My Primary Five child says he has been put in the lowest maths stream at his international primary school. I'm worried that this will affect his self-esteem. Do primary schools usually stream for maths? Does this practice work for lower ability children? Julie McGuire, primary school teacher, responds: There are different views as to whether streaming is advantageous for primary school children. A common argument in favour of streaming is that teachers can level work as closely as possible to children's abilities, stretching all ability levels rather than pitching their teaching to the 'middle' of the class or the 'average' pupil. Not all primary schools stream for maths although increasingly many are doing so for the upper years. Primary teachers have a huge ability range to cope with in a single class and even if streaming does not occur, teachers usually split their class into ability groups for at least some of the lesson in order to differentiate work. This allows the able to be challenged and offers more support and guidance to those who are struggling. This method can be more flexible than streaming in terms of lesson timing. A lesson can be extended if concepts need reinforcing or if pupils are in the middle of an exciting investigation. It also allows groups to be fluid. Some children are more confident in certain areas of maths than others. Children that are good at arithmetic are not necessarily good problem solvers. The class teacher knows the children and can change groupings accordingly. This approach is less disruptive as it is not necessary for large groups of children to move to different classrooms. A common argument against streaming is that children feel that they have been labelled and this could affect the self-esteem of less able pupils, lowering their drive to improve and the expectations they have of themselves. Children (and parents) may also get upset or anxious if they are moved down a group. Primary teachers usually try to be discrete in their approach to grouping but whether children are streamed or grouped within the class you will find that most children are aware of exactly which group they are in and their own ability level compared with their peers. You can help your child's self-esteem and confidence by giving positive praise when he completes his maths homework. Try to keep up to date with the concepts he is covering in class so you can give him extra support if he is struggling. Help him to focus on his individual progress rather than comparing himself to his friends and make a point of emphasising other areas of his life in which he excels. Very importantly, don't become anxious yourself as this will make your son anxious. A positive, encouraging attitude is vital. Often parents blame their own poor maths skills if their child finds the subject difficult. This will only encourage their child to use an excuse to have low expectations of their own ability. Whether children are streamed for maths or grouped within their class, it is vital that frequent assessments are carried out and groups are flexible and constantly reviewed. This should ensure that children are being both challenged and supported at their individual level. The teaching of maths has changed enormously in recent years. The key to successful learning is that the teacher has an investigative, 'hands on' approach which holds the interest of the class. Maths can be fun!