Education Quandary: 'I am a geographer who has been asked to teach some maths classes at my school. How can I brush up my rusty skills fast?'

Click to follow

Hilary's advice

First of all, stop panicking and try to draw confidence from the fact that maths teachers themselves have recently been criticised for poor and inadequate maths knowledge – you are not alone in your rusty skills.

Indeed, it is surprisingly hard for teachers to find courses to update their knowledge, as Dr Martin Stephen, High Master of St Paul's School, in London, has pointed out. If you want to improve your leadership skills or learn about behaviour management, say, there are plenty of courses to choose from, but there is barely a sprinkling of subject refresher courses.

Not that you would attend such a course, by the sound of it, as you are, you say, reluctant for your colleagues to know just how poor your maths skills currently are. So you should make your starting point the website of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (www.ncetm., where you will find plenty of information about the new secondary-school maths programmes that launched this September. There's a sample Year 8 curriculum, video clips of good teaching and learning, plus professional development courses, conferences and online networking.

Also, you could go to Bowland Maths (, which produces materials for 11- to 14-year-olds designed to develop confidence in and enjoyment of maths through problems such as investigating how fast a pizza cools or looking into the geometry of dance. The materials emphasise thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills, and offer an entirely new approach to school maths, developed out of a close analysis of what was wrong with existing maths teaching, and tailored to the new curriculum.

Get your head around these materials and you will be off to a flying start.

Readers' advice

This teacher has got completely the wrong end of the stick. Rather than cram a maths-teaching qualification before teaching the pupils, they should be looking at what is actually happening here. It is totally unacceptable for a geography teacher with no real maths skills to be teaching this lesson to children who are in the formative years of their education.

Our education system should not be putting a right shoe on to the left foot – how would this teacher feel if the same pupils were given their geography lesson by the drama teacher, say?

The teacher should turn around to the school, and refuse to teach for the sake of their own integrity, and for the children in question. The school should then look at ways of getting the right person in place to teach this subject properly, or at the very least an interim supply teacher with the correct qualifications.

Tom Christophers, Surrey

You should do what all teachers do when they are flying by the seat of their pants: mug it up lesson by lesson. Your school is asking you to do something you're not trained to do, so they can't expect miracles.

Neil Byte, Doncaster

Your query highlights exactly why we took our daughter out of the state system two years ago. At that time she was falling badly behind in maths, science and French. However, the school said she was doing well in her class. Since moving, she has made remarkable progress. This is a problem that the Government must address.

Jean Lontana, Cheshire

Next Week's Quandary

We have to move north in the New Year because of my husband's work, and where we live will depend on finding a good primary school for our children. But we have just read that this year's league tables are not going to be available in time for us to use. We feel very angry. How can we make a good decision without having any up-to-date information?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at, and can be searched by topic