Year 8 has been a tough one for Flea – not least because she’s started to struggle in maths lessons.
Flea has always been pretty good at maths. But she’s AMAZING at English. Human nature being what it is, Flea tends to think that she’s terrible at maths. Because she has to work hard at it.
As a Mum, my priority has been trying to keep her feeling confident about maths. You CAN do this. You ARE good at this. You’ve GOT this.
The First Maths Exam
Things started to go wrong during Flea’s first exams in senior school.
Flea forgot to take a ruler and set square into her maths exam. The sign on the wall said not to speak. So she didn’t say anything. She sketched diagrams and guessed her answers, making do without any kit.
Surprise! She totally blew the exam.
(I tell her she’ll laugh about that story when she’s older. Even if not quite yet).
Unfortunately for Flea, that exam determined which set she was sorted into for Year 8. Flea’s teacher felt that rather than putting her into Set 2, he would put her into Set 3 because, “I don’t think we’ve seen the best of her, and this will give her a kick up the backside.”
I’m disappointed but not surprised to report that this is not what happened. Instead, Flea’s grades over the past 6 months have nose-dived. She stopped paying attention. She had a series of substitute teachers, and I’m not sure anyone was really paying attention to my girl’s struggles.
“What’s the point of trying, when I’m just stupid?” she says to me, and my heart breaks, just a little. “There must be something wrong with me.”
There’s a maths clinic at school where kids can get extra help. But Flea dodges it, and how can I make her go? I’m not in school. Flea now hates maths. The last thing she wants to do at lunchtime is MORE maths.
Finding a Maths Tutor
At Christmas, there was another terrible exam result. And I decided something needed to be done.
I’m not obsessed with Flea getting top marks in everything at school. But I want Flea to be happy and to be able to give her best.
So I wanted to give her a maths tutor. Partly to ensure she’s keeping up with her year group, and working to her full potential. But also to boost her confidence, and help remind her that she CAN do this stuff.
So what to do?
First, I looked at local private tutors. They’re expensive and it was hard to find anyone with recent experience of teaching in a secondary school maths class.
Then I looked at Kumon. Although it seems great, I didn’t think it was really what Flea needed.
Her basic maths skills are strong, so I don’t see the point of working through endless lists of calculations to a timer. She needs help doing the sort of maths they do in school.
After a few weeks of looking, we went to meet with a local tutor at a Kip McGrath centre.
What Happens at Kip McGrath?
Kip McGrath specialises in maths and English tuition for children of all ages. Rather than Kumon-style worksheets, the children work on 4 or 5 different activities each lesson, personalised to them. There are 4-5 students in each class. I was very pleased to see that all the tutors are qualified teachers.
At our local Kip McGrath centre, the teacher is a qualified maths teacher who has worked in senior schools for many years. So he knows exactly what Flea is studying at school, and how it will be being taught. Unlike an independent tutor, he’s backed up by the Kip McGrath network. The company has been around for something like 30 years, operating in multiple countries.
At our first visit, we chatted about our concerns, and Flea took a free assessment, which took about 20 minutes. At the end of that, the tutor explained to us where Flea was doing well, and areas where he felt she might need extra support.
We were given an estimate of how long it would take to ensure Flea was confident and up to the expected level of her year group. And then an estimate of how long it would take to bring her to the top level of her year group.
I liked that there wasn’t any pressure to make the tutoring a long-term or open-ended thing. The minimum recommended time for Flea to attend was eight weeks, but after that, it would be our choice whether or not to continue. If we want to finish at any time, we just need to give 2 weeks’ notice.
How much does it cost?
Flea currently attends Kip McGrath one evening a week after school, for 80 minutes. In addition, she has 20 minutes homework each week.
This might be a worksheet or something to complete online. It’s fairly low-pressure. Flea’s teacher insists that she stops after 20 minutes, even if she hasn’t finished a sheet. And it must be 100% her own work, with no help from parents!
When Flea goes to class, the teacher goes through the homework with her, explaining where she’s made mistakes, and how to do the question properly.
She’ll then be given a series of tasks to complete in the lesson which will mix up things like algebra, problem-solving, shapes, times tables etc. Each task is 15-20 minutes, so she doesn’t get bored.
Although it isn’t individual teaching, the very small group size means there’s plenty of time for the teacher to offer support when it’s needed. Flea’s group has four other children from aged 6 to 16, all doing their own work. So Flea has to work independently and isn’t distracted.
Each lesson costs £25 and there are lessons throughout the year. There are classes in half-term but not during school holidays. If you miss a class but let the teacher know in advance, it’s usually possible to rearrange it or do an online class instead.
Is Kip McGrath Helping?
I’ve noticed a shift in how Flea is approaching maths after just a couple of months. She’s more confident and happier to attempt questions, even if she isn’t 100% sure of the answer.
Kip McGrath will reassess students every 12 weeks to track progress, but a quick peek through her results from tutoring sessions shows she’s moved from achieving 40% in most activities to achieving between 70 and 80% in most activities within nine weeks. In mental maths, she’s scoring above 90%.
The key test of course, is how Flea is responding.
Last week she took her Kip McGrath class on a Saturday because we were away for half-term. I think it says a lot that I was able to get a 12-year-old out of bed for a maths session without actual bribery or threats of violence. When I picked Flea up from the class, she’d scored 100% on two of her activities that day. She was thrilled to bits.
Time will tell how Flea performs in her end of year exams this year, but at the moment our intention is to keep her with the Kip tutoring centre throughout Year 8. Hopefully she can finish the year in a more positive and confident framework as a result!