What does your child do when they are stuck at school?

Hands Up

Do you remember when you were stuck at school and you didn’t know what to do next? What did you do? It seems such a long time ago for me and there is something telling me that I would put my hand up. The point is that I can’t actually remember doing that. I think that in reality I would just write anything. Anything was better than nothing.

So what does your child do when they are stuck at school?

Have you ever asked them? If you have then do they actually tell you what they do?

The point that I am making is that being stuck affects different people in different ways. Some people will not handle it well, whereas some may see it as part of the learning process. Those who see it as part of the learning process may even quote ‘neural pathways’. I would guess that most children do not know about this or understand what it is. This is another area for discussion and is digressing from the point that I wish to discuss.

The following is based on my experience of seeing when children are stuck and talking to them about it. My experience is based around the subject that I teach – mathematics. I am very lucky to be able to teach mathematics and for children to openly express how they feel about the subject and what they do when they are stuck.

Some children will put their hand up in class. The reasons for this may be to answer a question, to ask a question or to ask for help. Some children will not under any circumstances put their hand up in class. Reasons can be that they don’t want the attention, classmates may mimic or make fun of them or they just don’t want to advertise to the whole class that they cannot do the work.

For many children putting their hand up in class is a clear indication that they are stupid and that they cannot understand the work. When I have been teaching I have got to know my pupils and I know who will not ask for help so I would always ask how they were doing with the work and I would look at their books. There are of course time constraints on how much help I could give to individuals but I would do my best.

I have actually met pupils who will not put their hand up in an exam hall even when it is only for a pencil because they think that they will be seen by others and labelled as stupid. This did really shock me!

Does your child ask a friend for help? Pupils told me that they would rather ask a friend for help than a teacher. This is actually a positive step and can benefit both pupils.

Will your child go to see their teacher for help in their own time such as after school? Teachers are under increasing pressure and may not be available because of meetings or clubs.

Some children will ask their parents for help, but my experience of this is that it is quite a rare thing to happen. I remember my father trying to help me with long division and I remember him becoming very irritated with me and angry that I didn’t understand what he was doing.

Another point to mention is the child who is so good at maths and gets the top grades. Imagine this child when they actually find something that they cannot do. They are not used to being stuck and they will adopt a coping strategy. How many times have I heard, “The work is too easy. I can’t be bothered.” Very able children are good at disguising when they have difficulties.

Ok, so I have mentioned a few possibilities for what your child could do when they are stuck. The bottom line is, “Do they get unstuck?” This is all about understanding and if you read a previous blog of mine I mention Instrumental and Relational Understanding. What happens if your child does not get the understanding that is needed? How do you know? Do you wait for test results? What can you do to help? The most common opinion that I have heard from parents is that maths is so different these days and not how it was when I was at school.

Many parents are turning to tutors for help. The advantage is that when I tutor a child I can find out where the gaps are in understanding and help them. Often a lack of understanding stems from confidence and my aim is to build this up. I will adopt a ‘can do’ attitude through successes. Another reason for a lack of understanding could be a loss of concentration in class. This could be because of a short attention span, thinking about what to have for lunch or any of the multitude of emotional reasons. Absence is also a reason for a lack of understanding because vital work may have been missed.

My job as a tutor is forensic. I find topics that need to be improved on. Sometimes it is necessary to go right back to the beginning because that is where to problem could start from.

If you would like to benefit from my online maths tutoring then please do contact me. You have everything to gain.

Time for GCSE Maths mocks


Yes, it is that time of year isn’t it? Most schools will be holding the mock exams for Year 11 in December. Some will already have taken them and I know that there are schools that will have mock exams in January.

It doesn’t really matter which of these dates the schools hold their mocks on for the purpose of this article. I am going to focus on the mock exam, Mathematics in particular and the actions that arise from this event.

First of all let’s look at the purpose of mock exams.

As a student it tells me how I am doing and gives me the experience of sitting in an exam hall. During the build up I may have revised and it will give me an opportunity to evaluate how effective this has been.

As a teacher it is a very powerful way of assessing where the individual is and where my class on the whole are in their application of the learning. It will show me in general where there are common points for improvement and where the strengths are. I can focus on any misconceptions that have arisen and work at sorting them out.

As a Head of Maths mocks give me an insight into how the whole year are doing and if we are likely to achieve our target. I have time to put support into place for those students and teachers who may need it.

As an Assistant Headteacher the results of the mocks would form a basis for my line management meetings with the Head of Maths. We would form a strategy for achieving our target and this action plan would be a working document that would be monitored.

This is a brief guide and I could add lots more. Of course it may be different in many schools. This paints a picture of how it has been or should have been in schools that I have known or worked in. I must add that schools have much more data on their children to inform their judgements.

Now, I am a parent and I see my child in the run up to the mocks. I know when they are because I have a copy of the school calendar. The school also send me emails and texts to remind me. I ask about the mocks and my child reassures me. There can be many reasons here that may range from going to revision classes, working with a friend to working in their room every evening. The level of engagement will vary according to the individual.

Year 11 can be such a stressful time for parents. You want your child to do well and can only go off the information that you are given at that time.

Mock results day. Some schools will give results out just as if the exams were the real thing. Time for joy or tears? Joy is good – remember that feeling and don’t become complacent. I always say that complacency is like a sleeping crocodile. It can bit you when you are not prepared. I believe that crocodiles sleep with one eye open. Tears are sad. The job now is to find out why and to move on looking for improvement as we go.

Often a Parents’ Evening will follow and it is your chance to meet the Teacher. How long do you get? Five minutes? There could be a class of 30 students so work out 30 multiplied by 5 minutes. Well, I work it out to be 150 minutes or 2 hours 30 minutes. If the Parents’ Evening starts at 4pm then it will end at 6:30pm. This is not at all realistic because some Parents will take up more than 5 minutes. The teacher may also have two Year 11 classes. I have had many late Parents’ Evenings, which have been great but exhausting.

The teacher will try to tell you as much as they can within the 5 minute slot and you will ask questions. What do you want to know? Write down questions before hand. You may ask how you can support your child with their Maths. Many Parents will ask this knowing full well that they may not have the subject knowledge. Even when they do I have heard, “They do Maths differently to when I was at school”. Despair can quickly set in and Parents can feel totally helpless. This can be an awful feeling.

Many schools do a great job and I have met so many dedicated Teachers who don’t just do their job. They go the extra mile and will support their students so that they do achieve their potential. I have done this as a Teacher, a Head of Maths and an Assistant Headteacher. I always believed that ‘Every Lesson Matters’, and ‘Every Minute Matters’. The education of every student is a partnership and Parents do want to be involved. Schools do involve Parents in this journey to success, so what more can be done?

One thing that I have always encouraged is when a child gets a tutor. When this has happened to me as a Teacher I have welcomed it because it shows a statement of intent  by Parents. Of course I need to know that the tutor is going to reinforce the work that I am doing and will not undermine me. That has never happened. I have also wanted to know that the tutor has qualifications because any bad education can do damage and I care about my students. I have been able to send tests home with the student and the tutors have worked with me to improve understanding.

The point to make now is, “Why wait until the mocks?

The sooner that you start with tuition the better. When I tutor someone I can give feedback whenever the Parent wants it. I can highlight areas that need to be built up and we can practise those difficult topics. In the space of one hour I can cover much more than a Teacher will do because we will be focussed for the duration of the lesson. If I detect a misunderstanding then I will correct it and keep checking to see that it stays corrected.

All of my students increase in confidence and many start to enjoy doing the Maths. As they find their understanding improving they see their test results improve and this has such a positive effect. I have had students who are exceptional and even they benefit by the challenges that I set them.

I do advocate tuition, which is why I am now a Maths Tutor. However, I am a Maths Tutor with a difference. I am an Online Maths Tutor which means that I can tutor anyone in the world. All that they need is a computer with a webcam and a mouse. The mouse is used for writing on my electronic paper and some students may use a drawing tablet. Headphones would be good because they will stop any distracting noises. Finally they will need a good internet connection, otherwise we can get crackling on the audio.

I believe that tuition gets results and what better way to do it than online? No one has to travel anywhere and I have so may online resources that help me, which I would not have if I traveled to students’ houses. I can copy and paste work into the electronic paper and see the student write on the paper. The whole session can then be saved as a pdf and emailed to them.

Why wait for the mocks? Be proactive and contact me know. Join me in the future of Global Online Maths Tutoring.

The world is getting smaller

Throughout my life I have always heard people say that the world is getting smaller. As time progresses that statement changes in its meaning.

I remember the Concorde plane flying across the Atlantic Ocean at supersonic speed. There were the first planes to fly from London to Australia non stop. Television broadcasts from Australia stopped having six second delays in between people speaking. All of these have contributed towards ‘The world getting smaller’ and I am sure that you may have your own examples.

My own experience of the world getting smaller has to be one of communication. It is around five years ago that I had a Facetime call to Thailand and there was no time delay. Since then I have used Skype but I tended to be frustrated by the quality of the audio. The next step was to use Line for video calls, but now I have something different.

Last month I was introduced to Zoom. This is for video conferencing and I have taken part in a video conference this week. I was at home in Surbiton in the UK and we had people in Bristol, Tyneside in the North East of the UK and Poland. That was my first video conference and it amazes me. I know that other people have conferences with colleagues in the USA, such as my son, but this was my first.

I am using Zoom to connect with the son of some friends in Wrexham. He is currently in Year 11 and I am tutoring him for his GCSE Mathematics exam. We connect once a week at the same time and I also use Bitpaper, which is best described as an electronic sheet of paper. I open Bitpaper in Chrome and when I share the URL for my sheet with my student we can both write on it. I can paste questions onto the Bitpaper for my student to do and I can see his every move as he works it out. It is just as if we are sitting in the same room. He is 200 miles away so I am thinking that the world is getting smaller.

This means that I can now tutor anyone in the world in Mathematics. They need a computer, audio, preferably a webcam, a mouse (to write with) and a decent internet connection. That is exactly what I intend to do: Global Online Mathematics Tuition. The internet has made my world much smaller and my market place has just expanded tremendously.

In the ‘old days’ teachers would advertise on a card in the window of the local newsagent for tuition and they would travel to their students. Some still do that, but not anymore for me. If you live in New Zealand, Australia, China, Thailand, India, The Middle East, Europe, Africa, USA, Russia or anywhere on this globe then I can tutor you in Mathematics. Isn’t that exciting? If you really want me to travel to you then we could come to an arrangement, but all that we have to do is connect on Zoom.

Now that is powerful and my reason for saying that the world is getting smaller.

How to develop maths resources that challenge students to think

This blog originally appeared via EdComs Teachers.

How to develop maths resources that challenge students to think

By Guest blogger: Gordon Brough

Thursday October 19, 2017

When I first started out as a teacher, I always made my own resources and that’s a habit I have continued throughout my teaching career.

From 1990 onwards, I worked full-time as a maths teacher in comprehensive schools around the country. My roles have included maths teacher, Head of Mathematics and Assistant Head, with experience of schools in Essex, Havering, Knowsley, Liverpool and Thurrock. I have always managed to improve results in maths at each of these schools, often achieving the best ever results in that school’s history.

Nowadays I author maths materials and deliver training courses for teachers nationally. I try to apply all of that experience when developing new resources, particularly focusing on how maths can do more to challenge students.

Since I started teaching, my approach to developing resources has changed quite a bit! In the early days my worksheets were produced using a spirit duplicating machine, also known as a Banda machine. The technology we have now is incredible, and much better for producing good-looking worksheets. Of course, that experience has also helped to improve the quality of my resources over time.

I have noticed that some maths teachers will make the work difficult by using larger numbers or decimals when producing worksheets. I used to do that years ago, but I have progressed to focus more on the promotion of thinking skills.

This isn’t necessarily an easy task – not least because some students do not want to think! They may want to simply get the correct answer and then move on. But the educational benefit of that approach can be limited.

Teaching with a purpose

I believe maths teachers must make an important decision about the resources they are going to produce. Please pause and ask yourself: What is the aim of this resource? Is it to enable learning, teach a topic or practice a technique? Every resource that you produce needs a strong answer to that age-old conundrum: Why?

There is also a question about familiarity and repetition when producing resources. Most teachers will use worksheets to supplement textbooks, which is good because pupils will quickly get fed up with one particular resource. However, you need to make sure there’s variety to your own supplementary materials. In the same way you can ruin your favourite meal by eating it every day, teachers can face falling engagement if they’re over-reliant on a single textbook, resource or worksheet.

The same can be said about work that is repetitious in general. This can be a common objection when teaching maths, so it’s important to ensure variety and relatability of your resources. That objection is also one of the reasons why I have shifted towards promoting thinking skills.

Teach pupils to think beyond the right answer

Here are some examples I use when training teachers about how to diversify their maths problems.

When I’m writing a resource about time, I use a clock face and ask for the time shown. The clock face can be used to challenge students’ ability in different ways.

  • First the clock face has just four numbers: 3, 6, 9, 12. This would be a standard setup.
  • The next clock face does not have any numerals, or it’s reflected in a mirror or a shop window.
  • Can students respond to the same challenge, but without the additional information?
  • For example, can they tell me the correct time when the minute hand is missing, and only the hour hand is showing the time?

Often children are asked questions such as 4 x 3 = ? Or they may be asked to find the factors of 12. However, from a different angle we can ask:

  • Using the numbers 1 to 4 only once, find the largest possible answer to oo x o
  • Find how many numbers under 30 there are with exactly six factors.

This process can be applied to lots of different scenarios. By removing information, we’re illustrating how you can arrive at the correct answer using different methods. These are problem-solving skills that may seem simple, but they are vital life skills for a range of subjects and careers.

By re-focusing on the process you go through to get the correct answer, rather than the correct answer in isolation, I believe we can better support students in developing vital problem solving-skills.


Gordon Brough is a business coach, trainer, entrepreneur and maths teacher. With 25 years of teaching experience, he has trained PGCE students, been a tutor for The Open University and gained degrees in Mathematics, Mathematics & Economics and Education Leadership & Management.

Follow Gordon on Twitter @gordon_brough

This blog originally appeared via EdComs Teachers.

Instrumental and Relational Understanding

One week ago I gave a presentation at the maths conference in Sheffield. 400 maths teachers signed up for the event and over 90 of these were in my presentation. There were of course other presentations on at the same time.

The focus for my presentation was Instrumental Understanding and Relational Understanding by Richard Skemp. In order to cover what I wanted I only discussed his article from 1976 and my aim was to provoke thinking amongst my audience. This was a time for reflection on how we teach with reference to an article from 41 years ago.

Instrumental Understanding can be thought of as ‘Rules without reasons’. An example of this is when a quick fix is given so that the pupil is able to get the correct answers. The problem with this is that they don’t always know why it works and they can’t apply the rule to different situations. I gave examples involving multiplying two digits by two digits, the addition of fractions and solving equations.

When I was at school I remember that I was taught a whole bunch of rules but I didn’t know why they worked and I couldn’t apply them if the questions were slightly different. Yes, I was the product of Instumental teaching and I admitted that I have used this in my teaching. I have used it to get results when time is short, especially when an exam is imminent.

I gave a meaning to ‘Relational Understanding’ as ‘Knowing what to do and why’. My examples of multiplication, adding fractions and solving equations were taken right back to basics and I offered ‘concrete ways of teaching these. I used Dienes Blocks, Cuisenaire Rods and Algebra Tiles to illustrate relational understanding. In an ideal world this is great but do the pressures of having to get through the curriculum stop us doing this?

The objective of the presentation was to get the teachers to think about what they are doing and the learning that is taking place in their classrooms. I had quite a few conversations with teachers afterwards and I believe that the objective was achieved.

Challenge for Chef Brough

It is just over 3 years ago that this photograph was taken.

Second from the left is Gordon Brough who was the visiting chef for the evening. Yes that was me and I was cooking Thai food for my friend Darius, in his restaurant.

Each dish that I cooked was fresh. I could have just made big pots of food and ladelled it out but the result would have been awful. The food would have been mushy just like I have seen in some cafeterias or one of the ‘Sunday Roasts’ that some pubs do very badly. My food has to be fresh and authentic when I cook Thai. The Thai’s that I know are very fussy about their food and so it has to be to a high standard.

I used only the freshest vegetables, which I bought from a Thai supermarket in Chiswick, London. I was so pleased to be able to get both Thai aubergines, kaffir lime leaves and Thai sweet basil. They didn’t have holy basil but I didn’t need it for my food. My Thai food has to be authentic. That is the philosophy of the chefs who train me.

I have worked with Darius in his kitchen before but that has been with him in charge and he is amazing. He creates a high energy just like so many chefs and if the food is not up to his standard then it doesn’t go out. This time I am the chef and Darius switched roles brilliantly. He showed a keen interest in everything that I was doing; from the prep to service.

The evening went so well and one of the diners who was a Thai lady commented on how authentic the food was. Some people came to the kitchen to say how much they had enjoyed their meals which was really nice. It is strange how I find compliments difficult to take even though I am flattered by them.

Before I became busy in the kitchen I managed to get out into the restaurant and speak to some of the diners. I was able to introduce myself and it gave me the chance to explain the food to the customers. I also welcomed the opportunity to get to know some of the people personally. This is something that I encourage restaurant owners to do when I have coached them.

The photograph was taken at the end of the evening and we were exhausted. I always am at the end of a service but this was different. I had cooked 86 individual Thai meals and it was great. I love challenges, especially when it involves working outside my comfort zone. I am constantly telling people that their next success lies outside their comfort zone and I do my best to help them.

I love the feeling when I have achieved something and I am thinking about what my next challenge will be. Watch this space to find out.

Customer Service

Yesterday I was in Holland and Barrett in Chelmsford. As I walked in a male member of staff said hello to me. I responded because I think that it is rude not to do so and really – why should I be rude?

As I was looking at the jars of vitamins etc the same male came up to me and asked me in a really unobtrusive way if he could help me. Well actually he could and I asked my question. He tried his best and then he got a lady who could have been the manager to help me.

I was made to feel important in this store and I thanked everyone individually. I also told the lady that the man was so helpful.

Furthermore, I tweeted using #customerservice and I got a lovely reply.

This is not the first time that I have commented on excellent customer service. I have tweeted about Enterprise in Warrington and Homebase in Chelmsford.

For me customer service is paramount for the success of a business. The people who come into contact with customers actually hold the future of the company in their hands and every business should realise this and invest in their people.

I will go back to the companies that I have mentioned above because of the way that I was made to feel and I will praise other people who show great customer service.

What is the customer service like in your business? What do you do to make your customers return?