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Education in brief: rewriting history; more bullying allegations; spotlight on academy governors

Education in brief: rewriting history; more bullying allegations; spotlight on academy governors

The Guardian|by Warwick Mansell and Geraldine Hackett on March 11, 2013

There have been rumours that Michael Gove has written the new history curriculum

There have been rumours that the education secretary, Michael Gove, has written the new national history curriculum. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
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Michael Gove finds himself mired in yet more controversy. This time over the history curriculum which he has been accused of writing himself whilst ignoring the advice of history education experts. In addition there have been further allegations of bullying made against his department. It really does beggar belief how such a controversial and seemingly incompetent minister has remained in post for so long.
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A case of rewriting the history curriculum?

Who wrote the much-discussed new national curriculum for history? It is an intriguing question, with the Historical Association having said its advice and evidence have been ignored, while one Conservative former adviser to Michael Gove said the current draft “bore no resemblance” to versions he had worked on as recently as January.

So what is the rumour going around the history community at the moment? It is that the seven-page draft curriculum, with its 134 bullet points, including the stipulation that key stage 1 pupils learn about Christina Rossetti and those in KS2 about the Heptarchy, was written by the education secretary himself.

Chairing a history conference last week, the shadow schools minister, Kevin Brennan, voiced this publicly. “There’s no truth to the rumour that the secretary of state wrote up [the draft history curriculum] over a weekend?” he asked of senior civil servant Marc Cavey. “It’s a nice story, but indeed not,” replied Cavey, perhaps a tad nervously. A source had earlier told Education Guardian that the seemingly unsubstantiated gossip had featured at a recent Historical Association meeting.

Speakers at the Westminster Education Forum event disagreed over the merits of the document’s detailed content. But most were of the view that the volume of material included made it questionable whether the new curriculum would ever actually be taught in full to pupils.

More bullying allegations surface at the DfE

With Gove due to reappear before the education select committee this week to answer questions about what he knew about bullying allegations within the Department for Education, news reaches us of an official complaint that has been made about “intimidation” by one of that department’s academy “brokers”.

The complaint came in a letter sent by Tim Crumpton, a Labour councillor in Dudley, West Midlands, to the office of Gove’s schools commissioner, Elizabeth Sidwell, last November. Crumpton, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, asked the office to investigate “bullying” by the broker.

As reported in this column, these DfE brokers are seeking to push many schools towards academy status. Crumpton said he had accompanied the senior official on three visits to schools in Dudley. “On each occasion, [her] behaviour has been intimidating and bullying towards governors, headteachers and local authority staff,” he wrote.

The broker had provided no agenda or subsequent notes of the meetings at schools under pressure to become academies, while, said Crumpton’s letter, on each occasion she had said: “The minister will make you become an academy, and will intervene both in the school and in the local authority if they do not support this action.”

Crumpton told his local paper, the Stourbridge News, he had received an unhelpful response to the letter from the DfE.

The DfE said: “We carried out a thorough investigation and found no basis in the claims.”

Meanwhile, campaign groups associated with at least four schools that are under sustained DfE pressure to convert to sponsored academy status have joined together to set up an organisation called Parents Against Forced Academies. The group has aproposal on the 38degrees campaigning website which, with approaching 2,000 supporters, was top of a list of “hot” issues on the site as of last week.

Parents at Roke primary school in Kenley, Surrey, have now said they intend to launch a legal challenge against the DfE’s move to enforce academy sponsorship under the Harris chain.

Kingsdale results under the spotlight

Intriguing goings-on continue at Kingsdale school, the academy in Southwark, south London, which has been at the centre of an unresolved GCSE and BTec cheating inquiry by exam boards for more than 18 months now.

Sources say the school refused to give out its 2012 GCSE results to parents last autumn citing the controversy over GCSE English, meaning that grades were provisional at this stage. But in January, official league table results on Kingsdale – described as “brilliant” by David Cameron in 2011 – seemingly showed a dramatic fall in grades in summer 2012. The previous year, 60% of pupils gained five good GCSEsincluding English and maths. By 2012, it had fallen to 36%, which is below the government’s current 40% “floor target” minimum.

The government data does not include the effect of any GCSE English resits or appeals, and the school has now published unofficial statistics, taking them into account, which put the figure at 49%.

However, new data published by Ofsted makes it clear that Kingsdale’s results drop was not confined to English, with science A*-Cs also falling sharply, from 63 to 26%, and maths also down.

Ofsted visited the school in December and gave it a “good” rating. But some parental and whistleblower sources are puzzled as to why the latest GCSE results were not given more prominence in the inspection report, which says mysteriously that unspecified “circumstances”, leading to a reduction in revision support, helped to explain the 2012 drop.

Steve Morrison, Kingsdale’s headteacher, said the decision to hold back some of its 2012 exam data last term, because of the GCSE English review, was a practice “in line with hundreds of schools” across England. Kingsdale results were also generally good, with early-entry GCSE grades for pupils now in years 10 and 11 at a “record high”, he said.

The crème de la crème of academy governors?

The state of Swindon academy, one of seven academies that have had warning letters from Ofsted, suggests that having experts on the governing body is not always a guarantee of success. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, has been complaining that some governors are not up to scratch, but Swindon has a line-up other schools might envy.

Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of Ucas, the university admissions service, has been a governor there for five years. The chair is Sir Anthony Greener, a former chair of the now abolished Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Fellow governors include Colin Fraser, recently retired deputy head of Marlborough College (£31,000 a year for boarders) and Marlborough’s director of science, Nic Allott. From industry, there is Mike Godfrey, who until a couple of months ago was chief engineer at Swindon’s Honda plant. He had worked for Honda for 27 years.

The blame-hunters might direct their attention at United Learning, the academy’s sponsor, which runs its schools from the centre. United Learning is now run by Jon Coles, a former senior civil servant at the DfE.

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Google funds computer teachers and Raspberry Pis in England

Google funds computer teachers and Raspberry Pis in England

BBC |May 23, 2012

Eric Schmidt
Mr Schmidt made headlines when he criticised UK computing classes

Dozens of teachers specialising in computer science are to work in English schools thanks to a partnership between Google and the charity Teach First.

Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt said money would also be provided to buy “teaching aids, such as Raspberry Pi’s or Arduino starter kits”.

He said that without investment in the subject, the UK risked“losing a generation” of scientists.

Mr Schmidt had previously criticised the country’s ICT curriculum.

He had said the UK was “throwing away [its] great computing heritage” by focusing on using software rather than how it was made.

The comments, delivered last August at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, prompted education secretary Michael Gove to revamp the curriculum to incorporate programming and other tech skills.

Teach FirstSpeaking on Wednesday at London’s Science Museum, Mr Schmidt outlined further plans: “Put simply, technology breakthroughs can’t happen without the scientists and engineers to make them. The challenge that society faces is to equip enough people, with the right skills and mindset, and to get them to work on the most important problems.”

Despite acknowledging progress, he described computer science education in the UK as still being in a “sorry state”.

He announced that Google would provide the funds to support Teach First – a charity which puts “exceptional” graduates on a six-week training programme before deploying them to schools where they teach classes over a two-year period.

Many stay on beyond that term while others pursue places at leading businesses associated with the programme.

At present the scheme is limited to seven regions of England: East Midlands; Kent and Medway; London; North East; North West; West Midlands; and Yorkshire and Humber.

Mr Schmidt said the donation would be used to train “more than 100 first rate science teachers over the next three years, with the majority focused on computer science”.

Rebooting computingHe said that he hoped up to 20,000 students would benefit in“disadvantaged communities”.

“It’s vital to expose kids to this early if they’re to have the chance of a career in computing,” Mr Schmidt added.

“Only 2% of Google engineers say they weren’t exposed to computer science at high school.

“While not every child is going to become a programmer, those with aptitude shouldn’t be denied the chance.”

Each of the 100 teachers will have a small bursary to buy equipment relating to their teaching. The Raspberry Pi, a low-cost computer designed in the UK, will be used in the scheme.

“The success of the BBC Micro in the 1980s shows what’s possible. There’s no reason why Raspberry Pi shouldn’t have the same impact, with the right support,” Mr Schmidt said.

Turing anniversaryGoogle has also sponsored a new exhibition at London’s Science Museum showcasing the life and career of Alan Turing.

It is due to open next month to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the computer pioneer’s birth.

In 2014, the museum will open a new gallery, also funded by Google, showcasing modern communications.

Mr Schmidt said he hopes such exhibits can equate to an image change for engineering.

“Rebooting computer science education is not straightforward.

“Scrapping the existing curriculum was a good first step – the equivalent of pulling the plug out of the wall. The question is now how to power up.”

A Radical Manifesto For Teaching Computing

A Radical Manifesto For Teaching Computing

The Guardian World News

Students working on computers

What’s missing from teaching computing in schools is a big vision. Photograph: Alamy

A vigorous debate has begun – within government and elsewhere – about what should be done about information and communication technology (ICT) in the school curriculum. Various bodies – the Royal Society, the Association for Learning Technology, Computing at School (a grassroots organisation of concerned teachers) and the British Computer Society, to name just four – have published reports and discussion documents aimed at ministers and the Department for Education. Michael Gove, the education secretary, made an enigmatic speech at the recent BETT technology conference indicating that a rethink is under way in the bowels of Whitehall. Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, there are some astonishing developments happening – such as the fact that more than a million people have already placed orders for Raspberry Pi, the cheap, credit-card-sized computer developed by Cambridge geeks, which began shipping last week.

So something’s happening: there’s a sense of tectonic plates shifting. But as with most big policy debates, there’s a lot of axe-grinding, lobbying and special pleading going on. Universities want to reverse the decline in applicants for computer science courses. Gaming companies want more programmers. The government wants more high-tech start-ups. Manufacturers want trainees who can design embedded systems. And head teachers want bigger budgets for even more computer labs. And so on.

What’s missing from all this is a big vision. So here’s my shot at one:

Starting in primary school, children from all backgrounds and every part of the UK should have the opportunity to: learn some of the key ideas of computer science; understand computational thinking; learn to program; and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence in these activities.

We’ll get to why this is important and necessary in a moment, but first we need to face up to a painful fact. It is that almost everything we have done over the last two decades in the area of ICT education in British schools has been misguided and largely futile. Instead of educatingchildren about the most revolutionary technology of their young lifetimes, we have focused on training them to use obsolescent software products. And we did this because we fell into what the philosopher Gilbert Ryle would have called a “category mistake” – an error in which things of one kind are presented as if they belonged to another. We made the mistake of thinking that learning about computing is like learning to drive a car, and since a knowledge of internal combustion technology is not essential for becoming a proficient driver, it followed that an understanding of how computers work was not important for our children. The crowning apotheosis of this category mistake is a much-vaunted “qualification” called the European Computer Driving Licence.

What we forgot was that cars don’t run the world, monitor our communications, power our mobile phones, manage our bank accounts, keep our diaries, mediate our social relationships, snoop on our social activities and even – in some countries – count our votes. But networked computers do all of these things, and a lot more besides.

So we need to admit that “ICT in schools” has become a toxic brand. We have to replace it with a subject that is relevant, intellectually sustaining and life-enhancing for students. For want of a better name, let us call it computer science. This is an umbrella term that covers two distinct areas. First a set of key concepts that are essential if schoolchildren are to understand the networked world in which they are growing up. And second, computer science involves a new way of thinking about problem-solving: it’s called computational thinking, and it’s about understanding the difference between human and artificial intelligence, as well as about thinking recursively, being alert to the need for prevention, detection and protection against risks, using abstraction and decomposition when tackling large tasks, and deploying heuristic reasoning, iteration and search to discover solutions to complex problems.

There will be lots of interesting discussions about the key concepts that students will need to understand, but here’s one possible list for starters. Kids need to know about: algorithms (the mathematical recipes that make up programs); cryptography (how confidential information is protected on the net); machine intelligence (how services such as YouTube, NetFlix, Google and Amazon predict your preferences); computational biology (how the genetic code works); search (how we find needles in a billion haystacks); recursion (a method where the solution to a problem depends on solutions to smaller instances of the same problem); and heuristics (experience-based techniques for problem-solving, learning, and discovery).

If these concepts seem arcane to most readers, it’s because we live in a culture that has systematically blindsided them to such ideas for generations. In that sense, CP Snow’s“Two Cultures” are alive and well and living in the UK. And if you think they are too sophisticated to be taught to small children, then that’s because you’ve never seen gifted and imaginative teachers go to work on them. In fact many UK readers in their 30s will have been exposed to recursion, for example, because once upon a time many UK schools taught Logo programming, enabling children to learn how a mechanised turtle could be instructed to carry out complex manoeuvres. But in the end most of those schools gave up teaching Logo and moved backwards to training kids to use Microsoft Word.

Incidentally, the Logo story provides a good illustration of why teaching kids to write computer programs has to be an integral part of any new computer science curriculum. The reason is that there’s no better way of helping someone to understand ideas such as recursion or algorithms than by getting them to write the code that will implement those concepts. That’s why the fashionable mantra that emerged recently – that “code is the new Latin” –is so perniciously clueless. It implies that programming is an engaging but fundamentally useless and optional skill. Latin is an intriguing, but dead, language; computer code is the lingo of networked life – and also, it turns out, of genetic replication.

Another misconception that is currently rife in the debate about a new curriculum is that the primary rationale for it is economic: we need more kids to understand this stuff because our “creative”industries need an inflow of recruits who can write code, which in turn implies our universities need a constant inflow of kids who are turned on by computers. That’s true, of course, but it’s not the main reason why we need to make radical changes in our educational system.

The biggest justification for change is not economic but moral. It is that if we don’t act now we will be short-changing our children. They live in a world that is shaped by physics, chemistry, biology and history, and so we – rightly –want them to understand these things. But their world will be also shaped and configured by networked computing and if they don’t have a deeper understanding of this stuff then they will effectively be intellectually crippled. They will grow up as passive consumers of closed devices and services, leading lives that are increasingly circumscribed by technologies created by elites working for huge corporations such as Google, Facebook and the like. We will, in effect, be breeding generations of hamsters for the glittering wheels of cages built by Mark Zuckerberg and his kind.

Is that what we want? Of course not. So let’s get on with it.

GCSE Students Will Lose Marks For Poor Spelling From September 2012 – How Can We Help Children Improve Their Spelling?

Spelling is costing UK online businesses millions of pounds every year according to a BBC article published last year. A single spelling mistake on a website can halve a company’s online sales. Many employers complain about poor spelling skills in their workforce.

Do your children struggle to spell the simplest of words? Whent, theay, carnt, couldent, gynormus, frend, these are just a few of the common misspelt words I have come across. So have spelling levels decreased, and if so what are the reasons for this?

I have worked with very bright children who still struggle to spell. Poor readers often struggle with spelling and it has often been thought that poor spelling was linked to poor reading. However, I have, over the last 5 years, become more aware that we have strong readers with poor spelling skills. So what are the reasons for this?

I believe that strong readers should result in strong spellers. Children should be encouraged to look at whether a word looks right. In my experience there have been a number of changes in the emphasis of teaching which have influenced children’s experience of spelling

1) a too heavy reliance on phonics both for reading and spelling.

2) a focus away from correcting spellings in favour of creativity.

3) the development of emergent writing at too early an age.

4) a heavier reliance on IT.

Too heavy reliance on phonics

The English language is a phonetically irregular language and there are many exceptions to every rule in English. We have 26 letters of the alphabet which are used to form 44 speech sounds and even then there are several ways of writing the same sound. Take the sound oa, this can be written oa as in boat, oe as in toe, ow as in snow, o as in go or o-e as in hose, just to name a few. If we take the sound er there are also a number of combinations er as in feather, or as in doctor, ir as in girl, a as in banana, ur as in fur, ure as in measure. If, very early on in a child’s learning they are taught that a is for apple, how then can they decode words such as was and said? They learn to read and write phonetically, resulting in ‘sed’. Some children assimilate the rules of reading and spelling and become confident readers and spellers. Many partially move on but still become reliant on a phonetic approach to spelling.

So what is the answer? I have used many spelling programmes over the years. Children need to know the names of the letters of the alphabet and know that these can be arranged in many different ways to create different sounds for reading and spelling. Sometimes the same sound can be made using different letter combinations. I used to have a large THRASS chart in my classroom which was a visual reminder to children that there is more than one way to make a sound when spelling. Vowel sounds cause the most difficulty as there are only 5 letters to make 20 different sounds with. Teaching spellings in word families helps and teaching words with the same sound ie ea words alongside ee words beach, teach, steal, steel, feel. This helps children to learn that they need to remember and learn visually which graphemes (letters) they need for which word. Children often struggle with homophones (words which sound the same but are spelt differently), there, their, they’re. Try pointing these out as they occur in reading or find ways to remember the differences; their with an i in it is to do with a person/ animal, as in I for me, there with the word here in it is to do with place or position. Children need to learn early that English is a phonetically irregular language and therefore phonics can not be applied consistently -either to reading or spelling.

A focus away from correcting spellings in favour of creativity

I believe that failing to correct spellings in favour of creativity is a mistake, it is very difficult to correct misconceptions once they have been ingrained. A child in Year One may write creatively and write the word gigantic as jigantic: if this is uncorrected the child will presume that the spelling is correct and therefore continue to spell it this way. At some point he will be told that the spelling is incorrect and then will have to try to reprogram his brain. I am not saying that we should make children re-write large pieces of writing, but I do believe that the correct word should be written next to the misspelt one to aid with children’s spelling development. High frequency words which are misspelt should be written at the bottom of a child’s piece of work for them to practice (said, went). I believe it is essential to correct spelling misconceptions early.

The development of emergent writing at too early an age.

Children as young as 4 are being encouraged to write. In my opinion this is too early. Many children develop poor pencil grip and handwriting and are left to invent spellings, building misconceptions. Children should become confident readers before they begin to write, that way they have an understanding of how text is constructed, how words look and how punctuation is used. Too often, poor habits are formed early and then these are difficult to break. If children are going to write at an early age, a transcript should be made underneath the child’s writing so that correct spelling and punctuation can be modeled.

A heavier reliance on IT

With a greater reliance on IT in the last 15-20 years we are all relying more on spell checks. Sometimes these fail us as they only pick up misspelt words, not mistyped words. They are also only able to make spelling suggestions if the word is almost spelt correctly. In the UK, exams are still completed as written tasks and in the last few years there has been a greater emphasis on spelling and grammar in the marking of GCSE English papers. From September 2012 5% of marks on GCSE papers in the key subjects will be awarded for spelling, grammar and punctuation and this could make the difference of a grade: End for GCSE modules and spelling, punctuation and grammar marks restored to exams

So what can you do to help your child become a better speller?

1) Always correct misspelt words.

2) Highlight to your child that the letters of the alphabet can be arranged in many different ways to make different sounds and that the same sound can be made using more than one combination.

3) Avoid teaching one letter has one sound.

4) Pay attention to homophones, check these regularly and find ways to remember these.

5) Encourage children to look at whether a word looks right, make the link between reading and spelling, use a dictionary (even an online one) to check words that children are not sure how to spell.

6) Try using a pneumonic to remember tricky words because baby elephants can’t always use scissors easily.

7) Try writing the word in different colours (rainbow spelling) friend

At Kip McGrath Scunthorpe we believe that an over-reliance on phonics is jeopardising children’s abilities to spell proficiently at an early age thereby detrimentally impacting on their life chances. With an increased emphasis on spelling at GCSE level and a steady decline in spelling standards being seen nationwide amongst the adult population it is essential, for both the economy and children as individuals, that students are given all the tools they need in order to become proficient readers and writers. At Kip Mcgrath Scunthorpe we support parents through the use of proven tutoring methods to equip our students with everything they need to read, write and spell accurately and fluently, giving them the best possible start in life..

‘Poor numeracy ‘blights the economy and ruins lives’ – How Can I Help My Child With Their Maths?

News out recently from the BBC News Website suggests that attaining good maths skills is a major problem for millions of people in this country and according to figures quoted in the article the situation is getting worse with just 22% of people surveyed possessing strong enough numeracy skills to gain a good GCSE compared with 26% in 2003. A lack of numeracy ability is blighting individual peoples lives because they are unable to understand their payslips, train timetables or household bills.

Chris Humphries, who is chairman of National Numeracy (a charity launched today that aims to emulate the successes of the National Literacy Trust) and a former chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, says that “15% of Britons studied maths after the age of 16, compared with 50-100% in most developed nations.”  National Numeracy quotes research which indicates that weak maths skills are linked with an array of poor life outcomes such as prison, unemployment, exclusion from school, poverty and long-term illness. He also asserted that “many people could not get jobs because they struggled to read graphs and interpret documents, while plumbers unable to do the calculations required to install an energy-efficient boiler might lose income,”

But there is an even wider issue here as other surveys carried out show that a widespread lack of basic maths skills is also damaging the UK’s economic growth. Mr Humphries referenced research by KPMG auditors which appear to show that annual costs to the public purse amounted to £2.4bn. “We are paying for this in our science, technology and engineering industries, but also in people’s own ability to earn funds and manage their lives,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

TV presenter Carol Vorderman, head of the Conservative Party’s “maths task force”, told BBC News she was “horrified” by more evidence of Britain’s poor maths skills.

So is maths really a foreign language? Mathematics is often described as a universal language. It transcends language barriers. Numbers, Algebra, Fractions, Trigonometry. Do they fill your child with dread? Has Maths always been hard work? For many students in the UK, Mathematics has become a blockage, a stumbling block, a subject which is difficult to make the grade in. So why has mathematics become such a foreign language? And how can we help our chldren gain the valuable skills and confidence they need in maths.

Having worked with hundreds of students struggling to make the grade in Maths I believe there are some essential keys.

1) Students do not have a firm foundation of how the number system works making multiplying and dividing by 10 and 100 weak and working with decimals almost impossible.

2) Tables recall is weak. Most students have not learnt these by rote and those who have found it difficult to acquire tables recall seem unable to use known facts as a starting point. A student who knows the 5 times table should be able to start at 5×7 to work out what 7×7 is.

3) Students are not always given efficient written calculation methods for written calculations. I had an A grade student who was unable to solve a long division problem.

4) Students who have mastered effective written strategies need to move on with their calculating. Whilst a number line for subtraction is great for early mastery of skills it is like stabilisers on a bike; there comes a day when the stabilisers are removed and children are able to ride by themselves. Equally in Maths there comes a day when the early strategies need to be replaced with traditional calculation methods. The grid method is great for 2 digit by 1 digit calculations but to calculate a 3 digit by 3 digit multiplication problem it is time consuming, takes a lot of space and has more room for error than the traditional long multiplication strategy.

5) Division, this is the foundation for all work on fractions, decimals and percentages. I believe that division is introduced too early and not consolidated. The introduction of the chunking method in school has caused much difficulty for children to succeed in this area of mathematics.

6) The mathematics curriculum in the UK moves on very quickly. For many children they have not mastered a skill before they have moved on. The next time this skill is encountered the gaps begin to widen as there is little or no foundation to build on.

So what can be done? Find out what topics are being covered in Maths by your child. Ensure they have got the building blocks needed or that if they have not understood a topic they are able to consolidate this before they revisit it.

Tables recall is key, being able to partition numbers, understanding the place value of each digit they are working with and how this links to the number system as a whole. Being able to double and halve numbers, knowing number bonds to 10 and 20. Having reliable age/ developmental written methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I encounter many GCSE students who do not have efficient and reliable calculation methods.

Check your child understands how the number system works, this reduces concept errors in calculating. Above all children should enjoy mathematics so try to make it fun.

At Kip McGrath Scunthorpe we use proven tution methods that combine both paper and computer based learning activities in order to help our students gain confidence in maths and provide them with the essential numeracy skills they require not just for passing exams but for the rest of their lives. We therefore welcome the announcement of the launch of National Numeracy and the work that they will be doing in encouraging a love of numeracy and a development of people’s numeracy skills and we wholeheartedly agree with the importance of having a high level of basic maths.

Additionally, we note with interest that this Wednesday is World Maths Day as part of the World Education Games which includes a National Spelling Day tomorrow and World Science Day on Thursday. The online competition is open to all school age students and approximately 5.5 million are taking part this year. The deadline for registering for the 2012 games has passed but we will be monitoring the results with interest to see how how the United Kingdom compares with other countries. And we will be actively encouraging our students to participate in next years games.

If you are concerned that your child is lacking in confidence or skills with their maths please call us now to book a FREE assessment or visit our website for more information about how we can help.

Important Information About Changes To GCSE Science Exams

Some time ago, the Government announced that it wished to end the modular style of exams that allow students to take a GCSE in small “chunks”. The main exam organisations, AQA and Edexcel, have now clarified how they will operate the transition to more traditional linear courses (where the student takes all exams at the end of the GCSE course (normally Year 11). These changes will affect how many of our students take exams in the future.

Under the new arrangements, all students currently studying for a modular GCSE will be allowed to complete their courses and take exams for each unit of work (normally 3 units per GCSE). This will include all students currently in Years 10 & 11. It may also include students in Year 9 if they are taking a GCSE unit this academic year (i.e. in May or June 2012). All students who start a GCSE course from September 2012 will be required to study for the linear exam at the end of their two year course.

Will this help my child or not? This is a difficult question. By completing the entire course before taking any exams, the student is likely to gain a better understanding of how the different parts of a subject come together as a whole. On the other hand, many students struggle to retain the breadth of knowledge required from a two year course, especially in the science subjects. Other students find their first experience of GCSE exams daunting. For them the modular style is useful, as they are able to retake a failed module during the two year course. Unfortunately, from September 2014, there will be very limited opportunities to retake GCSE exams. A single resit will be permitted in Maths and English, but only in the November of each year. In all other cases, a failed exam at the end of Year 11 will require a new exam entry the following summer, often after the student has moved on to college or Sixth Form.

What can I do to help my child? The new exam arrangements mean that good preparation and revision is more important than ever. If a student is not predicted to achieve the exam results they require, then it is important to get professional help and additional tuition as soon as possible.

Maths Tutors Scunthorpe – Maths Is it a Foreign Language?

Maths. Is it a foreign language? Mathematics is often described as a universal language. It transcends language barriers. Numbers, Algebra, Fractions, Trigonometry. Do they fill your child with dread? Has Maths always been hard work? For many students in the UK, Mathematics has become a blockage, a stumbling block, a subject which is difficult to make the grade in. So why has mathematics become such a foreign language?

Having worked with hundreds of students struggling to make the grade in Maths I believe there are some essential keys.

1) Students do not have a firm foundation of how the number system works making multiplying and dividing by 10 and 100 weak and working with decimals almost impossible.

2) Tables recall is weak. Most students have not learnt these by rote and those who have found it difficult to acquire tables recall seem unable to use known facts as a starting point. A student who knows the 5 times table should be able to start at 5×7 to work out what 7×7 is.

3) Students are not always given efficient written calculation methods for written calculations. I had an A grade student who was unable to solve a long division problem.

4) Students who have mastered effective written strategies need to move on with their calculating. Whilst a number line for subtraction is great for early mastery of skills it is like stabilisers on a bike; there comes a day when the stabilisers are removed and children are able to ride by themselves. Equally in Maths there comes a day when the early strategies need to be replaced with traditional calculation methods. The grid method is great for 2 digit by 1 digit calculations but to calculate a 3 digit by 3 digit multiplication problem it is time consuming, takes a lot of space and has more room for error than the traditional long multiplication strategy.

5) Division, this is the foundation for all work on fractions, decimals and percentages. I believe that division is introduced too early and not consolidated. The introduction of the chunking method in school has caused much difficulty for children to succeed in this area of mathematics.

6) The mathematics curriculum in the UK moves on very quickly. For many children they have not mastered a skill before they have moved on. The next time this skill is encountered the gaps begin to widen as there is little or no foundation to build on.

So what can be done? Find out what topics are being covered in Maths by your child. Ensure they have got the building blocks needed or that if they have not understood a topic they are able to consolidate this before they revisit it.

Tables recall is key, being able to partition numbers, understanding the place value of each digit they are working with and how this links to the number system as a whole. Being able to double and halve numbers, knowing number bonds to 10 and 20. Having reliable age/ developmental written methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I encounter many GCSE students who do not have efficient and reliable calculation methods.

Check your child understands how the number system works, this reduces concept errors in calculating. Above all children should enjoy mathematics so try to make it fun.

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