Numeracy skills

I regularly watch the Child Genius programme on Channel 4. What has perturbed me was that even at this high level of education the children have no concept about the methodology of mental arithmetic and maths, whether or not they arrived at the correct answer, they did not seem to know how they arrived at it. The expressions on the children’s faces told stories.

It is not just about knowing the times table up to 12. There are methods for adding up long lists of numbers in one’s head-digits can be counted by using a base of 10, so that 7+3=1, 6+4=another 1 etc. The figures do not even have to be adjacent in a row, they can be a few digits apart, and the eye will scan each base of 10. I once had a race in a maths classroom as several columns of digits were listed on the board and while the pupils used their calculators, I summed everything using my head. I not only won the race with the correct answer, but very few pupils arrived at the correct answer. When I was an accountancy student (16 years old), I timed myself to add up a day book in my head, and could do 100 pages in 30 minutes. The client of the Estate Agents where this too place, complained to my boss, accusing me of being asleep.
For multiplication, one child was asked the sum of 37 times 12. 37 is one of the easiest numbers to multiply. Times 3 is 111, times 6 is 222, times 9 is 333, times 12 is 444 etc. The 11 times table is very easy with large numbers. For two digit numbers 11 times 45 is 495, you add the digits together 4+5 and put the result in the middle. This works throughout with 11. Dividing by 3 is easy-add the figures together and if they total a sum divisible by 3, then the whole number is also divisible by 3. Nine is another such number (3 times 3). Dividing by 5 will only work out exactly if a figure ends with 5 or 0.
There are lots of games that can be played with numbers, and many numbers can be remembered through being significant and having a connection with something else such as with history or sport. Teachers can make their maths classes interesting-remember 147, the maximum break in snooker etc., or zero not being used in any form of maths until 1300 years ago, first used in India.

In favour of Grammar Schools

Having been to school in the fifties and early sixties, without having passed my 11 plus, and having the comprehensive education imposed on me in the desperately poor education system of Hackney, I feel more qualified to write an opinion on grammar schools, than subsequent generations in which this type of schooling has generally died out (much the same as those referendum who were around in the days before the UK was a part of the European Union).

My education since leaving school in 1963 has been superb, having obtained a professional qualification and a 2nd masters degree, but I was taught very little in school, and this article shows the reasons behind this.

I am not arguing in favour of grammar schools alone, but a return to a 4 tiered system that died out in the early sixties. In those days the UK had a) Grammar schools (generally thought of for people interested in sciences), b) Central Schools, for pupils who had marginally failed their 11+ (in my case by just 3 marks), who were generally interested in office work, c) Technical schools generally for pupils interested in an engineering career and d) Secondary Modern Schools, for the remainder. There was also a 13+ available to allow pupils a second chance to qualify for a grammar school.

The problem with the old system was that it did not fully cater for late developers. There was an unfair threshold for pupils who sat the 11+ depending upon the month they were born. The school year runs from August to July, so those born in August were almost 12 when they sat the exam (depending on the exam date) and those born May-July were still 10. Unfortunately there was and never has been a 12+. The other problem is that with schools being for social as well as academic education, for those pupils who do pass the 13+, they have probably already made firm friends in their existing school, and would be reluctant to switch schools at any age. Thirteen is also very close to the start of the build-up to G.C.S.E. studying.

By mixing the education standards within one school, it just adds to the bullying problem that may already exist, as jealousy abounds from those who are below the educational norm towards the clever pupils, and possibly in the other direction where bragging rights enter the equation. Bullying is going to happen anyway, but this exacerbates the situation, giving more reasons for it to occur.

Another problem at my school, which I understand has now been eliminated was the issue of grouping students en bloc for their total academic mark, rather than separating by abilities in individual subjects. We all have individual talents and somebody in my class was academically illiterate and could score zero in Maths and English, but capable of achieving 100% in Art. I was the opposite and scored 91% in an end of year Maths exam, but 5% in Art. Why were we grouped together and learning the same curriculum? I can barely draw a straight line even now, but with an IQ of 150, could challenge anybody at my level in Maths.

The standard of comprehensive education is poor. Compared with other countries e.g. Germany. I was lecturing 2nd year degree students at UEL in Management Accounting. Those educated in the UK had a numeracy ability of about aged 13, and could barely understand simple percentages. The German students were fantastic by comparison. Why should that be? In 1989 my daughter achieved a full scholarship to a very prestigious private school, and was in a class to achieve an A grade or A* in Maths, when 3 years later an asset stripper shut the school down, forcing the pupils to attend a local comprehensive school, where my daughter and her schoolfriends were put into a B grade maths class because there was no room in the higher class. She did eventually go to University to achieve a 2.1.

I therefore propose that Grammar schools should return as well as the other 3 categories of school, but with a 12+ to accommodate late developers.

Examination Technique

Check the following:-

The students’ decisions on what they would prefer to revise:-

Resources at disposal

  • Awareness of the syllabus
  • Awareness of the criteria

Run through past papers

  • The type of questions that are regularly examined
  • The type of questions that have not recently been examined.
  • What are the higher marked questions normally about?
  • What are the lower ones about?
  • Checking model answers

Analyse individual mock results (if any)

The setting of reading and studying at home

  • Use of internet
  • One to one tutorials
  • Any topics not covered during the normal lesson scheme
  • Any weaknesses shown by previous examiners reports
  • Presentation Skills


  • Speed/content (mark related) of answers
  • The week before the exam
  • The day of the exam

Message to all Accountancy Practices



You may have staff who are undergoing existing training, some may be doing C.A.T. or A.A.T., which nowadays can be fast tracked to an A.C.C.A. course. They may already be doing A.C.C.A. or the other CCAB courses. We can also help with your own CPD requirements.

You may be running a practice and need to update your training and qualifications.

Strategic Business Trainers are experienced with all this type of training and much more. Mr. Laurence Hoppen of Strategic Business Trainers is a Chartered Certified Accountant of long standing, with substantial teaching experience over the past 22 years.

Sage Training and other short courses also provided.

One-to-one tuition available.

Individual prices available on request according to numbers, location and length of training required.

Based in Woodford IG8 7DG, depending upon numbers, training can be done at your own premises if preferred.

Email: for more information

Also on LinkedIn


Contact Number: 0208-504-8864

What is wrong with our professional syllabuses?

ACCA members are often asked to comment on improvements to syllabus as an when there are changes made. Laurence Hoppen (of Strategic Business Trainers) has made comments on three occasions in the past 11 years (e,g. a letter dated 14th April 2005).

It seems one of the often quoted comments in the media is that employers are complaining that people are not being educated to step immediately into a job, in other words the theory and practice does not marry very well.

This applies in accountancy, where for example an audit qualification does not come with personal skills development.  When dealing with an audit client, or client’s staff, one needs to be assertive, tactful, and diplomatic. This behaviour does not necessarily come naturally to some people. Likewise, negotiation skills sometimes requires training. Other skills, which are taught in ACCA  paper F1, such as staff management and motivation techniques, need some practical applications before letting newcomers loose to manage staff in an organisation.

There are several qualified accountants who have never had any experience or training in learning an accounts package (such as Sage). Why do professional bodies not address these issues in their syllabus?

For students learning papers F2 and F3 together, a dilemma can arise, when before a student has mastered double entry in F3, he/she may be required to address process costing in F2 which requires knowledge of double entry.

School leavers, college leavers, university leavers who start work are immediately confronted with receiving payslips that they do not understand. AAT is one of the few body’s who provide payroll training. Why is this not made an essential part of learning for everybody?

Many people are leaving school, and even university without sufficient numeracy skills to even calculate V.A.T. They are not properly taught percentages. Why is this not made an essential part of learning for everybody? I notice bank tellers needing to use a calculator to add two simple figures together. What has happened to our knowledge of mental arithmetic?






Learn more about dyslexia

Dyslexia affects approximately 1 in 10 people in the UK. That means over 6 million people suffer from the condition. Dyslexia is the most common and best understood ‘hidden disability’ – but there is still much to be done to help.

Charities play a vital part in providing this help, including:

    1. British Dyslexia Association
    2. Dyslexia Action
    3. Dyslexia Research Trust
    4. Dyslexia Foundation
    5. The Dyslexia Association of London


Dyslexia can affect anyone, and many celebrities have been very public about their condition. Actors Jennifer Aniston, Orlando Bloom, Jim Carey, Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn have all shared their story. Leading scientists like Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein; artists Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso, musicians Cher and John Lennon; sportsman Muhammad Ali, politicians George Washington, Nelson Rockefeller, and Winston Churchill, entrepreneurs Richard Branson, Kelly Hoppen, and Henry Ford, and movie director Steven Spielberg have all been affected. And although Dyslexia is understood to impact spelling and reading, many famous authors suffer from dyslexia.  Agatha Christie, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Philip Shultz all had the condition.

Sir Richard Branson on Dyslexia:

Want to understand more about the in’s and out’s of Dyslexia? We recommend this fantastic TED Talk: What is dyslexia? – Kelli Sandman-Hurley

Dyslexia Awareness Week

To raise awareness of the cause, charities around the UK have collaborated to arrange Dyslexia Awareness Week. This year’s theme is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’, looking at finding the right support for people in the workplace, at school and in their day-to-day lives.

Local Dyslexia Associations, bookshops, libraries, schools and community centres will host Story Time sessions to encourage children, families and adults to find books they will love. The sessions will feature books suitable for people with Dyslexia and special guests.

 How to choose a children’s book for reluctant readers and readers with dyslexia (Dyslexia Action)

Barrington Stoke has great choice of books edited and designed to minimise some of the obstacles that can stop struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers from getting hooked by a book.

The ‘Quick Reads’ titles are great for adults, as they are written by authors who adults will have heard of and want to read. They are also short stories so there is no stressing about having to read 300 pages, they also don’t have too many characters. These can be purchased as books or on kindle if people prefer e-readers.’ – Sally Joyner, British Dyslexia Association.

Dyslexia Awareness Week Competition 2015

This year’s event will be topped off with an exciting competition, open only to people with Dyslexia, who are either artists or writers.

Artists (including photography and graphic design): Age Categories: 5-11 years, 12-17 years, and 18+ Writers (including fiction, non-fiction and poetry): Age Categories: 5-11 years, 12-17 years, and 18+

Winners will be announced at the Dyslexia Awareness Week Awards 2015, in the Hall at Gray’s Inn London on 27th November 2015. 

Find out how to get involved in this week’s events: Dyslexia Awareness Week Events!

 Are you interested in learning more about Dyslexia in the workplace? The British Dyslexia Association have put together a guide to help both employers and their employees. Check it out now! Inspired by this article? Check out the CharityJob website and find great opportunities in the charity sector!


Experiences of being a supply teacher

meLaurence Hoppen’s qualifications are as an Accountant  (F.C.C.A.), an assessor NCFE level 3,and as a further/adult education teacher (City and Guilds 7307). He has  recently graduated with a level 7 degree- a post graduate certificate in higher education at ifs University College.

Having qualified and worked as a professional accountant for many years and then obtaining an adult teaching qualification to work in FE and HE, I ventured into supply teaching between 2001 and 2003, having somewhat recovered from major back surgery.

Coming from my background into supply teaching was a major culture shock. I had expected to be engaged in real teaching work, but on several occasions I was being used as an over-qualified child-minder. Not that the pupils themselves could recognise this, because in the vast majority of schools, where I was engaged, the pupils would ask me whether I was qualified (as if the agencies would dare send anybody unqualified). The school staff were very respectful in this area, but the pupils, perhaps from previous experiences, would question my qualifications often as soon as I introduced myself. However, the agencies had a different agenda. Although they require their teachers to register with specific teaching subjects (in my case I selected Business Studies and IT as the most likely subjects, where I could find work in schools) they sometimes asked me to cover at schools for subjects in which I knew nothing e.g. design and technology. In one or two cases, schools were also asking me to cover for classes, not only where I knew nothing, but in subjects, where with a bit of personal questioning, they had no right to place me, e.g. imagine asking a Jewish teacher in a Church of England School to teach religious education on the topic of Mass. That was me, who does not even believe in the concepts of Christianity. I handled that class by letting the students carry on with personal study on anything they liked, as long as they behaved themselves, which they did. On another occasion I was asked to teach an art class-where my skills at art can be expressed as obtaining 5% in an end of year exam. In contrast one of the most enjoyable occasions was when I was given a maths class to cover, where I was able to demonstrate my numeracy skills by having a race with the students by adding up columns of figures (selected by the pupils) in my head, while they used calculators (a lovely party trick, in which I won overwhelmingly). I was able to prove why it is unsafe to rely on calculators and to demonstrate the benefits of doing sums in their head.

To be fair to most of the schools, in most of the classes I was provided with pre-set work to distribute, where students could just carry on from their pre-set instructions. At least this was organised, but it did not provide me with the stimulus of teaching anything. Far better on the rare, but fortunately lengthy bookings, where I was teaching my chosen subjects and was able to provide my own material towards their syllabus.

Referring back to the culture shock, this comes in the form of the behaviour of the pupils and how different schools handle these matters. In my very first class, a school in Harlow, the class welcomed me by throwing paper aeroplanes about the classroom, a couple of which hit me in the face. Not only had I little experience of disruptive students, I also had no formal training. One can only sink or swim, and it is vital to learn as quickly as possible. I have always been fairly street-wise, having been brought-upon Hackney schools in the early sixties, but had never seen anything like this in front of the teachers, who were generally (but not always) strict and would threaten with the cane for so much as looking at a teacher even in a scared way that the teacher disapproved. The pupils in my class at school, during the height of the Krays were budding protection racketeers (seriously) and we also had a dog race fixer, who put chewing gum in a paw. During a fight in the “private study room”, one of the pupils in my year threw a jack-knife into my foot and when the headmaster asked him what job he was going into he said “Hackney Police Force”. I digress. So the way I handled my first supply class was to prevent them leaving the room at the end of the lesson until they had made the room look tidy-no matter who had made the mess. This was pupils taking responsibility as a team

Coincidentally, I have found that in respect of misbehaviour, it always seemed to happen when I worked in schools in a borough beginning with the letter “H”. Harlow, Havering, Hackney, Hornsey, a nice job for Eliza Doolittle here. More about the behavioural issues in the next article.

Because of the behaviour of some of the pupils, I have had enough of supply teaching and will hopefully never go back to it, until I am really destitute.