Schools broadcasting in Britain began in 1924, but for almost 40 years mathematics was the one school subject conspicuous by its absence from the broadcast schedules. The "blind medium" of radio was not thought capable of providing anything that the classroom teacher could not already provide for themselves in the days of rote learning and arithmetic drills. Maths was occasionally covered as part of the general science and miscellany series but very rarely given a series in its own right.
The enterprising and experimental schools broadcasts during the Second World War did provide some scope for mathematics. Talks for Fifth Forms in the summer term 1941 was given over to a series of talks for Schools' Certificate candidates under the sub-title Mathematics and Life (a title which would be re-used for a schools TV series 20 years later). In December 1942, following occasional broadcasts within the series Games with Words, there was a week's worth of schools broadcasts under the title Games with Numbers, including dramatisations showing for example how maths comes in useful when shopping. A similar experiment for older children in July 1943 was titled Arithmetic in Everyday Life.
When schools television arrived in Britain in 1957 some experiments were made in maths by television. Associated-Rediffusion (ITV) offered a series for 14-16 year-olds in autumn 1957 called World of Figures which showed the real-world application of mathematics and ended with a programme about the launch of Sputnik 1 (the first ever man-made satellite) which took place during the term.
A year later, in autumn 1958, BBC television offered a series for 12-13 year-olds simply called Mathematics. This was a much more abstract and straightforward series covering some basic concepts such as geometry and statistics, and not far removed from a blackboard lesson. Both of these early television efforts lasted for only one term and then were never heard of again.
Beginning in the early 1960s mathematics programmes for schools on television, and to a lesser extent radio, began to proliferate...
Maths schools programmes on ITV and Channel 4
The target age ranges shown here are approximate.
Maths schools programmes on BBC TV
The target age ranges shown here are approximate.
The series You and Me included specific number and basic maths programmes for pre-school children starting in spring 1978, and the series DynaMo included numeracy programmes for home learners starting in autumn 1998. Neither of these series was technically a schools programme, but they were always broadcast amongst the schools schedules.
Maths schools programmes on BBC Radio
The brief experiments in mathematics by radio during the Second World War (see above) were not succeeded by a further dedicated maths series for over 20 years. A series called Mathematics (the same imaginative title which had earlier been used for the BBC's first maths schools TV programme!) was introduced in 1965, produced in Northern Ireland by the enterprising James Hawthorne, who also presented the programmes. Mathematics was aimed at average and above-average 11-13 year-olds, introducing mathematical concepts which would be new and unusual to children just starting secondary school. The series was on the air for just over five years.
There were no dedicated school radio programmes on mathematics throughout the 1970s, although the general studies series Prospect, for sixth form students, did dedicate half of its autumn term 1978 broadcasts to a unit on The Language of Mathematics
The real growth of school radio maths series began in 1980 with the introduction of Maths with a Story for 8-10 year-olds, and two years later Johnny Ball's Maths Games for 9-12 year-olds. Both series set out to inspire primary schoolchildren, the former with stories of the bizarre goings-on in the town of Muddleville which lead to mathematical investigations, and the latter with games and puzzles introduced enthusiastically by Johnny Ball, who wrote and presented the programmes. There were also 5-minute programmes from a Maths Songbook suitable for the whole primary school.
The focus moved to secondary schools programmes later in the 1980s, with a series called Graphicacy in 1987. Designed to trigger work on bar and pie charts, maps and flow charts amongst other topics, this was ostensibly a business studies programme with a strong mathematical theme. There were also two maths-focussed units of the sixth form series Help Yourself designed for pupils to use independently, one on Mathematics and another on Simple Equations and Directed Numbers.
There was a one-off programme on Maths in Geography at the very start of the autumn term 1988 as part of the BBC's 11-14 Project designed to ease the transition from primary school to the secondary exam curriculum. Finally Real Maths was introduced in 1989 to support the new GCSE exams for upper secondary pupils (and the Standard Grade in Scotland), presenting realistic drama, documentary and even a game show to show the relevance of learning mathematics.
Primary pupils were offered two new series in the late 1980s: a series called Calculated Tales in 1987, designed to show how maths can be useful be setting up real-life scenarios and leaving listeners to solve them using mathematical techniques; and a unit of the series Whirligig in 1988 called Maths Pack, designed to show how maths can be fun. Both of these sets of programmes were later combined into a series with the overall title Operation Maths, alongside some new programmes for teachers.
In 1993 Operation Maths was replaced by a new series called Maths 9-11, presented by Tony Robinson who introduced a range of mathematical games and activities (to confuse things slightly, Maths 9-11 was also the title that the BBC used in publicity for the TV series Square One TV, right up until its first broadcast in 1992).
Younger children were also well catered for in the 1990s, first with Radio Numbertime for 4-6 year-olds, which was launched in autumn 1993 alongside the TV series Numbertime, and then in summer 1998 with Counting Time for 3-5 year-olds, introducing the numbers one to ten with songs and rhymes.
At the very end of the 1990s a new type of school radio maths programme was introduced, focussing on mental maths and presenting an entertaining quiz format for pupils to answer quick-fire questions or problem solving without writing down their working. This was first presented in Maths Challenge for 9-11 year-olds in 1999, followed by Megamaths for 7-9 year-olds and Numbertime for 5-7 year-olds, both introduced in autumn 2000. These latter two series shared the titles of schools TV mathematics series for the same age groups, but were otherwise unrelated to the TV series. The mental maths quiz format did transfer to television with the Maths Challenge TV Workout in 2002. Another mental maths quiz series began in 2003, this time focussing on problem solving for the entire 7-11 age range. It was called Maths Adventure.
BBC Radio Ulster in Northern Ireland broadcast a unit of the school radio series Primary Themes called Radio 321 in 1998, about a local radio station and the children at a primary school who face real-life mathematical problems.
Finally two mathematics series for Scottish Gaelic-speaking primary pupils were broadcast on BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal in the early 2000s: Cho Luath 's a Ghabhas for 10-12 year-olds, and Tuig ann an Diog! for 7-9 year-olds.
Maths schools programmes on Teachers' TV
The Teachers' TV channel launched in February 2005 and closed down in August 2010. Most of its programmes were intended for teachers, but around a fifth of them were aimed at pupils and could be used in class. The first maths programme for pupils was broadcast at the beginning of March 2005: KS2 Numeracy - Maths Stories showed children telling equations as 'maths stories' by carrying large props between two tables. In September 2005 there was another standalone programme, KS2 Maths For Pupils - The Shape Show , covering two-dimensional shapes with computer animated characters.
There were also several individual episodes of Lesson Starters on the theme of mathematics. The first such Secondary Lesson Starters episode was shown in September 2005 and called Scrapyard Primary Lesson Starters came in January 2008, called Division, Volume and Other Topics
The first dedicated maths series for pupils came in June 2006 with Painting with Numbers , presented by Marcus du Sautoy. A World of Maths followed in September 2007, with each episode offering at least ten linked sequences on a common theme. Finally Inside Maths was a studio-based series for secondary pupils first shown in May 2010.
In its first two years Teachers' TV also repeated a large number of schools TV programmes from other broadcasters, including the maths series Maths 4 Real, Maths Mansion, The Number Crew and Star Maths from Channel 4, The Maths Channel and Maths File (the 1990s series by that title, aka Mathsphere Special) from the BBC.
(NB. Dates in this section refer to each programme's first TV transmission, not online publication dates, which may differ by several months)
- Fawdry (1974) page 54 mentions that "the potential of a blind medium was very limited, and maths virtually outside its range."
|Maths 9-11||1993-1994||Age 9-11||Mathematics Mathematics||Radio|
|Wondermaths||1986-1991||Age 9-11||Mathematics Mathematics||TV|
|Arithmetic in Everyday Life||1943||Age 13-16||Mathematics||Radio|
|A World of Maths||2007-2010||Mathematics Mathematics||TV|
|Mathematical Eye||1988-1994||Age 11-13||Mathematics Mathematics||TV|
|Maths File (1980)||1980-1985||Age 11-13||Mathematics Mathematics||TV|
|Towards Mathematics||1968-1971||Age 7-9||Mathematics Mathematics||TV|
|Leapfrog||1978-1981||Age 7-9||Mathematics Mathematics||TV|
|Mathspy||1989-1994||Age 13-16||Mathematics Mathematics||TV|
|A' Bhùth||2005-2012||Age 5-7||Mathematics Mathematics||TV|