Q. ‘Our son has always been praised for his ability at maths. But his first report from Year 4 says he is average at the subject and he has been moved down a set. As parents, it is frustrating to hear our child has gone from being highly numerate to average so fast. Should we complain, ask him to be moved back up – or can we help at home?’ Jenny, Worcs
A. Many parents will empathise with your frustration but this is normal. Most younger children learn in phases; surging forward in one area and then seeming to mark time while exploring a different area.
Perhaps your son is now finding more pleasure in reading and writing, or a language or a topic-based class rather than maths. Nevertheless, children are tested so often, and you may already be thinking ahead to Common Entrance exams; so it’s hard to let them work at their own pace in such a key subject.
The best approach is not to start grilling your young Einstein but to improve dialogue with the school. Richard Fenwick, headmaster of leading prep school Hazlegrove, in Somerset, says keeping the channels of communication open between home and school is key; working together lies at the heart of the educational process.
He suggests: ‘Ask for a meeting with the head of maths, explaining that you are concerned about the set move and that you would like to get a clear picture about your son’s progression in maths over time. Explain also that you want to support and encourage your son at home and need a clearer picture of the curriculum, highlighting which aspects of maths your son finds easier and which more challenging.’
He also points out: ‘Remember that your son will learn most effectively if he is in a set where he will be working at the right level, at the appropriate pace.’