12 July 2020

Catching Up?

There's been a lot of panic in the media about 'an entire generation' being behind in maths. We know this is not the case. In maths we are lucky to be way ahead of the game with online learning (we are blessed with Hegarty Maths and numerous other excellent systems), and I'm not convinced that students who have completed the online work set on these platforms (or elsewhere) throughout lockdown will be particularly far behind. And how is 'behind' even being defined here anyway?

Admittedly some students have done absolutely no maths whatsoever for the last few months. In secondary schools, where most students should be able to access work at home independently, these 'non-engagers' mainly fit into two categories 1. those who have struggled to access the work due to a lack of devices at home, or no quiet workspace and 2. those who have chosen to stay in bed/play games/watch Netflix/do TikTok dances all day instead of doing their maths work. The former group are a concern, but schools will have been doing all they can to support these students during lockdown (providing paper resources, lending school laptops etc). The latter group are likely to be the exact same students who choose to do the minimum possible during normal times too, so it's pretty much just been business as usual for them. 

Either way, we all know that it's perfectly possibly to catch these students up. In some schools, it's pretty normal for a maths teacher to take over a class at the start of Year 11 who haven't had a proper maths teacher since Year 8. They can catch up. We all know students who do very little work in the whole of Key Stage 3. They can catch up. Every year pretty much every student we teach seems to have forgotten everything over summer. They can catch up. Admittedly we face challenges, particularly with the current Year 10s. And we face complications in our schools - it's not ideal that many of us will be temporarily losing our usual rooms and teaching group structures. 

But it's all achievable, with a bit of hard work (from both us and our students). People need to calm down with this 'entire generation behind' story - it doesn't help anyone. I wish they would start trusting that teachers can handle this. This isn't the first time we've had gaps to fill. 

Anyway, as the weird times continue, I thought it might help to share a few of the questions that maths teachers have been asking lately. I know this is too late for the teachers who are already on their summer holidays, but I can't be the only one who still has a week to go!

1. What transition materials can we give to Year 6s who will be joining us in September?
Sparx have made their Secondary Ready online course freely available until September. I think parents of Year 6 students would really appreciate knowing that this is available. It's not too late to tell them about it.

In Gems 129 I also shared a lovely induction booklet designed by @MissJHE_, full of puzzles and activities and getting to know their new maths teachers. There's still time to share something like this with your incoming Year 7s if you haven't already.

2. Some parents are asking us to continue setting work for our students over summer. What can we give them?
Many students will not be going on holiday this summer and will be at home more than usual, so some parents at our school have asked for summer work to help them keep busy in the months ahead. We don't want to set any compulsory summer work for our students - many of them will need a break from screens as much as we do - but through our newsletter we have made some suggestions, including the following:
In case you're interested in how we present this information to parents, this is the page that is going to appear in our school newsletter this week.

3. How can we make sure our Year 11s are prepared for A level in September?
There's an abundance of resources available for this, and many have featured in my Gems posts over the last four months. Packages available include those from the AMSP, SAMI and Colin Hegarty. Most Year 11s will already be engaged in this bridging work. Any Year 11 who has been sitting around doing nothing since March may not be right for A level maths - a good work ethic and an enthusiasm for maths are both key to success on this course. Every year an element of early testing and intervention is necessary, and this year will be no different.

4. I need more work for my own children. What's available?
My daughters are in Year 1 and Year 3 and their schools have done a fantastic job during lockdown. I've wanted both daughters to do a little bit extra maths throughout, so have found a few additional resources. We will continue to use a few of these every now and then over summer so they don't forget everything! Here is just a small selection of the resources available:
  • The NCETM has produced maths videos for primary children which feature excellent explanations and activities.
  • White Rose Maths also has a fantastic home learning package which can be accessed for £20. Each daily video has an accompanying worksheet. 
  • White Rose Maths has produced a range of free work booklets for parents and children to use over the summer.
  • Corbett Primary 5-a-day is great for retrieval practice. My Year 3 daughter does the Bronze ones and loves them!
  • My older daughter also loves Times Tables Rockstars, which can be bought directly by families for children whose schools don't subscribe. Unfortunately Numbots is not yet available to families, otherwise it would have been top of my list.
  • There are lots of great apps for young children including Numberblocks, DragonBox Numbers, Hit The Button and Sumaze Primary. And for secondary students there's Sumaze, DragonBox, IXL and plenty more.
White Rose Maths Parent Workbooks

Throughout lockdown both my daughters used English workbooks that I'd bought them online - I found these really helpful. It was good to give them a break from screens every now and then. I had also bought them some maths workbooks aimed at their age but they were really dull, and I don't think they were anywhere near as good as their English equivalents so we barely used them. In hindsight perhaps I should have bought the Power Maths practice books instead.

5. Do I need to re-write my schemes of work for September?
To some extent this depends on what you chose to do during lockdown. My school kept delivering new content throughout lockdown (mainly using Hegarty Maths) so we are in the same place topic-wise as we would have been anyway. Of course we will have some students who didn't do much, and there will be some who did all the work but picked up some misconceptions along the way. At my school we will be addressing this by revisiting our 'lockdown topics' using our usual retrieval starters. Where I usually do the 'last topic, last lesson, last week, last year' style retrieval activities, my department now has a pre-determined list of the lockdown topics that must be included in these starters. And we expect that we might have to spend a bit longer on these activities. It's hard to know at the moment, but we will quickly work it all out using our professional judgement once we have our classes in front of us. 

For those schools who didn't deliver any new content during lockdown and only set revision for students, presumably a scheme of work re-jig will be necessary. And for those who are now having to teach in mixed attainment tutor groups due the the 'year group bubble' rules, check out Helen Hindle's website Mixed Attainment Maths for some guidance and example lessons.

We have a lot of preparation to do for next year and we know it will be a challenge. There's always something to keep us on our toes though, right? Whatever situation you're in, just remember: our students will catch up. We've got this. 


  1. I'd highly recommend www.transum.org

    It's free to use and comes with loads of self-marking activities.

    Here is a sample of what's available:


    A list for secondary/high school:

    Here's a typical self-marking exercise, for HCF and LCM:

    and here's some fun with factor trees:

    This website is an absolute treasure trove.
    Enjoy !

  2. "The latter group are likely to be the exact same students who choose to do the minimum possible during normal times too, so it's pretty much just been business as usual for them."
    Probably a bit harsh: there are students who would have done work in lessons in a structured environment but aren't yet mature enough to self-organise.
    But I agree with the overall sentiment of the post.

    1. The students I'm referring to are those who are choosing not to work (i.e. those who are able to work perfectly fine, but are deciding to play computer games all day instead. We all know they exist!). In general, they are the same students who we have to hassle to do homework, hassle to work in class etc. Some teenagers are incredibly lazy, others work incredibly hard - making excuses for the lazy ones doesn't help anyone. Sure, there will be some students who for SEN or mental health reasons couldn't cope with the lack of structure, but that's clearly not who I'm referring to here. I'm talking about those who know they should be working and are perfectly capable of doing so (we should have high expectations of them) and choose not to bother.

    2. On reflection - apologies for coming across as hard in my post. Not my intention. Sorry.