There have been many comments in the media recently about children who lack basic skills in mathematics. At the same time, there is concern about the numbers of students wishing to take the subject to A-level and beyond.
Some students (including those with GCSE grade A and A*) choose not to continue their study of maths because they do not enjoy tackling repetitive exercises of routine questions or following rules without reasons.
Cockcroft acknowledged the need for many other mathematical skills such as problem solving and investigational work.
Essential Skills in Maths provides plenty of routine exercises for 11 to 16 year olds, (for example, 290 multiplication questions on pages 20-21 in Book 1) but the explanations are too brief ("+ + is replaced by +, + - is replaced by -" in the section on directed numbers in Book 2.) The authors seem to believe that hundreds of routine questions will help children to become proficient in the essential skills of mathematics. However, it is more likely that this approach will leave the less-able mathematicians confused and bored, while the more-able will hate the subject because they demand reasons for the rules and need more challenging and imaginative material.
* Brian Weller is a senior lecturer in mathematics education at Nene College, Northampton