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DS struggling in top set maths - can any teachers or parents advise on likely implications of him dropping down a set?

(28 Posts)
eleflump Wed 19-Nov-14 18:48:51

DS1 is in top set maths at our local comp.

He is in Year 9, and up to now he has always been pretty good at maths, but things seemed to start dipping in Year 8 and he now seems to be struggling to keep up. They seem to be going at a really fast pace and swapping topics very regularly.

DS has today spoken to his teacher about the possibility of dropping down a set, but his teacher has told him that he wouldn't advise this, as it would mean he wouldn't get higher than a B when it comes to GCSE.

Is this likely to be the case? I was thinking that DS might be better in a set where he is working at a slower pace and having more chance for everything to sink in, than struggling in a set where the pace is too fast?

I am going to speak to the teacher myself, but would appreciate some advice before I do if anyone can help as I don't really know what to do for the best.

skylark2 Wed 19-Nov-14 19:22:49

"his teacher has told him that he wouldn't advise this, as it would mean he wouldn't get higher than a B when it comes to GCSE."

That may mean that they go sufficiently slowly that they never cover the material for the harder questions at all in that set. It's pretty much how maths GCSE works at the moment.

I think talking to the teacher is an excellent idea.

noblegiraffe Wed 19-Nov-14 19:41:24

If he's in Y9 he'll be sitting the new GCSEs so won't get a B anyway, he'll get a number.

But if second set only teach material up to a B grade, that's pretty much shutting off maths A-level as an option.

GnomeDePlume Wed 19-Nov-14 20:01:41

A counter view here.

Is there a danger that because of not being able to keep up that he will do worse in the top set than he would in a lower set?

If he is struggling to keep up now then I would suggest that A level maths is probably not for him anyway.

IMO maths is one of those subjects where there are leaps of comprehension as you progress. It isnt simply a case of knowing more maths. There is a leap from counting to addition, addition to multiplication, multiplication to algebra and so on. Some people struggle to make the next leap. Working at a slower pace may allow your DS to make more of those leaps than staying in a class where everyone is running ahead and leaving him behind.

Also, huge respect to your DS for raising this himself. It isnt always easy to speak up when there is a problem. Doing so shows your DS has a lot of maturity.

reddaisy Wed 19-Nov-14 20:04:59

Could you afford to get him a tutor? It would give him time to go over new concepts without having to drop down a set at school.

indigo18 Wed 19-Nov-14 20:06:09

How many sets are there? If a comp, there are probably at least 6 sets, so I would be surprised if the second set are only going up to B grade material.
Talk to the teacher. If you think he should drop down a set, could you afford a tutor to cover at least the A grade work?

eleflump Wed 19-Nov-14 20:30:21

Thanks everyone - my thinking was going along the line that Gnome raised, and that he would perhaps be better off learning at least something in a lower set rather than everything whizzing past him in a higher set and him learning very little at all.

He does actually have a tutor for an hour a week that we got when he began to struggle last year, and so I think I will speak to the teacher and see if there is anyway to build more of a link between the two. DS does tell her what they are studying, but perhaps if the tutor could let us know the topics for the term then she could plan a bit more in advance.

Probably stupid question here - is a B grade so bad (or whatever the new number equivalent might be when the exams change?) There would be no chance that DS wants to do A-Level maths, he leans more toward the science subjects.

I am probably just an old git, but it all seems so much more complicated and stressful now than when I was studying for my O'Levels exams...

TeenAndTween Wed 19-Nov-14 20:33:56

How many in year group?

My DD has just moved up to set 3 and is being told she could get an A and pigs might fly That's with a year group of 200.

If he leans towards science subjects then good maths would be useful.

FishWithABicycle Wed 19-Nov-14 20:35:15

If there's any chance he might want to study physics, computer science, or engineering at university he should stick with being top set, put in as much extra work as he needs to reach that point where it all "clicks" and should at least do maths AS if not A-level.

If by science subjects you mean more chemistry & biology, he'd be fine with a B.

eleflump Wed 19-Nov-14 20:47:14

We are just coming up to him choosing his options, and I know he definitely wants to do triple science.

He has said since being really small that he wants to be a forensic scientist, but I am not sure whether he says this in the way that DS2 says he wants to be a footballer for England!

I think he is relatively clever, definitely not a genius, and unfortunately definitely not one to be burning the midnight oil over his schoolwork! It all seemed to come very easily to him at primary, and I think is now coming as something of a shock that it is not that simple just to be able to breeze through with minimal effort.

However, I have seen the homework he has been bringing home and it is completely beyond anything I am capable of doing, and so I definitely do have some sympathy for him!

eleflump Wed 19-Nov-14 20:50:52

Sorry - to teenandtween - about 180 in year group I think, so not too dissimilar to your daughter, so maybe there is some leeway for movement without completely removing the chance of an A....

noblegiraffe Wed 19-Nov-14 20:51:02

Is he actually struggling because it's too hard for him and he's at the bottom of the group for tests? Or is he struggling because maths is hard and he's used to finding things easy and isn't accustomed to having to put work in?

I'd look at his results. If he's not at/near the bottom of the group, then he's probably in the right place ability-wise, just feeling the burn.

GnomeDePlume Wed 19-Nov-14 20:54:32

Does your DS's school offer Statistics once GCSE is done? My DS got a C at GCSE maths. He has started GCSE Statistics which he is really enjoying and has given him a lot more confidence in his numerical skills.

These days for A levels you really do need to have an A in the GCSE. In all subjects there is a big leap up from GCSE to A level. There is an assumption for A level that the GCSE syllabus was fully understood. Any gaps in comprehension will cause problems.

FishWithABicycle Wed 19-Nov-14 20:57:14

Maybe being a forensic scientist is in the same category as being a train driver/astronaut/footballer and he'll want something different in 3 months. But if he's serious, he should understand that thanks to the popularisation of forensics by tv shows, there are significantly more trained and qualified forensic scientists being created each year than job opportunities, it's a massively oversupplied field.

eleflump Wed 19-Nov-14 21:00:31

Definitely towards the bottom of the set in terms of tests now I think from what he has said, so will check this out further with the teacher.

Not sure about statistics..there is no sixth form at the school and so he will move to a college for A-Levels.

SlowlorisIncognito Wed 19-Nov-14 21:02:02

A B grade equivalent at GCSE level wouldn't shut down many options later on- if he is interested in forensic science, that would probably be fine for uni admissions (although the degree would probably include some maths).

However, if the teacher thinks he is capable of getting an A, if he puts a bit more work in, then perhaps it is more to do with never having found a subject hard before. Learning how to master something difficult is a really important life skill, especially for people who find most things easy.

When you're speaking to the teacher, maybe ask about the possibility of moving up again towards the end of the year, if he's feeling more confident. It sounds like there may not be as much movement in the sets once they reach y10.

GnomeDePlume Wed 19-Nov-14 22:28:21

My DCs' school pushes students through GCSE maths during year 10 leaving time for resits and/or Further Maths/Statistics in year 11.

noblegiraffe Wed 19-Nov-14 22:36:54

I bet they won't any more, Gnome now that first results only and not resits count in the league tables!

MustTidyUpMustTidyUp Wed 19-Nov-14 22:36:59

Did he do CATs? If yes do you keep his scores? And what did he get at ks2?

MustTidyUpMustTidyUp Wed 19-Nov-14 22:37:22

*know his scores

GnomeDePlume Wed 19-Nov-14 23:38:02

I honestly dont know noblegiraffe, I have one in year 11 and one in year 10 (plus one just gone off to university) and what is done has changed with each.

I wouldnt be surprised if the school continued to aim for GCSE maths in year 10 with an extra GCSE in year 11 (that is the main aim). This is not a high end comp but a 'struggling to not end up back in special measures again' town comp so grades dont really matter so much.

Rosetti Tue 02-Dec-14 19:50:25

We have just moved my daughter down a set and shes an academic scholar as the top set were moving fast in order to prepare the children for AS levels. We moved my DD as she has no intention of taking the subject beyond GCSE and was hovering around the bottom as she wouldnt do the extra maths sessions necessary to keep up with the pace. I would listen to your son - if he wants to move then do it as at the end of the day their self confidence will suffer in my experience.

ChillySundays Wed 03-Dec-14 12:10:03

My DD was moved down a set at start of Y10. The problem was the top set had the best teacher and her set had a shit teacher. Grades very quickly went down through the year to the point that we had to pay for two hours of private tuition a week through out Y11. She ended up with B but would have failed without the tutor.

I would speak to the teacher and make a decision from there.

portico Wed 03-Dec-14 12:49:29


Apologies but I have not read the whole thread. Please keep your DS1 in the top set. Try and find out if it is the work he is struggling with, or personalities in the classroom.

I can give an analogy. When my DS was in Y4 they struggled with Maths, so much so we started working with books from Year 1, yes Year 1. Over a period of 5 months performance shot through the roof. DC was moved to the top set, and was level pegging with the second table. In your case, why not do a diagnostic test and find out whether some of the weaknesses stem from topics he could not understand in Year 8. And then work through those topics at the Year 8 level, or even Year 7 if needed.

whathaveiforgottentoday Wed 03-Dec-14 21:25:43

Confidence can make a vast difference in maths and struggling in a set moving too fast can strongly undermine this. For some students, they need to be at the top of the class just for the confidence issue. It sounds like your son has sussed that out for himself.
Perhaps get a tutor for a year which can make an enormous difference in maths.

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