What Do I Do If My Child Has Maths Anxiety?

Maths anxiety: the numbers are mounting

On the 30th April 2012 the Guardian published an article written by a parent whose daughter had spent many years suffering from Maths anxiety. Kate Brian’s daughter Flora was just six years old when she told her parents that she didn’t understand anything that was being taught in her Maths lessons in school. The school regularly reassured her parents that there was nothing wrong but Kate Brian recalls how:

“she sometimes made wildly illogical guesses when attempting basic addition and was easily confused by anything numerical. She was also getting upset about maths at school, but the more her teachers tried to reassure us that she was doing well, the more Flora insisted she didn’t let them see that she spent maths lessons copying other children.”

They took her to a specialist who told them that Flora wasn’t dyscalculic so in desperation they visited an educational psychologist who confirmed that her problems were linked to anxiety rather than a lack of ability. Maths anxiety is thought to affect approximately a quarter of the population which means that around 2 million children are suffering from this mostly unrecognised condition. Maths anxiety was first identified in the 1950s but recent studies involving brain scans show interesting brain functions of children with the condition. These children respond to sums in the same way that those with phobias react to spiders or snakes with an increase in activity in the fear centres of the brain. The consequence of this is a decrease in activity in the problem solving areas which makes it harder to produce the right answer.

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Does My Child Have Maths Anxiety?

If your child is suffering from a variety of symptoms listed by AnxietyATOZ and these are accompanied by them making wildly illogical guesses when attempting basic addition or they are easily confused by anything numerical they may be suffering from Maths anxiety.

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Confusion.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Panic-Stricken Worry.
  • Negative thoughts.
  • Sudden Memory Loss.

Physiological Symptoms:

  • Rapid heart beat.
  • Sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Stomach disorders.
  • Headaches.

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What Do I Do If My Child Has Maths Anxiety?

The good news is that Maths anxiety can be overcome because it is confidence based and not linked to a student’s mathematical ability. Mike Ellicock, chief executive of the charity National Numeracy, explains:

“Labelling and categorising children into those who can and can’t do maths isn’t helpful. There’s nothing more certain to be a self-fulfilling prophecy … but given encouragement and the right support, everyone can meet a functional level of numeracy.”

Additionally, the various websites that discuss how to overcome the condition recommend extra tuition in Maths. They all concur with Peter Lacey, of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics who says teachers:

“are often constrained by a system focused on targets and attainment levels. “If you say slow down, ministers get concerned, but if you want to build a tall and secure house, you make sure your foundations are right. Sometimes there’s a rush in the earlier years of teaching that interferes with children gaining real confidence – once it goes wrong at that stage, everything afterwards is insecure. The pressure to get children to a particular level in tests at 11 can mean teaching them tricks to get good outcomes rather than making sure they are confident in their understanding.”

At Kip McGrath Scunthorpe we agree wholeheartedly with this assertion. We regularly see students who, for a variety of reasons have been unable to gain a secure understanding of some of the earlier topics and because of this struggle with the more complex areas of Maths. This is because of the way in which early Maths topics lay the foundations for more advanced mathematics. Without a solid grasp of the foundation areas it becomes harder and harder to access later Maths concepts. As a result, these children then become convinced that they can’t do Maths and their confidence and motivation steadily decrease. When concerned parents contact us the first thing we do is carry out a FREE assessment of their child’s Maths abilities in order to discover the gaps in their understanding. We then use the proven Kip McGrath tutoring methods to fill in the gaps by working with the students on each topic until they have a sound knowledge and are ready to move on. All our students make good progress academically and grow in confidence as a result of the work we do with them. Kate Brian herself testifies on the value of this approach:

“For Flora, extra help rediscovering the basics, along with a gentle approach at her new school, began to reap benefits and she gradually caught up. She has been happier and less stressed….”

If you are worried about your child’s Maths don’t worry. Call us today to find out what we can do to help.

Being bilingual ‘boosts brain power’

Being bilingual ‘boosts brain power’

BBC |May 1, 2012

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Learning a second language can boost brain power, scientists believe.

The US researchers from Northwestern University say bilingualism is a form of brain training – a mental “work out” that fine-tunes the mind.

Speaking two languages profoundly affects the brain and changes how the nervous system responds to sound, lab tests revealed.

Experts say the work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides “biological” evidence of this.

For the study, the team monitored the brain responses of 48 healthy student volunteers – which included 23 who were bilingual – to different sounds.

They used scalp electrodes to trace the pattern of brainwaves.

Under quiet, laboratory conditions, both groups – the bilingual and the English-only-speaking students – responded similarly.

But against a backdrop of noisy chatter, the bilingual group were far superior at processing sounds.

They were better able to tune in to the important information – the speaker’s voice – and block out other distracting noises – the background chatter.

‘Powerful’ benefitsAnd these differences were visible in the brain. The bilingualists’ brainstem responses were heightened.

Prof Nina Kraus, who led the research, said: “The bilingual’s enhanced experience with sound results in an auditory system that is highly efficient, flexible and focused in its automatic sound processing, especially in challenging or novel listening conditions.”

Co-author Viorica Marian said: “People do crossword puzzles and other activities to keep their minds sharp. But the advantages we’ve discovered in dual language speakers come automatically simply from knowing and using two languages.

“It seems that the benefits of bilingualism are particularly powerful and broad, and include attention, inhibition and encoding of sound.”

Musicians appear to gain a similar benefit when rehearsing, say the researchers.

Past research has also suggested that being bilingual might help ward off dementia.

Maths anxiety: the numbers are mounting

Maths anxiety: the numbers are mounting

The Guardian World News

Flora Brian, whose maths anxiety was not easily diagnosed

Flora Brian, whose maths anxiety was not easily diagnosed. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

My daughter Flora was just six when she announced that she didn’t understand a thing in maths lessons at school. We raised it at the next parents’ evening and were reassured that her maths was fine, but we began to notice that she sometimes made wildly illogical guesses when attempting basic addition and was easily confused by anything numerical. She was also getting upset about maths at school, but the more her teachers tried to reassure us that she was doing well, the more Flora insisted she didn’t let them see that she spent maths lessons copying other children.

It wasn’t until she moved to a new school two years later that her difficulties were identified, revealing such a vast gulf between her attainment in numeracy and in literacy that we suspected she could have dyscalculia, a kind of dyslexia with numbers. We took her to a specialist, who made it clear that although Flora wasn’t dyscalculic, her maths was very poor. She advised that Flora shouldn’t be taught maths in a normal class. In despair, we turned to an educational psychologist, and discovered that Flora’s problems weren’t down to ability, but to anxiety.

Maths anxiety, a feeling of fear about maths, is believed to affect about a quarter of the population, which would equate to more than 2 million schoolchildren in England alone, along with thousands of teachers. Many of us are familiar with that blind panic when faced with a maths problem we can’t fathom, but maths anxiety isn’t always recognised or understood.

Maths anxiety was first identified in the 1950s, but the devastating way it affects performance is only now becoming evident. For the first time, researchers at Stanford University in the US have used scans to see what goes on inside the brains of children with maths anxiety, and discovered that they respond to sums in the same way that people with phobias might react to snakes or spiders, showing increased activity in the fear centres. This in turn causes a decrease in activity in the problem-solving areas, making it harder to come up with the right answers. Dr Vinod Menon, the professor who led the project, explains its significance: “Our research is important because it is the first to identify the neural and developmental basis of maths anxiety, and our findings have significant implications for its early identification and treatment. It is also important because it shows that math anxiety in children is real. It cannot be wished away. It needs to be attended to and treated if it persists.”

If maths anxiety has such a devastating effect on ability, why aren’t we doing more about it? Most teachers and academics know it exists, but there are no formally established diagnostic tools to determine when worrying about maths becomes “maths anxiety”. What’s more, it can be counterproductive to tell a child that they have a problem, as Mike Ellicock, chief executive of the charity National Numeracy, explains: “Labelling and categorising children into those who can and can’t do maths isn’t helpful. There’s nothing more certain to be a self-fulfilling prophecy … but given encouragement and the right support, everyone can meet a functional level of numeracy.”

We clearly haven’t been offering the right support, as almost half of the UK’s adults are only capable of basic maths. It doesn’t help that we often see maths as the preserve of a few geeks. Maths is a clear-cut subject where answers are either right or wrong, and teaching methods focusing on quick recall, mental arithmetic and on answers given in front of the class are unhelpful to those who are less confident. Most teachers understand that confidence is as important as competence when it comes to maths achievement, but Peter Lacey, of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, says they are often constrained by a system focused on targets and attainment levels. “If you say slow down, ministers get concerned, but if you want to build a tall and secure house, you make sure your foundations are right. Sometimes there’s a rush in the earlier years of teaching that interferes with children gaining real confidence – once it goes wrong at that stage, everything afterwards is insecure. The pressure to get children to a particular level in tests at 11 can mean teaching them tricks to get good outcomes rather than making sure they are confident in their understanding.”

Experts in the field, such as Professor David Sheffield of Derby University’s Centre for Psychological Research, who is one of the country’s leading specialists in maths anxiety, believe it has a lifelong effect. So what would he advise? “The first thing to say is don’t do more maths. More maths is unlikely to work because it’s actually an anxiety problem. Try to deal with the anxiety with simple approaches like relaxation or breathing exercises. We did one study where we got people to do a relaxation exercise and then followed them up. Their anxiety scores had dropped and they were able to solve more problems.”

For Flora, extra help rediscovering the basics, along with a gentle approach at her new school, began to reap benefits and she gradually caught up. She has been happier and less stressed, which Michael Roach, her headteacher at John Ball school in south-east London, suggests may be the secret. “What we have seen in recent years is that tackling the anxiety and self-esteem of children and thus improving their confidence and related attitudes to maths has been key. Once the anxiety sets in, it can be very challenging to shift. We work hard to make maths relevant within a real-life context and, most of all, fun.”

If we want to improve national numeracy skills, we need to think more carefully about how to address the widespread anxiety about the subject, focusing on understanding rather than setting targets. Perhaps in the meantime, a few relaxation exercises could make all the difference.

Conservatives fail to deliver on funds to rebuild schools

Conservatives fail to deliver on funds to rebuild schools

The Guardian World News

Pamela Durney, front, and other campaigners at the Grove school in Newark

Pamela Durney, front, and other campaigners at the Grove school in Newark. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

When Pamela Durney was mulling over secondary transfer for her daughter, Ellen, one factor overshadowed all the rest – a state-of-the-art building being planned for their local school. “It was the biggest factor for a lot of wavering parents,” she explains. “A lot of us chose the school because of that. As a result, Ellen’s year group is the largest in the school.”

By the time her daughter started at the Grove school, in Newark, Nottingham, though, the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, which was to have funded the rebuild, had been scrapped.

Ellen and her older brother, Thomas, have now got used to their school being closed because it is too cold, to the overheated classrooms in summer, the water-logged roof, the PE sessions being cancelled because of leaks and puddles, and the toilet windows that have to be permanently left open as the ventilation is so poor. But Durney, and scores of fellow parents, are furious that two years on, their children’s school – like hundreds of others across the country – has been given no indication of when it might see the investment it urgently needs.

The cancellation of BSF in 2010 meant an abrupt end to the building plans of around 1,000 schools in England. In the immediate aftermath of the decision, the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, announced there would be a “complete overhaul” of school capital, starting with a review led by retail executive Sebastian James, to rethink how school building is financed and managed.

The James review published its report, and extensive recommendations, a year ago. The government then launched a consultation on those recommendations, which closed last autumn – but local authorities and schools are still waiting for a response. In the meantime, money devolved directly to schools for capital spending has been cut by 80%, and local authority capital streams by about 60%, leaving only the Priority School Building Programme – a £2bn investment fund for schools in the worst physical condition to be privately funded – as the sole source of large-scale capital investment.

The Grove school applied for funding under the PSBP scheme and governors were told late last year that their buildings were the worst in their local authority area, and possibly the country, as the cost of refurbishing them was more than two-thirds of the cost of a complete rebuild.

They were promised a decision before Christmas, but then told the decision was being postponed indefinitely. In spite of a vigorous “Save our School” campaign, a parent-led petition and the full backing of the local Tory MP, Patrick Mercer (whose own meeting with the education secretary to discuss the issue just after Easter was abruptly cancelled), the governors have been told they are unlikely to hear anything before early summer, almost two years after the cancellation of BSF.

The Department for Education (DfE) is not able to give reasons for the delay or indeed to say how many schools might qualify for the PSBP. A spokesperson explained that every bid was being re-examined by the new Education Funding Agency: “We can’t say when the final announcement will be. It is important that every application is treated fairly.”

However, the PSBP bids may only be the tip of a huge iceberg. Some estimates suggest that over £8bn may be required to meet schools’ basic needs before “suitability” (development of the buildings to meet curriculum and school improvement need) can be addressed.

The government has commissioned a survey of all local authorities, which aims to provide a comprehensive database of the condition of every school in England. But this isn’t due to be finished until 2013, so any further allocation of capital is unlikely to happen before 2014-15, almost five years after BSF was scrapped. In addition, there is massive demand for new primary places in many local authorities.

David Simmonds, a Conservative councillor who chairs the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, admitted this could be a potential political problem for the government in the runup to the next election. “There have been a number of false dawns, and it is frustrating for mums and dads waiting to hear about their children’s schools,” he says. “If Whitehall says it is going to step into the role of the local authority and be the Big Brother for schools, they need to be putting in place resources so they can do it effectively. You can’t pull the rug from under schools, and then say nothing is available when schools are having to deal with asbestos, leaking roofs and inadequate toilets.”

The Grove school’s predicament is compounded by its history and the current policy context. In common with many English schools, it was built relatively cheaply and quickly in the 1950s to meet the needs of the postwar baby boom and higher parental expectations. Unlike many of their pre-war predecessors, the 1950s schools were not built to last half a century and many are near the end of their shelf life.

Today the school is facing other social changes. A free-school bid from the Everyday Champions church in Newark has just been resubmitted to the DfE, having failed in the first round because of allegations that the school would teach a creationist curriculum. The county boundary with fully selective Lincolnshire means the grammar schools can cream off Newark’s more academic children.

According to the Grove’s chair of governors, Dave Baliol-Key, this highly competitive environment makes a decision about future capital investment even more urgent. He says: “The more aspirant parents are choosing to send their children to Lincolnshire if they can, we have a free-school bid on our doorstep, the head and teachers are working hard to raise standards at the Grove, the kids are great – yet we have a building that is way past its shelf life, and after waiting two years, have absolutely no idea how much money we might get.”

Even Mercer, who says he is a supporter of the free-school policy, agrees this is a matter of stark priorities. “I absolutely support free schools,” he says, “but there will be local dismay if our single-biggest secondary school doesn’t receive government investment first. I understand the dilemma Michael Gove was left in, but we are losing thousands of teaching hours and days from a school which is no longer fit for purpose and it is very difficult explaining to constituents, like single parents whose children are being kept home because the school is too cold or the roof leaking, why there is a delay in a government announcement. There comes a point where good money is being spent trying to maintain a building whose fabric needs fundamentally sorting out.”

The Grove’s headteacher, Liz Hart, acknowledges that buildings alone don’t transform learning. “The heart of the Grove school is not the building but the children in it,” she says, “and since the cancellation of BSF the school has continued to improve both academic results and opportunities available to our students. But while buildings alone do not transform learning, the impact of the learning environment cannot be underestimated and I believe all our children have a right to be taught in a safe, comfortable and inspiring environment – and I hope the investment needed to provide this will be made as a matter of urgency.”

Pamela Durney’s youngest son, Charlie, will start at the Grove school in September. “I am starting to think that he will be lucky if the school is rebuilt or refurbished by the time he leaves,”says Durney. “I feel our children have been treated with utter contempt and no thought has been given to the impact on them. Two years may not seem a very long time to a government, but it is in the life of a child. This isn’t just about one school. It is about our community – and our children deserve better.”

Pay teachers according to performance, MPs propose

Pay teachers according to performance, MPs propose

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

Headteachers consider strike

MPs are to recommend that schoolteachers’ pay should be tied to their performance: Rui Vieira/PA

Teachers’ pay should be more closely tied to the value they add to pupils’ performance so that the best are rewarded while the weakest are discouraged from staying in the profession, MPs on the education select committee are to recommend.

The MPs say there are “huge differences” in the performance of teachers but express concern that the pay system rewards poorly performing teachers at the same levels as their more successful counterparts.

In a report, the committee urges ministers to develop proposals for a pay system that rewards the teachers who add the “greatest value” to pupil performance.

The report says: “We believe that performance management systems should support and reward the strongest teachers, as well as make no excuses (or, worse, incentives to remain) for the weaker.”

The MPs acknowledge there would be practical and political difficulties in such a system, but say the relative impact of an outstanding teacher is so great that such difficulties must be overcome.

Performance-related pay for teachers was first introduced under the last government. Before that, teachers were paid according to a nine-point salary scale, progressing up the scale with annual increases.

After the reform, teachers at the top of the existing scale could increase their salary with merit-based rises. A study by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, a research centre at Bristol University, found the scheme introduced by Labour improved pupils’ results “by about half a GCSE grade” per pupil.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the government has asked the school teachers’ review body– which considers matters relating to teachers’ pay, duties and working time – to make recommendations on introducing“greater freedoms and flexibilities” in teachers’ pay, including how to link it more closely to performance.

The minister said: “We welcome the committee’s report into this important area, and will consider its recommendations in full and respond in due course.”

However Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Payment by results is total nonsense. Children are not tins of beans and schools are not factory production lines. Successful schools rely on a collegiate approach and team working.

“Performance-related pay [PRP] is not only inappropriate but also divisive. Children and young people differ and class intakes differ from year to year, making it impossible to measure progress in simplistic terms.

“PRP will create even more difficulties for schools facing the most challenges because teachers will realise that they will get no thanks for teaching their students but will get more money by going elsewhere.”

The MPs’ report also calls for candidates for the teaching profession to be observed in the classroom before they are offered a training place to check their suitability for the job. The MPs say that allowing young people to try out teaching could improve the quality of applicants and lead to a lower drop-out rate.

The government should consider developing a formal “internship”system, similar to one run in Singapore, to allow youngsters to experience the “content, benefits and career potential” of teaching before committing to it, the report says.

These “taster sessions” should include actual teaching, rather than just observing lessons, the committee said, with students given feedback afterwards.

“Applying to do teacher training is a ‘high stakes’ decision and the purpose of these sessions is to give people a chance to try out their own aptitude before committing,” the report said.

“We believe this approach could help both deter some people who are not best suited to teaching and persuade others to consider it.”

The MPs backed ministers’ plans to toughen up the literacy and numeracy tests taken by trainee teachers but advised caution over the introduction of a test of candidates’ personal skills.

The report suggests the creation of a sabbatical scheme to allow outstanding teachers to take time out of the classroom to work in a different school, undertake research or refresh their subject knowledge.

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