Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 09 Oct 2008

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?

Hillary's Advice

First of all, stop panicking and 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.

But it is surprisingly hard for teachers to find subject brush-up courses, as Martin Stephen, high master of St Paul’s School, in London, recently pointed out. Leadership skills or behaviour management? Yes, tons of them. Plain old subject refresher courses? Barely a sprinkling.

Not that you would attend a course by the sound of it, since you are, you say, reluctant for your colleagues to know just how poor your maths skills are.

So make your starting point the excellent website of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics ( where you will find lots of information about the new secondary school maths programmes that launched this September. There’s a sample year eight curriculum, video clips of good teaching and learning, plus bags of professional development courses, conferences and online networking.

Also go to Bowland Maths ( which produces materials for 11-14-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 off to a flying start.