Inspiration where it's needed

10th January 2003 at 00:00
The early part of key stage 3 can be a doldrum time in maths for new arrivals from primary school. Inspections have shown that there is a lack of good lessons and a tendency towards repetition of work that has already been done.

Key Stage 3 Mathematics: A Guide for Teachers can help prevent this by providing inspiration for departmental heads and teachers. This new guide benefits from experience gained in the year-long piloting of the KS3 Maths Strategy in all 15 secondary schools in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

Annie Gammon, the guide's author, worked as a consultant on that project. She taught maths for 12 years in a variety of schools, ran a department and is now deputy head of Sir John Cass School in Stepney. She is also a member of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education. She is well qualified to deliver what she calls "a guide to good practice in teaching mathematics at KS3 and in running a mathematics department".

"We tried to design the guide to be used flexibly by all members of the team, from line-managers to heads of department, non-specialist teachers of mathematics and newly qualified teachers. Colleagues use different sections at different stages of their own development," says Gammon.

The guide will be particularly helpful for secondary teachers "who haven't always cottoned on to what pupils have been learning in their primary schools," says Sheila Ebbutt of BEAM Education - the specialist maths publisher which has produced the guide.

The 11 chapters focus on auditing the department, key aspects of teaching practice, planning and teamwork. Each ends with photocopiable sheets that can provide the basis for some varied and interesting in-service training activities.

It has a practical, nitty-gritty feel to it. It makes frequent reference to the framework for teaching maths at KS2. It has a good index and sources are clearly indicated. It is full of sensible suggestions. For example, if you want to induct new overseas teachers quickly, then use a demonstration lesson to show aims and methods. If you want to plan a set of objectives for a maths department, then brainstorm a scenario of what a good lesson might be like. The result might prescribe, among other items, that it will be "well-organised and not disrupted"; that it will have "a variety of activities"; that it will be "not too easy and not too hard"etc.

It goes on to suggest that, from a list such as the one above, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-constrained) objectives can be developed.

There are plenty of useful ideas for those further along the management line, at the teaching coalface. Lesson plans are offered, with a useful breakdown into timed sections. Chanting mathematical sequences is recommended, allowing pupils to "refresh and consolidate their knowledge of number patterns".

There is advice on questioning students. Surveys show that teachers often wait less than one second for an answer. Gammon suggests "increasing waiting-times for higher-order questions".

Diagrams are supplied to help with the difficult task of preparing truly differentiated lessons. Marian Thorne, head of the maths department at the Central Foundation School in Bow, East London, has been using the pack in the autumn term. "I found the examples of an interactive lesson were very useful to new overseas teachers at our school", she says. "It is well laid out and gives you a whole lot of very useful starting points."

The pack is introduced by Celia Hoyles, professor of education at the University of London Institute of Education. She says: "Pupils can count themselves fortunate indeed if they are at a school where the mathematics department picks ups and runs with even half the ideas presented in this book".

Key Stage 3 Mathematics: A Guide for Teachers costs pound;50 and is available from BEAMEducation Tel: 020 7684 3330 Email:

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