28/07/2013 18:51 BST | Updated 27/09/2013 06:12 BST

How Parents Can Stop the Summer Slide in Their Children's Academic Ability Over the Next Six Weeks


When I was a child, attending a small Catholic state primary in North Wales, our times tables were something that were drummed in to us. Teachers, and my mum, who was a single parent, knew the value of being good with numbers and being able to do your "sums".

And the key to it all is practise. You can't do it without practise. But somehow we think that you can confine maths to five sessions of 45 minutes or so a week (the numeracy lesson) and that's good enough. It isn't.

Children in primary school practice reading all the time. Books surround them, there are posters on classroom walls, when the teacher talks about any subject, from history to biology, there are words and letters. They are practising literacy skills constantly. But that doesn't happen with numbers.

An astonishing 96% of primary teachers gave up their own maths education at the age of 16. The vast majority did their GCSE and stopped. Only one in 25 went on to do an A-Level in maths or anything further.

As a result, many tend to be nervous about teaching the subject, particularly to older primary children. It is also why the Labour government started a system to train one teacher in each school as a maths specialist, so that at least that teacher can then advise the others. Talk to primary school headteachers and they will tell you how difficult it is to find maths specialists. And primary school teacher training does not teach them maths knowledge. Only about 15 hours of the whole one year course is spent on it.

It contributes to a kind of British malaise, where people are frightened of maths and this gets passed on to the child.

While loads of parents read every day with their children, families shy away from doing sums with them. But when children are primary school age, you can do sums all the time, because you are really talking about basic number work. When my daughter Katie was at school, she would come home and because I made it fun, she would happily do 20 minutes of maths a night - times tables, mental arithmetic.

I would be driving along with the children and we would see a speed limit sign and I'd say "50 - take 10 away" or "subtract 10". We would look at number plates and add up or subtract the numbers. Or I would say to the children "you give me a number, now you give me a number, right multiply them."

And this kind of activity is even more important during the school holidays.

What happens during the long six-week break is that if nothing is done, children's academic skills regress by three to four months. They don't just stop and pick up where they left off at the end of term. They go backwards.

We have had thousands of children learning online with us through

We have hundreds of testimonials from parents saying "my girl was struggling with her maths at the end of term but after doing the maths summer school, they went straight back in to the top set. The teacher couldn't believe it."

It is taught clearly. There are hundreds of clear teaching videos (presented by yours truly) that children can watch until they have got it. It's all set in a woodland environment and they earn badges and credits by getting their sums right. And once they become competent, they really enjoy it.

Let's face it, these summer days can be long and parents often struggle to fill them. It is much better to do maths practice for 20 minutes a day when there is not much else going on than doing homework after a full day at school.

For children who have just left primary school there is a catch-up programme. Shockingly, most secondary schools completely ignore the results of the SATs tests taken at the end of primary school. They will give your child (if they haven't do so already) a different test in their first week of secondary school, and based on those results, your child will be put in the most appropriate maths set for them. So this summer is the perfect time to get them as good as they can be for that test particularly as the data shows that few children change the maths class they have been allocated to at the start of secondary. Once in that set, there they will remain.

Primary maths should give children the foundation they need to be good with numbers. Practising it is essential. You have to know your times tables automatically, you have to know instantly what 7x8 is. There is no way round it.

Writing it down - getting used to columns of figures - is also very important. Maths is a language and you have to practise any language.

Mathematics is now the singly most important subject for pupils going on to university or in to a job. It is what admission tutors and employers want. The economic world belongs to geeks.

Statistics show that pupils who fail to reach the level expected of their age group at primary level rarely reach the competence needed to pass their GCSE.

If you are on the mathematical scrap heap at the age of 11, you stay there.

That is why primary maths is critically important.

In countries that regularly top the international education league tables a premium is placed on having good maths skills. In these nations, parents and teachers do not accept the idea that somehow there are children who can't do maths.

They know that unless there is some form of special learning difficulty everyone can be good with numbers. No excuses. Just good teaching and a lot of practise.