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Dyscalculia – What is it and who’s got it?

We’ve all heard of dyslexia and probably know somebody affected by it to some extent. But what is dyscalculia?

Where dyslexia is concerned with difficulty decoding and interpreting words and letter patterns, dyscalculia is related to maths, numbers and arithmetic in particular. That’s it in a nutshell but there’s obviously more.

What does dyscalculia look like?

Dyscalculia can mean a difficulty using some, or a wider range of, mathematical concepts which the most people find straightforward. This can include counting in the pre-school years, missing out numbers and not knowing how many objects represent a number. Later on, retention and/or understanding of number bonds (e.g. 6+4=10), and a lack of understanding of maths vocabulary (add, subtract, more than, less than) can be indicators. Avoidance of activities requiring use of numbers or number skills (board games, keeping score in games) may also be linked to dyscalculia.

Numbers don’t always make sense

So if I see the above traits, has my child got dyscalculia?

There’s the big question. The answer is simple – possibly yes or possibly no. For a start, these are just a sample of potential identifiers, not a diagnosis. Making a diagnosis based simply on lists of traits (hence why a list is not directly written in this article) is a risky and potentially inaccurate business. Furthermore, as dyslexia specialist Georgina Smith of Codebreakers points out in her article, How do I know if my child/student has dyscalculia?’, computer based screening tests, and some others, miss out the important element of the child’s reasoning behind their answer.

In recent years, the emphasis on reasoning has become more and more prevalent in maths teaching.  Over time, in the classroom, we have noticed that emphasis on pace of learning and ‘knowing’ has sometimes prevented understanding being embedded as thoroughly as it should have been. However, a lack of reasoning skills does not necessarily point to dyscalculia; it could be lack of practice of these skills. Similarly, gaps in knowledge  might not point to dyscalculia. A child may be able to use a good level of reasoning to explain what they do know.

What if I suspect dyscalculia?

First up – don’t diagnose just yet. Build-up a logical argument as to why you suspect dyscalculia. Ask whether any other factors could be playing a part. For example, is the child just anxious about maths and/or new learning? Do they find maths difficult but no more so than some of their peers? Keep in mind that many children struggle with maths (and often different elements of maths) from time-to-time. Finding maths hard is not unusual. Consider where the child is in terms of attainment in maths – a little behind does not necessarily mean dyscalculia. Remember, all children develop at different rates. (Read our advice on helping with homework if you’re child is struggling with some concepts.) Further investigation could be needed where a child is significantly behind their peers in  maths.

If you’re a parent, speak to the your child’s teacher and/or the school’s SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator). Raise your concerns, present your case and ask them for their views and comments (and read our articleSpecial needs worries – what you should do).If you’re a teacher, consider further aspects such as the style of teaching the child has been exposed to. For example, has the child had plenty of opportunity for working with concrete and pictorial representations before moving on to the abstract? Have they previously had much experience of, and opportunity for, reasoning.

What if dyscalculia is diagnosed?

Make sure there is always a close working relationship between the parent(s) and the teacher(s). Take advice, work with this advice and monitor the situation carefully. It may take some time before  the child has strategies which help him/her cope with dyscalculia. Of at least equal importance is working with the child at school and at home for some time each week. They will need specific support learning new strategies and applying them in their maths work.

How can I find out more?

There are many websites containing checklists and further information about dyscalculia – exercise caution as mentioned above. This book by expert Steve Chinn is a valuable resource, as is the  Dyscalculia Pocketbook.

Keep an eye open for conferences and information sessions about Dyscalculia too, such as the one at the SEN Jigsaw Conference for parents and professionals.

Arrow-Ed resources provide pointers in every learning guide for adults supporting children with maths. We make suggestions for what to discuss and how to encourage the learner. We emphasize  reasoning, and developing maths skills through use of concrete and pictorial resources before working in the abstract. Visit our shop page for samples and our highly competitively priced units.

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Parents’ evening questions – what should I ask about my child?

The school year has started, children are getting used to new classes and  parents’ evening is just round the corner. Many parents will simply go along, listen to what their child’s teacher has to say, maybe look at some work, then go home. That can be useful, of course, but in this short guide we provide some pointers (from experienced teachers and parents) to help you get the most out of the short appointment.

parents evening

What is parent’s evening for?

It might seem obvious but this is a real opportunity for you to find out how your child is doing at school. This doesn’t just mean in an academic sense either; you need to know how they cope socially, and how they respond to the adults they work with. Your questions for parents’ evening should therefore focus on the academic and the social.

Social parents’ evening questions

Let’s face it – for most of us the happiness (and safety) of our child(ren) is paramount. And if they are happy and feel safe they are in a better position for learning. Make sure you get answers to these questions:

  • How has my child settled into their new class and routines?
  • Is she/he happy at school?
  • How does my child get on with other children? When playing? When working?
  • What is being done in school to support any social challenges?
  • Is there anything we can do at home to further support this?

Make sure your perception of your child’s social development and the perception held by the teacher are similar. The parents’ evening questions above should help to establish this.  Children can be at least a little different at school than they are at home. Some support may be needed if there is a big discrepancy.

Academic parents’ evening questions

The teacher should tell you something about your child’s academic progress but make sure you leave with a good idea about the answers to the the following:

  • What are their strengths academically?
  • What further challenge in these areas will help push my child on even more?
  • How can we support this at home?
  • What have you found that is effective in helping my child make progress?
  • What areas require work to ensure they are where they need to be?
  • How can we support these areas at home?

There’s nothing wrong with going into parent’s evening with these questions written down. When bombarded with information,  what to ask at parents’ evening can become confusing. Use notes to help keep you on track and to make sure you have asked all that you wanted to.

Of course, before you can ask questions, make sure you are on time (even if the teacher is running late). Make time to look at your child’s work. Take positives away from the your discussion with the teacher and share these with your child as well as addressing any issues. The outcome of parents’ evening should not be punishment of your child. If issues have arisen at school requiring punishment, these should already have been discussed with you at the time. Use the answers to the questions to provide support for your child at home and to form the basis of an ongoing dialogue with the teacher. Finally, keep hold of any notes you have made as you’ll find these useful to refer to at the next parents’ evening when you should be hearing about the progress your child has made.


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Homework help – how can I support my child with homework?

The kids are back at school and the time has come for them to hit you with the dreaded need for homework help! As the middle of September arrives, most primary schools will be sending work to complete at home to support  learning. And that, remember, is what it is for – not simply something to make parents and carers cringe over their lack of knowledge, or send us into a frenzied competitiveness to make sure we do homework better than other parents!

Homework help
 Homework help – do it with them, not for them

But homework, and helping your child with homework, isn’t always easy. Here are our tips to put you on the right track when it comes to homework help.

Have a regular homework help time and place

Not always easy but the consistency will help your child and you. It’s also important to recognise when your child has done enough. If it’s not completed, revisit it later or explain to school what barriers you were struggling to overcome.

Minimise distractions

The above point should help with this. Fewer distractions will help you and your child concentrate better.

Understand what is expected

Ask the school, or make sure you read any letters about homework expectations. It might not be as onerous as it first looks.

Be positive about homework

Yes, it can be a pain. You may have hated it yourself too, but try to put it in a positive light. It is valuable time for you to begin get an insight into your child’s learning and how they work.

Praise effort

Even if your child is struggling with a concept (or if they’re flying through their work) tell them how proud you are of the effort they are putting in. Have what’s known as a growth mindset – if something is hard it’s a barrier to overcome. Don’t let them say they can’t do it. Encourage them to say they can’t do it, YET.

Remember it’s your child’s work

Teachers don’t want to know how much maths or grammar you can remember from your school days. Support your child, encourage them, ask them questions to help them think but don’t do the work for them. If they can’t do it, add a note to the teacher to that effect, stating what support you have given.

Use online resources

There’s good stuff out there for homework help. But be careful – there is also a lot of rubbish out there too. One of the best (and free) online resources remains BBC Bitesize.  And at Arrow-Ed we have a variety of great free resources to support maths homework. We also have fantastic, competitively priced units which provide homework help and follow the learning children are doing in schools. (Visit our shop now to see them).


All of the above can help make homework easier all round. However, the real key to being effective in providing homework help can be for you to ask for help where needed. If your child is struggling with their homework, or you are struggling to give them support, you should contact their teacher, working with them to find a solution.

And one last thing. Make sure they remember to hand it in!

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Place value – what is it and what is my child learning in maths?

Most primary school maths lessons at the start of the academic year focus on place value. This means that children are learning about the value of numbers, and the value of digits within numbers.

Place Value
Place value – learning the value of numbers

Our quick guide to progression in place value through the primary age groups shows what schools generally cover in the first few weeks of term.

Year 1 Place Value

Development of place value skills within 10 (i.e. using numbers up to 10). This initial focus within 10 then allows application of skills in the next unit (usually addition and subtraction). Learners practise identifying and representing numbers, counting to 10, finding one more and one less than a number, and reading and writing numbers in numerals and words.

Year 2 Place Value

Development of understanding of number, particularly the value of each digit. Counting plays a major role as learners develop their understanding of numbers up to at least 100. Partitioning of 2-digit numbers into tens and ones further supports understanding. Learners also start top compare numbers using the terms more than/greater than and less than.

Year 3 Place Value

Learning moves on from 1- and 2-digit numbers to 3-digit numbers to develop understanding of the digits in numbers in the hundreds. This is further consolidated by work on finding 1, 10 and 100 more or less than a number, and more work on comparing numbers.

Year 4 Place Value

In Year 4 Place Value work, learning moves on to numbers up to 10,000. The learner again encounters ordering and comparing numbers, and further develops their understanding of partitioning. Rounding numbers and negative numbers, are introduced, as are Roman numerals up to a value of 100.

Year 5 Place Value

In Year 5 there is further development of understanding of number, ordering, comparing and rounding numbers up to 1,000,000. More work with negative numbers and counting back through zero develops confidence, and the learner meets Roman numerals up to 1,000.

Year 6 Place Value

Development of understanding of numbers up to at least 10,000,000, and further work to develop confidence when rounding numbers, draw on on all previous place value work. Negative numbers are also revisited.

Place Value resources

We have very competitively priced resources to support all year groups with place value at home. Please visit our shop page for special offers.

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Special needs worries – what you should do

So you think you child has special needs. It’s something many parents begin to get anxious about at the start of the school year. If this is the case, you are one of millions of concerned parents. Your child may be one of millions of children with at least some additional need.

Special Educational Needs (SEN) are well-catered for in most schools. Despite schools suffering financially, teachers and support staff invariably have your child’s interests at heart. They want to help your child and they want to help you.

The range of special needs and support available is so vast that the trick to supporting an SEN child is often the earliest possible intervention. Schools regularly talk about working in partnership with parents and carers, and you should not be afraid to approach your child’s school. First of all, speak to the class teacher and make sure you accurately describe what is causing you concern. The class teacher may already have strategies he/she can recommend and put in place for supporting your child. If the problem is more serious, they will be able to speak to the school SENCO who can co-ordinate support and involve other agencies if necessary. 

Unique doesn't mean special needs
Remember – all children are different and develop at different rates

Avoid diagnosing your child because you have heard of another child who has some similar traits. Don’t assume that because your child is in a different group or doing different work than some of their peers that they are SEN. Teachers differentiate and teach in a way to get the best out of each child at that given time. Over time the level of support and challenge can change.

3 special needs ‘dont’s’


  • put off seeking advice (don’t wait until parents’ evening for example);
  • simply use the internet to diagnose your child in isolation from professional advice from school and beyond;
  • compare your child with others and assume they are SEN because other children are reading ‘harder’ books or getting ‘better’ scores.

3 special needs ‘dos’

More positively, do:

  • start a dialogue with the school – you won’t sound stupid sticking-up for your child – and listen to the advice the school can give;
  • identify behaviours or difficulties and when you are seeing them;
  • remember that your child, like every child is unique and children develop  at different rates.

With the right support at the right time (and with support from home too) many special needs can be overcome or managed.  You and your child’s school, working together, can make a huge difference.


If you are not satisfied with the support your receive you can speak to your GP and seek further advice.

The Government also provide further information and advice.

You might also like to read our previous article about maths mastery.

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Maths mastery – what you need to know

Maths mastery is a phrase which has become widely used in primary school maths. So what does it mean? If you’re a parent of a KS1 or KS2 pupil, there’s a good chance that your child is being taught using a mastery approach.

Maths mastery develops reasoning skills.
Maths mastery develops reasoning skills.

So what is maths mastery?

A mastery approach develops a deeper understanding of maths. Teaching maths for mastery generally uses a slower pace to ensure learners have a depth of understanding. A ‘traditional’  approach will move through maths units at a pace which suits some but is often too fast for others, encouraging recall of facts rather than understanding. It’s like knowing the make and model of a car but not having a clue how to drive it. Maths mastery addresses this through:

Giving learners time – Mastery means not simply rushing through curriculum objectives. Learners have time to explore, make mistakes and address misconceptions.

Rapid intervention – Teachers, support workers and parents intervene and support through modelling, re-framing questions and understanding the needs of the learner.

Building confidence – Children access the whole curriculum, not just a dumbed down version of it, even if they find it hard. They see multiple methods and use those that work for them.

Challenge through depth not pace –  It’s not about getting 20 questions right and moving on to the next ‘harder’ sheet or topic.  Developing thinking skills and understanding helps deepen learning.

Reasoning – Challenge and developing understanding at all levels comes through enabling the learner to think for themselves. Reasoning moves a learner from someone who can calculate to someone who understands the  operations and numbers involved in calculations.  The learner becomes able to explain what they have done. Reasoning also develops skills for making sense of the world around us.

Maths mastery is different

The mastery approach is probably different to the approach most adults encountered in their education. It’s therefore different than the approach many (including teachers) would naturally use with children. But if you start with the main ideas behind maths mastery you’ll be on the right track. Effectively teaching or supporting a child still requires good questioning and modelling, relevant use of physical resources, and understanding of the curriculum.

Supporting maths mastery

Arrow-Ed units provide explanations, diagrams, ideas for practice and methods of modelling to support parents, teachers and learners. Our units link to the popular White Rose maths, and follow the primary curriculum. Questions  provide checks of understanding. They also allow for reasoning, requiring the learner to explain what they know – key to KS1 SATs and KS2 SATs.

If you’re looking to support a mastery approach to maths, visit our online store now.

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Maths homework help for the new school year

We’ve all thought we’d never need most of the maths we learned at school ever again. Then for some of us we realised we did need it – providing maths homework help for our primary school aged offspring. As parents and teachers we’ve seen this from both sides. Often we’re asked ‘how can I provide maths homework help’, and we’ve asked this ourselves too. As the new school year approaches, we look at how you can help with maths at home.

Maths homework help - supporting maths at home
               A familiar problem with maths homework.

Working with your own child is very different to a teacher working with them in a primary maths classroom. As parents, we know our children better than anyone but they also know us better than anyone and know the right buttons to press, feeling safe in their stubbornness, laziness, self-rightousness or any other ‘ness’ we perceive them as demonstrating when we’re only trying to help! However, if we really want to help we should perhaps look at how we engage with the learner.

Maths curriculum knowledge helps to provide maths homework help

Home maths support (and support for any other subject for that matter) requires us to have some knowledge and understanding ourselves. Being a brilliant mathematician isn’t a pre-requisite but  knowing a little about what is taught in maths lessons is. You wouldn’t expect a teacher, or a maths tutor, to teach your child without some knowledge of the curriculum. Don’t expect it of yourself.

Click here to view maths curriculum based resources

Talk and do when providing maths homework help

The best teachers do all of the above but it’s not totally beyond the grasp of non-educationlists. Arrow-Ed maths units help to provide maths homework help and more by giving you the key elements of the curriculum. For each part of each unit, we explain how to share the key information with your child. There are a range of example questions to support and check learning. Beware though. We don’t do worksheets for you to demand your child to complete when they may not be able to. Arrow-Ed is based on establishing dialogue between the adult and the child, and allowing the learner to develop at the right pace. This is the way to support maths at home.Avoid projecting personal apathy, hatred of maths, own school experience or lack of confidence on to your young home learner. Praise their effort of course but more than this, allow them to do most of the talking, thinking and doing. Watch them and discuss with them, asking them to explain to you their reasoning. Maths learning (and again, learning in any other subject) should revolve around dialogue, reasoning and the learner having ample opportunity to talk and do.

Put yourself in the perfect position to provide maths homework help with our maths units and free maths resources.


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Everyday maths for everyone

Everyone wants the best for their children so here’s some good news!

It’s not difficult to support your child’s maths learning everyday – most parents use some, if not most, of the ideas below at some point and it can soon become a great habit. Supporting your child’s learning with no real effort is a pretty good deal!

All of the ideas here are suitable for primary school learners in Reception, Key Stage 1 (KS1), Key Stage 2 (KS2) and (with a little thought) even as they move into secondary education. Just consider the need and current understanding of the child and then change the complexity based on this. Sometimes this involves larger numbers but can also mean a change in the type of question– get the learner thinking with questions and directions which require them to explain their reasoning (e.g. How did you work that out? How would you explain that to somebody else?)

So, have a go at these with your child:

Notice and find numbers


On road signs, on car number plates, in prices when shopping, in books, on clocks.


What is that number? What is this digit? What’s 1 more than that? What’s 10 more? 100 more? What’s 1 less?  Which number is the greatest/smallest? How do you know? Explain how you find 10 more. Can you count on from that number? In 1s? In 2s? In 10s? What is the minute hand pointing to? What is the hour hand pointing to? Why does the hour hand move slower?

Sort, count and compare numbers and objects


When sorting washing (pairs of socks are great for counting in 2s), when setting the table, when making party bags, when preparing food, when shopping.


How many are there? Have they been shared fairly? Which group has the most? And the least? What is the total? Are there enough? (e.g. plates for everyone, money to pay for shopping, spaces in the car) Who is the oldest? Who is the youngest?

Play number games


Anytime! Walking to school. In the car. At bedtime. At mealtime.


What is 5+2? What is one less than 29? What is 6 x 7? Stand up on multiples of 5, clap when you hear a multiple of 3. Make a board game. Play a board game. Show your child how to play solitaire (AKA patience). Count the steps to school. How many steps will this be a week? A month? A year?

The possibilities are endless.

Remember to remain positive about maths – even if your own experience of maths at school was less than positive help your child to enjoy it.

For more daily practice ideas take a look at our website and the free samples of our forthcoming resources.

Please feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

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Happy school holidays

The dreaded school holidays… kids delighted to have no school for six weeks, parents sharing that joy for a few hours. Then, for many, the realisation sets in. Child care issues and boredom are on the horizon – how will we keep the little darlings entertained all summer? And what should be done to ensure they are ready for the next academic year?

As a teacher I’ve often been asked the latter question by concerned parents. My first response is to not over-worry – just as school staff need to recharge over the summer holidays, so do the children. They can’t and shouldn’t be expected to put in hours of academic endeavour. However, there are plenty of things you can do to keep boredom at bay and stimulate their minds at the same time.

Reading   Yes, it’s a message you’ve heard a thousand times but finding a regular time to read with (that’s reading to them as well as them reading to you) your child really is massively beneficial. Don’t necessarily push school reading schemes – choose books and other media together which interest your child. Reading should always be a pleasure, not a chore.

Get creative  Make things. Make models, bake cakes, draw, paint, build. Don’t worry about the mess – it’s often part of the fun.

The great outdoors  Visit it. Explore it. Embrace it. Go for walks, play sports, enjoy being outside and among nature.

Play games   Try games* such as Carcassonne, Hive, Deep Sea Treasure or more traditional games such as Connect 4, Guess Who?, Scrabble and even Monopoly (they don’t have to turn into family arguments)! All great for building a wide range of skills.

Allow devices  Don’t automatically dismiss gaming platforms and hand held devices. Clearly it’s important to monitor the amount of time and the type of games children are playing but there is value (even if it’s just a little downtime) in many games and apps.

Writing  Some children love it, some are more reluctant. Encourage keeping a diary, or writing labels and brief descriptions for photos taken on a day out or on a holiday (and do this on a device if it provides more incentive). And postcards do still have place and give writing a purpose too.

And the big one…

Be together   Spend time together. Spend time talking to your children. Do the things above and many more (even playing on devices) together. Talk about what you/they are doing, share ideas and thoughts. Enjoy each other’s company. You’ll be missing them and they’ll be missing you when they’re back at school in a few weeks time.


*There are too many games to list but some of those mentioned above are shown below (on Amazon). Great games – play them together and enjoy.



Deep Sea Treasure



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Pointing learners in the right direction

Arrow-Ed brings together over 35 years of primary school teaching and leadership experience in the provision of new materials to support home and classroom learning in maths.

Using Arrow-Ed materials, the adult (parent, tutor or teacher) works WITH the learner. It is our belief and experience that learning is more effective when a dialogue is established and the learning experience shared. As the saying goes:

 Tell me and I could forget, show me and I might remember, involve me and I will understand.

With Arrow-Ed maths resources it is important that the learner is involved in their learning, not just given sheets of work to attempt.

Our resources are aimed at parents and tutors who want to give their child a little extra help at home. They are also perfectly suited for use by teachers in the classroom and are aligned to the National Curriculum

Our main learning materials will be available from late August.

Free maths resources are available now. View KS1 and KS2 maths resources.

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