarkets and using unit pricing (price/100g, price/100ml etc. to compare prices.

 On car journeys talking about speeds in mph and kph (get them to look at the speedometer to get a feel for difference between mph and kph); estimating journey times based on distance and average speed. Using timetables to plan bus or train journeys, including calculating journey times.

 Using household DIY jobs to estimate how much carpet is needed for rooms and working out the cost with different quality of flooring; measuring walls for paint and working out how many cans of paint of different size are needed and comparing prices, or wallpaper and using charts to find how many rolls are needed and comparing prices. (I bet you thought choosing carpet/wallpaper/curtains couldn’t get worse, but now it has).

 Going through gas, electricity and mobile phone bills to see how they are calculated. Ditto with payslips (suitable redacted – we don’t want them asking for increases in pocket money).

 Gardening – measuring flower beds, ponds, pathways; fitting plants into a given space when they must have a measured separation; calculating costs of fertiliser, weed killer etc.

 Costing day trips (LegoLand etc.); weekend trips; holidays (even dreaming of holidays using brochures, and counting the cost).

 Sitting at the seaside watching the tide come in and go out; estimating when the next high or low tide will be; reading tide tables. (Our sons particularly enjoyed answering maths questions while waiting for the meal to be served. Ask them!)

A big difficulty that many children have is in taking a (relatively) big problem and breaking it down into solvable bits which can then be reconstructed to answer the original problem. This, really, is at the centre of functional maths. Remembering that what to an adult could be a trivial problem is, to a child, quite complicated. Helping your daughter or son to see how to take parts of a problem and solve those is going to be a big step forward.

To get some ideas of what can be done, there is a CGP book ‘GCSE Mathematics: Functional Questions – Foundation Level’ (ISBN 9781847625151)which looks appropriate for KS3 as well as beginning GCSE (there is also a Higher Level version). These books have questions suited to a student working on their own – some other books assume that some kind of teamwork will take place. Although now out of print, copies may still be available from Internet sources.

Cambridge University Press has also produced a Problem Solving Book for GCSE (ISBN 9781107450059) which has chapters on Problem-solving Strategies. These have some interesting titles such as ‘Draw a Diagram’,  ‘I Can’t Do That But I Can Do This’, ‘Solve a Simpler Problem’, and ‘What is a Sensible Answer’. The advice contained is very sound!

Two other points. Firstly, many of the changes being introduced are at the request of employers who have long been complaining that young employees seem unable to know how to tackle even simple mathematical problems. In part, the ‘functional maths’ is a response to these requests and is long overdue. Secondly, the formula sheet currently given with each GCSE exam paper is no longer given. Students will be expected to know, by heart, these standard formulae (and a few more) which are central to basic mathematics. Over the years we have noticed that the less that students are expected to remember, the less they seem capable of learning. What seems like a backwards step is, in reality a great leap forwards.