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Practice Makes Perfect

I recently read about an interesting experiment conducted by a table tennis coach, Ben Larcombe [1]. Ben became fascinated by the idea that one could achieve mastery by practice, not innate talent. So he recruited his childhood friend Sam, a “computer geek” without any sign of sporting talent, and put him through a programme of over 500 hours of 1:1 coaching. Sam made dramatic progress – although one year of daily practice didn’t prove enough to make it as a top-ranked table tennis player.

Malcolm Gladwell popularised the thesis that to become an expert in anything one needs to put in an average of 10,000 hours of practice  – after 7 years at University, and 20 years of tutoring I can certainly vouch for the value of practice!

And as a tutor what really excites me isn’t table tennis, but the parallels with kids at school – as Matthew Syed, a former Commonwealth table tennis champion, rightly points out: “In subjects like mathematics, if young people are not very good at the beginning they tend to give up because they don’t think they have got a brain for numbers.”

I can concur with those sentiments. New students often come to me lacking severely in confidence. They have often given up because they have convinced themselves they are “bad at maths.”

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Pisa-rankings

Big Fat Maths!

The new GCSEs are set to come into force from September 2015; with the first set of examinations due in the summer of 2017. The massively expanded syllabus has been dubbed ‘Big Fat Maths’!

This is the biggest shake-up in the secondary education system since the introduction of the GCSEs back in 1988. GCSEs replaced the old ‘O’ level examination system because it was thought not to cater for the less able pupils. In the early days of GCSEs a significant number of subjects included a high degree of coursework. This proved to be contentious as there was potentially no control over how much parental or teacher input was allowed. Year on year more and more pupils were passing GCSE with higher grades; thus leading to critics saying that exam papers were getting easier and subject matter was being ‘dumbed down’.

Our standings in the international league table (Pisa rankings) have stagnated[i], with the UK failing to make the top 20 in maths, reading and science. The new GCSE curriculum is intended by those in Whitehall to help rectify this.

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