Supporting High Achieving and Interested Students

Age 5 to 18
Article by NRICH team

Published 2011 Revised 2018

Being the parent or carer of a child who achieves highly or is extremely interested in mathematics brings its rewards and, sometimes, frustrations. If you are a confident mathematician yourself, then you may enjoy sharing the beauty and rigour of maths with your child. If you're not, how can you support them in a constructive way?

Supporting your child academically

Hopefully your child's school experience of maths is a positive one. If so, then effective support may be as simple as being positive about successes and understanding about challenges, and perhaps offering books, trips and other resources which will deepen understanding.

Perhaps the school experience is not as academically challenging as your child would like. What can you do?

The first action is to talk to the teacher. It may be helpful to take in examples of the sort of maths activity your child likes to do at home for pleasure, so that the teacher can see the difference between the home and school experience. Possible options offered by the school could be:

  • Setting extra or different work in class. If your child quickly finishes the work given in class, an extra challenge might capture their curiosity. However, sometimes if a child is given work that is too easy for them, they become distracted or uninterested. In this case, perhaps your teacher could offer a challenging task that is related to the class activity, so that your child is working on the same mathematical contexts and feels part of the classroom community, but they are given the breadth and depth that they need. 
  • Setting your child more homework or different homework from their peers.
    Increasing the amount of homework may not provide any new intellectual challenge if it is just 'more of the same'. Tailoring homework to your child's interests, or providing a more challenging version of what the rest of the class is working on might be a better way to meet your child's needs.     

    Your child's teacher might find the Primary and Secondary curriculum pages useful for finding challenging tasks linked to the school curriculum.
    Be a Mathematician! (for primary aged children) and Thinking Mathematically (for secondary aged students) might also be of interest to your child.

There are two methods that may be suggested by the school for accelerating your child:

  • Giving material from the following year's curriculum. This usually leads to your child working alone with little support, as the teacher is busy teaching the rest of the class. In addition, it is good for children to have opportunities to talk about mathematics with their peers, and working alone does not allow that. 
  • Organising for your child to move to work with older students. This can also be quite isolating as it moves the child away from their peer group.

Acceleration should only be considered in very rare cases, and the following conditions should all be met:

  • Your child should have absolute mastery of the current content (ie should be capable of getting top grades in any assessment)
  • Your child must be emotionally and socially able to cope with the consequences of acceleration
  • Most importantly, there should be a long term plan for your child's mathematical education. It's no use accelerating a 14 year old if, once they've got their GCSE top grade (or equivalent), they have to tread water for a year or two before pursuing more advanced maths; or making a 9 year old work though secondary school material if, when they get to secondary school, they have to do it all over again.

Supporting your child's interest in mathematics outside school

There are lots of opportunities for your child to access mathematics enrichment opportunities outside the classrom. Tap into the UKMT network (for secondary), or the Royal Institution Masterclass series (primary and secondary) for opportunities to mix socially with other like-minded students. UKMT offers a structured mentoring service, and finding an interested adult to talk maths with your child might be just what's needed to sustain interest. 

Books for children

Books for primary children

Books for secondary students (and beyond)

Useful Websites

NACE National Association for Able Children in Education.

NAGC National Association for Gifted Children

UKMT United Kingdom Mathematics Trust

Royal Institution Masterclass Network

FMSP Further Maths Support Programme

IMO International Maths Olympiad

Parallel Maths Project by Simon Singh