Week of ‘inspirational’ maths launched in 300 UK schools

A visual-based US maths initiative will be rolled out to thousands of UK pupils over the next two weeks in a bid to “revolutionise” their attitudes to the subject.

Nearly 300 primary and secondary schools have signed up for the Week of Inspirational Maths programme, developed by educator Professor Jo Boaler of Stanford University.

The project aims to provide students with positive messages about maths and engaging lessons that show the topic is visual and creative.

But the launch, in partnership with UK charity National Numeracy, has been met with criticisms and branded as an attempt to “dumb down” the teaching of the topic.

Andrew Smith, a Coventry-based maths teacher and regular writer for Schools Week, said that with the current “crisis” of unqualified maths teachers in England the “last thing we need is to make teaching the subject less academic in content”.

“The programme is used to make teachers feel guilty about teaching maths rather than entertaining the children with puzzles,” he added.

However, Margaret Haseler, the senior primary lead at national numeracy, defended the delivery of the programme.

She said: “The activities develop mathematical fluency, reasoning and problem solving skills — the three aims of the national curriculum in England.

“Lower attaining children are able to access them, and at the same time they are stretching for higher attaining children, so teachers can present tasks which everyone is doing together regardless of ability.

“This isn’t dumbing down, it’s good practice in teaching and helps to avoid children developing a fixed ability mindset due to regularly being given easier work than others.”

The scheme follows a similar project involving thousands of schools in the US.

Each participating school receives a set of five complete lesson plans with supporting resources, including videos, ideas for extending learning and access to an online forum.

Professor Boaler said: “US teachers who have used these lessons are reporting huge excitement from students who are now believing in their unlimited maths potential and seeing maths as an open, creative subject, instead of lists of rules and procedures.”

In spite of this, Mr Smith said: “These methods have been tried again and again and failed again and again. The research these projects are based on is utterly discredited. It is entirely a matter of fashion and there is no evidence behind it.”

The work of Professor Boaler has come under scrutiny in the past including a study of three high schools in the US that she called Hillside, Greendale, and Railside. The findings were said to be “grossly exaggerated” when she would not reveal the identities of the schools to qualified researchers.

An investigation by Stanford University rejected the allegations and “found no evidence of scientific misconduct or fraudulent behaviour”. Ms Boaler also previously published a statement rebutting the claims.

A national numeracy spokesperson defended the research: “In the US, Professor Boaler and her team found that students taught for 18 lessons with this approach, increased their standardised test scores by 50 per cent.”

But Mr Smith questioned the effectiveness of the programme for UK pupils.

“We don’t need to learn from America, we know which countries do well at teaching maths and that is not the US, they are less successful than we are.”

After a two week trial of the programme, data and feedback will be collected from schools to assess the impact of the project and decide its future development.

All of the online resources will also be freely available from for any school wanting to use them.

Only those in the study group will be included in the evaluation.

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  1. Tom Burkard

    This would be the same Jo Boaler who first made her mark with “Ethnomathematics”, which was based on the premise that traditional maths–as taught in universities around the world–is the property of Western civilisation and hence reflects the values of the oppressors. She argued that ethnic minority children ‘learned differently’.

    Boaler is as hopeless a historian as she is a mathematician and an educator. ‘Western’ mathematics uses a numbering system devised by Arab scholars.

  2. Margaret Haseler believes that excitement = understanding = progress. That’s obviously where I’m going wrong. For what it’s worth, I hate the fact that the word ‘mindset’ appears to pepper every conversation about education at the moment. I am not sure if I had a mindset when I was at primary school forty odd years ago: I am not even sure if a I have one now.