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The case for a support system

Q) Countless times I have told our Senco that support staff should have a copy of maths lesson plans in advance so that we are able to support pupils properly and ask for help or research topics that we find difficult. How do you suggest that I make the maths department aware of the pressures and seek their help?

A) First, have a meeting with other members of your team to create a discussion paper for the SEN and maths departments on "Help support the teaching support". Summarise your meeting under these headings:

* Difficulties in providing expert support in maths.

* Particular areas of maths that cause concern.

* Provision of maths inset.

* What to provide in terms of advance lesson plans.

* Networking with other schools on these issues.

Send a copy to both the Senco and the head of maths, requesting that this be discussed at department meetings - and add that you or another member of your team would be happy to attend. This way you will be able to voice your concerns directly and ensure a positive outcome.

One possibility is to have a series of inset workshops to help with concepts that the team have difficulty with. This is a two-way process, as the support can make the teacher aware of some of the problems as well as giving suggestions for delivery. The provision of workshops is fraught with snags. Maths staff need to be timetabled for these sessions, which would have to take place out of normal school time, or pupils would be left without their support entitlement. Does the school pick up the tab for extra hours that the support team puts in out-of-school? I can hear you saying you would attend without remuneration as it would be helpful, but is this fair? The process can, therefore, be expensive for the school. As you are aware, there are often a large number of support staff who are on temporary contracts, which can lead to a high turnover - new team members would also need training.

Advance lesson plans are important to the teaching support. I suggest that these should include answers to exercises and should highlight common misconceptions that might occur in the lesson. This initially takes time for the teacher, especially for an NVQ who will be creating lesson plans from scratch - and more time if the syllabus changes or a new scheme is developed. This is where the maths and SEN departments need to work closely together and request inset time. It is really important to build a resource bank of materials that can be taken into each lesson for the support teacher's reference, but, as you say, this only works if you know the content of the lesson - otherwise you would need a supermarket trolley to be well prepared.

Your letter prompted a poem:

Support teacher's dilemma

"You are with Henry today"

I heard the Senco say.

Then came the worst -

"It's mathematics first"

Henry's a really nice lad

And it wouldn't be so bad

If only it was understood

That the maths teachers should

Give us enough time to scan

The impending lesson plan.

This must be well in advance

Providing us with the chance

To learn the mysteries that lurk

In that particular lesson's work.

Can you imagine sitting there,

Supporting a pupil where

They ask you what to do

When there's an answer to pursue.

You shouldn't be caught

Not able to support.

Maths teachers should be aware

That really to be fair

They should let us know

How the lesson will go.

So given the maths preview

We then have time to review

The difficulties that might arise

From each maths exercise.

Q) A pupil asked me today why quadratic equations were so called. We are all puzzled as quad usually has to do with four.

A) A senior lecturer in maths at Oxford University wrote: "I don't know for a fact why they're called quadratic, though I would guess it is because if one tries to view a quadratic equation in geometrical terms one ends up thinking about a four-sided object, particularly a square.

"This is really just a guess, though I have just consulted Lancelot Hogben's Mathematics for the Million (p315), and he says the same - from Latin quadratum, a four-sided figure."

Ideas from readers will be added to the column at

Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is a teacher and game inventor. She has been awarded a three-year fellowship by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to spread maths to the masses. your questions to Mathagony Aunt at write to TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX

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