Don't teach it like Beckham or you'll never pass at maths

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The Independent Online

It is the moment that gives parents sweaty flashbacks to their school days of exam hall panic: when their child asks for help with homework. But beleaguered mothers and fathers have received encouraging words from a most unlikely source.

Even David Beckham's harshest critics might be surprised to learn that the England captain has admitted that he cannot understand his six-year-old son's maths questions. "Their homework is so hard these days," he said. "I sat down with Brooklyn the other day - and I was like, 'Victoria, maybe you should do the homework tonight'."

The Real Madrid midfielder and England captain said in an interview with The Mail on Sunday: "It's totally done differently to what I was teached [sic] when I was at school, and, you know, I was like, 'Oh my God, I can't do this'." He offered to read his son a book instead.

Brooklyn, who will be seven on Saturday, attends £1,200-a-term Runnymede College in Madrid, an exclusive British school that requires prospective pupils to score at least 110 in an IQ test. It follows the national curriculum, so he will sit his key stage one tests in maths and English this summer. Typical tasks include calculating the cost of two items on sale, understanding simple graphs and drawing shapes.

Beckham's admission, however embarrassing, is likely to strike a chord with many parents.

Parents' and teachers' groups bemoan the British education system's obsession with constantly examining children's performance, arguing that it breeds "teaching to the test" - stifling creativity and discussion from an early age. Last year, almost two-thirds of parents surveyed admitted helping their children with GCSE coursework.

Both of Brooklyn's parents have struggled to learn Spanish since they moved from Manchester to Madrid in June 2003, and there appears little danger of exam chiefs disqualifying him for paternal interference.

The comments by his father, who left Chingford High in Essex at 16 after failing his GCSEs, hardly help undermine the stereotype that the beautiful game is full of "thickos". Educational psychologists say, however, that writing footballers off as stupid should be recognised as the ersatz loathing always likely to be aimed at the young, talented, pretty and rich.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the University of Buckingham's Centre for Education and Employment Research, believes IQ has a significant environmental component. A comparison with sport is helpful: without exercise, you become mentally flabby and performance dips. That would explain why many highly literate adults struggle with simple multiplication or division, despite having scored high marks at school.

Education and intelligence are two different things, according to Dr Steve Blinkhorn, a psychologist who designs psychometric tests. Aside from possessing the technical competence to perfectly strike a curling ball into the top corner of the net from 30 yards out, the best football players "can see the possible range of consequences" of their actions on the field of play.

"They have a plan that goes beyond the mere next contact with the ball. Really intelligent performance is not purely down to cognitive capacity," he said.