Maths textbooks should be banned because they intimidate pupils, headteacher says

Posted on: 2018-08-02 20:00:00

Jane Prescott, head of Portsmouth High School said that students risk becoming anxious if they can see that their classmates are “galloping ahead” of them.

The move has been a “confidence booster” for girls, and allows them to “feel encouraged, and feel they are good at Maths”, Ms Prescott said.

“Maths is about confidence. If you are someone who is nervous about Maths, [textbooks] put you off,” she told The Daily Telegraph.

If textbooks are taken away, students “are not in a situation where they feel everyone else is galloping ahead”, she added. 

The ban has been in place during Maths lessons at the £14,00-a-year girls’ school for the past three years, and applies to all age groups except for those in the sixth form.

“If everyone is going through a text book, it can be intimidating, you can feel restricted and feel held back,"  Ms Prescott said.

Jane Prescott, head of Portsmouth High School 
Jane Prescott, head of Portsmouth High School

She added that the textbook ban, which was implemented at the suggestion of the head of Maths, would be benefit schools around the country.

“Our Maths results are fantastic and the vast majority say that Maths is one of their favourite subjects,” she said. Portsmouth High School, which opened in 1882, is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust.

Its alumnae include the Labour MP Meg Hillier and Margaret Rock, one of few female mathematicians at Bletchley Park who helped to decode the Enigma Machine.

Instead of using textbooks in classes, teachers write questions on the board which cater to different abilities, and homework questions are accessed online.

Another benefit is that teachers can slip in harder exercises, which would not ordinarily feature in a textbook for that age group.

The more able students are able to challenge themselves by attempting these questions, without being put off by the knowledge that they are actually aimed at an older age group.

Margaret Rock, an alumna of Portsmouth High School, was one of few female mathematicians at Bletchley Park who helped to decode the Enigma Machine
Margaret Rock, an alumna of Portsmouth High School, was one of the few female mathematicians at Bletchley Park who helped to decode the Enigma Machine

“If you are able at Maths you can just keep going, you could find someone in Year Seven doing questions for Lower Sixth,” Ms Prescott said.

“The earlier the children are exposed to something complex, the easier they will find it later. “Introducing harder topics means that when they are mooted again the following year, they already have an understanding.”

It is the latest school to have taken steps to ensure that pupils’ self-esteem is not dented by the classroom environment.

Earlier this year, Putney High School in south-west London banned teachers from writing negative comments on pupils’ end-of-year exams.

The £19,000-a-year school had already stopped grading pieces of work for pupils aged 11 to 14 in order to stop girls getting overly “fixated” on their mark.

The school then took things one step further by axing comments in favour of symbols, allowing girls to work out themselves where they have gone wrong.

When marking the Year Nine girls’ end-of-year exams, teachers were banned from making any comments “other than a brief line of genuine praise”.

Last year, a headmaster of a secondary school who banned teachers from marking as it risks damaging children’s confidence.

Gary Schlick, the head of Bedminster Down School in Bristol, said that issuing pupils with grades, scores and comments on their work may come across as negative, and does little to encourage children to improve. 

Under the new regime, teachers are encouraged to replace traditional marking with a series of techniques which Mr Schlick believes will boost attainment.

Source: The Telegraph

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