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Crossing the divide

More maths teachers are needed in the classroom - so one school has decided that is the best place to nurture them. Mentoring works both ways, says Nick Morrison

The shortage of maths teachers is a problem vexing schools up and down Britain, and, according to the president of the Royal Society, it is a pressing threat to the nation's global competitiveness.

However, one school is doing its bit to reverse the trend by recruiting students to inspire their peers to enjoy maths. Pupils in Years 9 to 11 at Chase High School in Southend have been trained as classroom mentors.

And, as well as helping younger children with their maths, they have got a taste of what it is like being a teacher - in the hope they might consider it as a career.

After a pilot project last year, the school launched the scheme in September. There was a selection process, and 24 pupils from the top sets in Years 9 to 11 were chosen. They were then given training by the local authority's maths adviser.

For the past year, the mentors have sat alongside Year 7 and 8 children in maths lessons to help them and increase their own skills.

"The children being mentored are benefiting, but it is primarily aimed at the mentors, to increase their confidence and commitment to maths," says John Sherbourne, a retired head recruited to co-ordinate the project.

"Hopefully it will encourage them to look at maths differently and maybe become maths teachers themselves."

Year 9 pupils can only mentor Year 7s, John says. Although there is not a huge gap in age, the difference in mathematical ability can be significant.

Supported by a pound;100,000 grant from the local Excellence Cluster, which brings groups of schools together in areas of deprivation, the project has allowed the mentors to visit schools in Helsinki, to see how they teach maths in Finland. The school is looking for funding to continue next year.

"Maths tends to have an end product, so it is particularly suited to mentoring, and the children who have been helped have gained in confidence, and look forward to their mentors coming in," says John Free resources at

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