Info for Teachers


I created this website to help parents because I know just how much parental involvement in their child's mathematics impacts on teachers’ work in the classroom.

I only realised just how interested they are, and how deeply involved they are, when I took some time out of teaching. Mixing with parents through business, I was amazed at how strongly they felt and what they said about their children’s maths – things that they would never knowingly say to a teacher’s face!




My PhD research found that many more parents are interested in their children's mathematics than teachers realise. They are helping their children with mathematics, 'behind closed doors' as it were, away from the view of schools and teachers. It is what I have called 'hidden help' with mathematics, and it is not talked about much or discussed with school.

Often unwittingly, the help they offer is in conflict with methods being used in schools as parents are unaware of the fact that there are many ways of teaching the basic processes, or of methods used in schools. If parents do not recognise methods used or are unaware of methods used, they can become unsupportive and suspicious and even be critical of school.

This is why we need to urgently reach out to parents, and inform them of methods used so that we can work together with them. There are many benefits when schools and parents work together, including improvement in pupils' results and outcomes, and better relationships between home and school.

Unfortunately, not all parents are able to come to, or want to attend curriculum events set up by school. This is why I believe all forms of media and alternative avenues need to be used and explored to reach and help such parents who often, in trying to be supportive, unwittingly confuse their child or work in conflict with schools' methods.

And this is why I have written my books, and run Maths for Parents courses (See Blog), which, among other things, inform parents of the methods used in primary schools to teach the basic processes, and why I have now set up my website for parents, which is different from any other website for parents as it uses the results from my research together with my experience as a classroom teacher and coach to give advice to parents on how to help their child with mathematics.

In this website I say things that I know teachers would like to say to parents in order for them to help their children and work alongside school.

Do recommend the site to parents and let me know if there are other things I can say to them on your behalf


This is the Abstract from my PhD thesis, awarded from The University of Bristol 2003, Parents Helping Their Children With Mathematics (2002) R.A.Russell, details are held on the CERUK database:

Using case study methodology, and an interpretative paradigm, this study illuminates the hitherto unresearched hidden help that parents give their children with maths.

It uses data collected from two phases, the first being three case studies of parents who approached the author as a private tutor, the second being five case studies of parents participating in a 'Maths for Parents' course designed by the author.

It establishes that without prompting, parents do help their children with maths. It identifies seven new aspects of why and how parents help with maths: rescuing their children from the negative effects of school maths (a 'saviour attitude'), influenced by parents' past bad experiences of maths; being a source of maths knowledge for their children; keeping a watchful eye on whether the curriculum is being covered; trying to keep their child one step ahead of school lessons; acting as a bridge between home and school; concern for their child's welfare rather than academic achievement; and responding to their child's request. Parents who do not have an up-to-date understanding of pedagogy and school/curriculum structures have difficulties in supporting their children's maths, irrespective of their social class or mathematical ability.

The study concludes that the practice is more widespread than has previously been acknowledged. It urgently needs to be recognised, and parents' perspectives understood by policy makers and schools, to limit the damage that can arise through ignorance of its extent.

Although some parents may continue to work independently, as their agendas are mutually exclusive from those of school, initiatives to work in partnership with parents can be successful in bringing greater understanding of the curriculum, enriching parents' understanding of school maths and their relationships with their children and school, and resolving the conflicts that can hamper a child's mathematical progress.

The main points that teachers need to realise are:

Hidden help is going on far more than you realise... you need to be aware of this and acknowledge it.
'Hidden help with mathematics' is help that parents give their children with mathematics, without prompting from schools to do it. In other words, help that is initiated by parents themselves. This help is 'behind closed doors' away from the view of researchers and schools. It is going on far more than you realise, and you need to be aware of this fact.

It is not just 'pushy parents'. The reasons why parents get involved in helping their children are complex.
When I did the literature search for my research, I found there were three main reasons given for why parents take it into their own hands to help their children with maths.

One was that they thought school were not doing it properly, another was that they did not agree with the way things were being done, and felt what they said would not make a difference, and thirdly, it was middle class parents wanting to prepare their children for a future career.

However, all these conclusions came from studies where parents were involved with their children's maths, the initiative and the activities originated from the school or the research team. These provided only very partial illumination, at best, of what happens when parents take the initiative. My research was the first to look into what happens when parents take the initiative, without prompting from school.

These are a summary of my findings on the question: Why do parents help their children with maths?
My study identified various motivations and roles that can be added to those reasons put forward:

  • 'Saviour Attitude' was the term I used for an attitude exhibited by four out of five of the parents on the course. These parents had all had an experience of maths that they wished to save/rescue their children from, and so had intervened to prevent them going through the same thing. This was regardless of
    academic ability.
  • Provider of maths knowledge is how some of the parents appear to see themselves. Sheila felt responsible for being able to do the maths homework set for Jo. Sean used to give maths lessons to all three of his children: he was a provider of maths knowledge for them. Vicky also saw her role as a provider of maths knowledge and recognised she would not be able to keep up: some parents provide maths knowledge by engaging a tutor for their child.
  • Responding to child's request. Two of the parents reported their children asking them to set work for them.
  • Keeping child one step ahead of peers. Although Kelly intervened when her sons were struggling, with Lucy (her youngest) she saw her role as keeping Lucy one step ahead of her peers by introducing her to topics before they were covered at school. Her theory was that the topics would then be easier for Lucy to understand when she met them at school, and she would be at an advantage. McNamara et al. (2000) identified a similar situation, where a parent was 'moving on' with a child.
  • Concern for welfare. Rather than seeking academic achievement, several parents intervened because they were concerned for their child's general welfare.
  • The importance of maths as a subject was a factor underlying the reasons
    for helping.

I summarised these findings in my recent paper at the BSRLM conference in Bristol on 20th June 2009:

You will see from this paper that the help parents give in this way impinges on what goes on in school.

Parents are concerned about their children's maths, and try to help.
Many face difficulties.

I describe the difficulties I found parents facing, when they try to help their children with maths, very fully in my dissertation, and have written more informally about them in a few articles, which can be viewed here for example.

The reason they have difficulty helping their children is not necessarily to do with maths ability or social class... it's more about whether they have an up-to-date understanding of pedagogy.
We forget how complex teaching really is, as it has become so second nature to us! This is one of the main things I want to say to teachers. We therefore need to be reminded that:

'Parents who do not have an up-to-date understanding of pedagogy and school/curriculum structures have difficulties in supporting their children's maths, irrespective of their social class or mathematical ability.'

That's why it may seem surprising, but parents who are good at maths even have difficulty recognising the mathematics in tasks set, and why I say: It's not to do with maths ability or social class... it's about whether they have an up-to-date understanding of pedagogy!

We need to take the initiative and reach out to help parents. But not all are able to, or want to come along to school to get this help. Use of media, websites
and a TV series are ways to do this to reach all parents. That is why my website is here!

These are the recommendations taken from my PhD thesis that I made to teachers of mathematics. There are recommendations for school leaders and policy makers too:


  1. Teachers of mathematics need to be informed and recognise:
    1. The extent of parental help is greater than has previously been acknowledged
    2. That parents are not an homogeneous group.
    3. That many people have had bad experiences of maths teaching and teachers. In helping their children, they may be trying to save them from a similar fate.
    4. That parents find it difficult to understand information sent home by school regarding the curriculum. This cuts across class and social divide. This is more to do with a lack of understanding of pedagogy and school/curriculum structure than class or maths ability.
    5. That parents lack pedagogical knowledge, and do not necessarily understand or recognise the methods being used at school.
    6. That there is diversity in parents' attitudes towards working alongside school and using the same methods.
    7. That there is diversity among parents in the role they see themselves as having in helping their children with maths. The following are to be added to those already acknowledged, namely:
      1. That some parents see their role as being a provider of maths knowledge for their children. They take the initiative and set maths work for their children. Teachers need to aware too that the child is possibly being taught other methods, and are advised to affirm these where possible.
      2. That some parents see their role as keeping a watchful, protective eye on their child's progress, making sure the curriculum is being covered. This is not a slight on teachers' professional integrity if they do this. They use the comments teachers make to students in their exercise book, to make judgements on the child's progress and about the teacher. Therefore books need to be carefully and regularly marked, using a consistent, easy to translate mark scheme, e.g. a percentage or fraction.
      3. That for a variety of reasons, some parents engage private tutors. For some this is the way they fulfil their role of being a provider of maths knowledge for their child. It is not necessarily a criticism of the teacher.
  2. Heads of department and school managers need to:

    Find ways of informing parents about methods used at school. One way of doing this is to develop and make available a course, building on the findings from the Maths for Parents course, which contains some pedagogical knowledge, informing parents of the methods used by school. These could be offered using one of the following methods: courses run by school, or done by distance learning using or videos or TV. Also inform parents about the assessment of mathematics at the school and the tiering structure at GCSE.

    1. Convey firmly the validity of approaches used by teachers of mathematics at the school, to maintain parents' confidence in them and, if necessary, show up the deficiencies of other methods (e.g. Skemp (1971), dealing with misconceptions and errors).
    2. Promote actively the good quality of all the mathematics teachers recruited at the school, to maintain parents' confidence in them. Channels of communications between teacher and parents need to be encouraged and maintained. Students' books need to be carefully and regularly marked, using a consistent marking scheme. This is particularly urgent in light of Hughes et al (1994) who found that if a parent is confident in a school, then the child is likely to do well. If a school and its teachers met the parents' criteria, then it is more than likely that their children would be happy and making progress; if they did not, then the converse would be true. (p.122)
    3. Schools should have approved lists of tutors, drawn from those registered with the General Teacher's Council (GTC), that the school feels happy working with, made freely available to parents. It should also include guidance for fees (based on the current rate paid to home tutors) to protect parents from being unscrupulously overcharged or teachers being undervalued. This may seem a bitter pill for maintained schools to swallow, but as parents are using private tutors anyway, it would be helpful for all concerned to bring the issues "above board".
    4. Find ways of encouraging links between parents so that help and support can be given to those who wish to help their children with maths.



Hughes, M., Wikeley, F. & Nash, T. (1994) Parents and Their Children's Schools. Oxford: Blackwell.

McNamara, O., Hustler, D., Stronach, I., Rodrigo, M., Beresford, E., & Botcherby, S. (2000) 'Room to Manoeuvre: mobilising the 'active partner' in home-school relations', British Educational Research Journal, 26, 4, pp.473-489.

Skemp, R. (1971) The Psychology of Learning Mathematics. London: Penguin.

For information on Dr. Rosemary Russells publications to date, please click here.