Maths made easy - made fashionable - made fun - the claims made for this set of workbooks designed to be used at home sound dangerously close to rinse-your-mouth-out Sixties ideology. But of course there's no danger of that with Carol Vorderman on board. Her arithmetic skills are as well known as her disapproval of calculators, a stance she shares with the current Secretary of State. Neither of them has ever been able to see the value of the calculator as a teaching, rather than a calculating, tool. Nevertheless maths needs all the popularising it can get.
Many of us have been guilty of misusing maths schemes in the past - now it is the turn of parents. Will they do any better? It is at least debatable whether the best way to "make maths more accessible and raise its status" is to put a mini-scheme into parents' hands together with messages such as:
"Remember, you can never practise maths enough," and: "These workbooks provide focused practice in all the areas that will be tested in the end of key stage tests."
Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the five books I looked at. By various authors - teachers, heads, educationists, Ofsted inspectors and so on (none of whom has the initials CV) - they are sound. Monotone, once past the glossy cover, they read much like any publisher's scheme.
Answers are provided in a pull-out section, with gold stars and a chart to stick them on. The books are traditional rather than cutting edge - just what we should expect, perhaps, from Vorderman (though I wonder if she noticed a couple of pages of calculator work in the first book for six and seven-year-olds). I looked in vain for any real use of number lines, particularly empty ones, creative calculator use or indications of strategies for calculations. Perhaps this slightly dated feel is an inevitable result of positioning the books as practice and follow-up to work carried out in school.
The instruction: "Write the answer to each sum" cannot help children who can't remember to, say, add decimal fractions - unless they have a parent who has sufficient time and numeracy skills to talk them through it. For children who already like, and are confident with, maths (or have a parent like Carol Vorderman around) the books will work fine. For others they could have the opposite effect - but then, the same can be said of all written maths materials.
Laurie Rousham teaches a Year 4 class at Broke Hall school, Ipswich, Suffolk