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The October Half Term wake-up call

Ever since I started tutoring, around 9 years ago now, I have seen there is a definite pattern to the timing of enquiries from new students. We start off with those that come in during late August, trying to get in before the start of the new school year to take advantage of a whole years’ worth of help.

Then there is a lull.

Until October Half Term. Usually towards the end of the week or into the first week of the new Term. That is when the new A Level students get in touch. The break has given them a brief respite from the relentless workload. Finally, time to have a breather and take stock. And acknowledge in the peace of the short holiday that A Level maths is HARD. Much harder than they thought. It is the realisation that, even if they secured the coveted grades 8 or 9 at GCSE, they have not really been prepared for what lay ahead.

Then is the time to get help. Not necessarily by getting tutoring, though that gives a great avenue of support. Maybe they just need to speak with their teacher or friends and look at what support is available “in house”. Failing that, the help that an outside tutor can bring can be invaluable. I can get students to look at maths, and maths problems, in different ways; seeing methods not used in school. More importantly, giving them time to focus on areas of difficulty when the teacher has moved on – constrained by the timetable. Mathematics doesn’t lend itself to fast learning and doesn’t take kindly to time allocation in a regimented way. It likes to be understood and appreciated.

If you are one of these new A Level students, take a moment to think about where you are with your learning and get a plan in place to move ahead successfully. Above all, make sure you enjoy your study of mathematics.

Get your Five-a-Day

OK, I know that Twitter isn’t Cool for Kids but I do like to get all my GCSE students to use it to follow Corbettmaths. Their school probably uses Corbettmaths resources for teaching. They are about the best of the bunch of resources.

Best of all they publish daily questions to test students’ knowledge, and are a great way to revise in a way that doesn’t seem like revision. No, revision shouldn’t just happen at exam time. It should be continual, to keep on top of learning.

So go take a look at their 5-a-day offering @Corbettmaths

GCSE Results 2017

There’s no hiding from it. Thursday will soon be here. I know, it seemed so far away when you finished your last exam. But now is the time to get prepared and face the results, not with fear but with a feeling of positivity.

If you get the grades you want, fantastic. Even better if you get better than you hoped. But if you drop grades, don’t panic. Talk to your teachers and get a plan in place. Remember, you are young and have many years ahead of you. A small hiccup now will seem insignificant in the years to come. It is how we deal with setbacks that marks us out.

If you have done well, don’t get cocky and complacent. If you are going on to A Level, things are going to get much tougher.

So get ready for the next exciting phase of your life.

As always, The Student Room has some great advice. Go look.

How I tutor online

If you are thinking about having a tutor you may have in mind the idea of student and teacher sat at a desk together, like at school. This is how I started tutoring. But over the last couple of years I have gradually been moving online. I wanted to share with you how I work and so have made a short video.

Remote learning is nothing new. If you are of a certain age you might remember watching Skippy..The Bush Kangaroo. I have vivid memories of seeing kids in the Australian outback sat in front of huge radio sets, getting schooling via The School of the Air – that’s been going since 1951. I’m a graduate of the Open University; they discovered the power of remote learning, taking on their first students in 1971.

You may have noticed that online learning is really gaining ground now, with the likes of Coursera, FutureLearn and Udemy providing first class educational content. You can watch whole lecture series from the likes of Stanford, Harvard and Princeton for free. Technology now is ideally suited to online teaching and our children are growing up in an online world and are well used to the tools used to learn online.


There is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics

“A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.”

These words, and the title of this blog, were written by the great British mathematician G H Hardy in his essay, A Mathematician’s Apology, published in 1940. Hardy was at the end of what he saw as his useful creative life as a mathematician and used this work as an opportunity to describe what he saw as the nature of mathematics. Its place in the world. Its beauty. Even how some branches are “trivial” or “ugly” compared to his sphere, of number theory. He also gives an insight to how mathematicians work. He wanted to inspire upcoming generations of mathematicians.

There is a wonderful irony when he writes “No one has yet discovered any warlike purpose to be served by the theory of numbers or relativity, and it seems unlikely that anyone will do so for many years.” He had no idea how his beloved number theory would be used to crack the German Enigma code and then go on to underpin all of public-key cryptography so important to the Internet today.

In short, if you have an interest in mathematics, you must read this book. If you are studying A Level maths and certainly if you want to study maths at university, it is essential reading. It’s short too. All over in less than 150 pages. You will not be disappointed.

A Level Results 2017

A Level Results Day is just over a week away. There is no avoiding it, and you shouldn’t want to. If you have done the work you will be fine. If you are expecting AS results you will know what needs to be done next year. Focus and go do it! If this is A2, I hope you get what you want to move forward. The future is an exciting place to go. Embrace it and do all you can with it.

The Student Room has produced some great advice for the Day. Check it out.

The Man in the Mirror

It is all too easy to go through life letting yourself be bent in the wind, blown about at the whim of others and altogether taking the easy option, resisting change and being happy to enjoy the status quo. Personally, I haven’t been like that. Well, I am for long periods of time but then something will happen to make me sit up say “this has to change”.

One such time was back in 1991. I was Group Tax Manager with Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte (now Price Waterhouse Coopers), having been recruited with a view to partnership. It became clear after some four years I didn’t fit in with their management style and it was suggested I might like to move on. No, not subtle. And a lot to do with the fact they closed the whole office about four months after I left, saving on a huge wedge of redundancy. But that’s another story. Anyway, before I left I embarked on another round of interviews with Top 3 firms, which were going well until I sat and asked myself “what on earth am I doing?” I realised I was about to repeat the whole sorry process to get to where I was aiming. I did the only sensible thing. I halted the interviews and started my own practice. What a refreshing decision.

Fast forward some 25 years to today and let’s talk maths tutoring. I have tutored now for about 7 years, seeing students face to face in their homes. I relish this work. I enjoy being able to show students how they can have confidence with mathematics and transform their relationship with the subject. Exam success follows and for them that is the Main Deal. For me, that is secondary, but they aren’t likely to appreciate that yet.

As much as I love tutoring face to face, and the tea, cake, biscuits and other treats, I decided about eighteen months ago that I should look at also tutoring online. Not exclusively, but opening up some sessions to be online, and to fill time during the school day when I would rarely see students, without adding to the travelling I already did. And what has happened these past 18 months? Very little. Oh, I have done several hours on online tuition now and it works incredibly well for me and the students. But the comfort of being an established tutor with a good reputation and receiving a constant stream of enquiries locally has made it far too easy to carry on seeing the vast majority of students as I always have. All my after-school and weekend tutoring is still face to face. It’s convenient. Jam today. But a couple of weeks ago I sat and said to myself “this has to change”.

It is hard to make a change in life unless you do something drastic to achieve it. Taking Action will achieve change. Living a life of Reaction will not.

So, I announce to the world that I will be tutoring exclusively online from September 2017. To transition to this, from September 2016 I will only be offering face to face tutoring to those students continuing from this year, and possibly to any new students who live in Buckingham or Brackley (both about 4 miles from me) or who are otherwise within about 2 miles of my home. This will limit my face to face tutoring to a maximum of nine slots a week – about a quarter of what I do now, concentrated in just 1-2 days. This will leave 4-5 days exclusively for online students.

I have no doubt there will be a considerable hit on my pocket to begin with but I know that will be short-term. It will certainly ensure that I take action! What I may lose in local students will be made up by being able to reach out to a much wider audience. I will substantially reduce my car mileage and save hours of travel time a week, reducing my exposure to any coughs and colds that may be doing the rounds and mitigating the effect of last minute cancellations. Drastic change needs drastic measures, and tinkering on the margin has achieved little so far. But I do need to factor in buying more of my own biscuits.

If you are reading this as a parent or student looking for maths tuition and have a view that online tuition is not what you want or that it could never work for you, I urge you to think again – particularly if you have never tried it. Online tutors are no longer the mavericks they were a few years ago. It is becoming more mainstream. The Open University led the way in distance learning and the phenomenal rise in popularity of online education through the likes of Coursera, FutureLearn and universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Princeton providing online courses has shown online tuition to be just as effective as traditional methods, if not more so – at least for mathematics. You are no longer limited to finding a tutor in your local area; as I write this at the beginning of March I have been fully booked after school and on Saturdays for nearly two months and I continue to get a constant stream of new enquiries from parents finding it difficult to find a tutor locally. I am having to turn almost all of them away. That should no longer be such an issue for you. In the words of Michael Jackson – make that change.

Watch this space!