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Maths with flying ants

A new online service offers home tuition in mathematics for primary schoolchildren, writes Sue Leonard

An interactive maths program that is being used in hundreds of schools across the UK will be available in children's homes from this month.

Maths-Whizz is a primary teachers' resource on CD-Rom. Now offers an online tutoring service for computer-savvy children aged 5 to 11, to help those struggling with maths or those just wanting to get ahead in class and tests.

The service, which will cost parents pound;27.50 a month, says it can assess each child individually and help them progress at their own pace.

The hope is that children will come to enjoy maths, using computer animations to study concepts such as subtraction, fractions and long division.

Research carried out in England by Whizz Education, the company behind the program, claims that one in eight children has private maths tuition.

Three-quarters of parents feel too out of touch with the topic to help them.

"Parents want their children doing maths at home," says Hilary Koll, a maths consultant and writer who helped to create the program. "Would you rather be sat with a private tutor or at your computer with flying ants and explosions going on?"

The program starts with an assessment to measure children's maths age and ability. Then they are given exercises to do - with or without a parent present.

Each one of the hundreds of animations starts with an explanation of the concept being taught. They consist of 10 questions followed by an exercise on paper. Parents, who must subscribe for a minimum of two months, get regular updates on children's progress.

It is designed to be used around twice a week for 45 minutes at a time.

Last year a teachers' version of the new service was launched and is being used in 150 schools in Scotland.

Alison Knox, a P6 teacher at Craigbank Primary in Clackmannanshire, where Maths-Whizz is used alongside traditional teaching, welcomes the initiative.

"In class it is super," she says. "It is a different stimulus. Recently a child asked for extra work to practise."

She can see the potential benefits for pupils of using an online home-tutoring service but thinks there could be problems of access and affordability.

"In our catchment area not everybody has computer access at home," she says. "There would be some children who had more advantage than others."

Anne Corr, headteacher of Linlithgow Bridge Primary in West Lothian, believes parents should ensure that children are not overloaded with too much studying at home. "I think it could potentially help some children but it is very much up to the parents," she says. "The school sets homework. We have to avoid children being too stressed to do additional work at home but some children benefit."

Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, is horrified at the idea of online maths tuition for primary school pupils.

"Poor kids," she says. "What happened to coming home from school and going out to play? I seriously wonder what we are producing these days. The only focus in everybody's mind is rushing them through their school education. I think we are hot-housing kids too much."

However, the real test for the creators of will be how children take to it and if parents are willing to pay for it.

My own daughter, Kitty, who is almost 7, was keen to try it out but found the assessment too long (it took more than an hour). She was keen to press the Don't Know button just to get it finished. But she did enjoy the lesson, guessing how many ants were in a hole in the ground.

Only time will tell if has got its sums right.

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