I’ve never met a child without some gaps in their maths learning; it’s inevitable. How they affect a student depends on where the gaps in their knowledge are.
Why gaps in maths knowledge occur
Gaps in learning maths can occur for a huge number of reasons. Maths is hugely sequential, which means that many new concepts build upon previously taught ones – miss one and you may have problems. Missing learning can result from any number of factors: missing lessons, not grasping a concept fully before the class moves on, losing concentration, teacher absences and a host of other reasons. It’s not unusual for sight or hearing problems to be picked up part-way through a school year which means children may not have been able to see or hear the lessons well. On top of that, there have been curriculum changes.
In 2014, the new primary school maths curriculum was introduced, which meant that (in order to move us higher up the international education rankings) pupils were expected to know more maths earlier. This means that if your child was born in 2002-2004 (and to an extent 2006-2008), there were in the thick of that and may have more gaps than younger students. These years had to get up to speed really quickly for the new year 2 and year 6 primary school SATs, which was a problem for many. I wrote about this in 2015 – Why is my child finding maths particularly hard at the moment?
Plus to compound that the new GCSEs are very different from the old ones – take a look at What’s different about the new GCSEs and what skills are needed to succeed. These exams require a more thorough understanding of the curriculum, more skills in problem-solving and ability to retain knowledge of all the curriculum. It’s hardly surprising there are many students struggling.
What problems are caused
Gaps in maths cause difficulty in taking on board new concepts, which can delay or pause learning in some topics. If these gaps are very early (foundation or year 1) in the curriculum, it can mimic the effects of dyscalculia – see Does my child have dyscalculia? Gaps later in the curriculum tend to have a less profound effect, but can still be problematic.
Much of the tutoring that our teachers do at Tutor My Kids, in maths, is gap filling. Whether it’s dealing with a year 3 child who’s struggling or a GCSE student who needs to simply pass their exam.