£41m funding boost for the mastery approach: great news for schools, but what does it mean for teachers?

Blog: Charli Scouller , Head of Communications | Posted: 13/07/16
£41m funding boost for the mastery approach: great news for schools, but what does it mean for teachers?

Yesterday we woke up to front page news of the Government’s £41m funding boost to support 8,000 primary schools adopt a mastery approach to mathematics education. This was followed by an announcement by the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, at the ACME conference.

This is undoubtedly positive news, and we are thrilled that the excellent work of the NCETM and Maths Hubs will continue. (In case of any confusion off the back of the media articles, this is where the funding is going. References to ‘maths mastery’ within the Government announcement were in fact intended as a reference to the concept and approach itself, rather than the Mathematics Mastery partnership programme we run – lest there be any misunderstanding that we are the recipients of the £41m!)

However, we remain very happy at this news because it reinforces an extremely positive message for us. The mastery approach (in all its various forms) is here to stay! Did we ever doubt it? Absolutely not (and of course we’re well aware much of the mastery approach is not even new).

But educational practices – like flares, clogs and crop-tops – can go in trends. What’s in style one year might find itself unceremoniously dropped from the Department for Education’s catwalk a few years later.

We regularly shout that the Mathematics Mastery programme is a long-term approach. Indeed, our mission is to transform mathematics education in the UK (not to give mathematics education a quick shot in the arm). It’s therefore fair to say that being in it for the long game is at the heart of what we do.

This funding shows us the Government also recognises the mastery approach (as a concept) is worthy of long-term support, and is prepared to put its money where its mouth is to support schools.

However, with big money generally comes big questions. And we’re betting lots of teachers were asking similar questions when they read the news yesterday.

What does the Government’s ‘support for adopting the mastery approach’ actually mean for teachers?

Through the NCETM and Maths Hubs, 140 teachers each year will be trained as Mastery Specialists. They will then go on to lead professional development among groups of teachers in local areas, resulting in 700 trained Mastery Specialists and mastery-approach trained teachers from 8,400 primary schools by 2020.

How does initiative this fit with, and differ from, our partnership programme?

Schools join the Mathematics Mastery partnership because they want a complete and intensive programme of professional development. This includes training, a mastery curriculum, classroom materials, coaching and mentoring, and assessment tools.

In really crude terms, you could say joining our programme is like selecting the full-service option at a car wash. Some customers just want a quick rinse, whereas others want the entire shebang, complete with wash ‘n’ wax and interior cleaning.

Neither is right or wrong. It’s all about what different people need, at different points in time.

We don’t intend for every school in the country to become a Mathematics Mastery partner and we’re aware our programme wouldn’t be the answer for every school. But we feel strongly that schools should have plenty of support options – and teachers plenty of professional development options – to help them and their pupils thrive.

The NCETM and Maths Hub initiatives, and the Mathematics Mastery programme, all exist to support schools. We share a common goal to drive up the standard of mathematics education in the UK, and a common belief that nothing is more powerful than teachers developing teachers.

Are we all in agreement over what a mastery approach means?

When I say ‘we’ here, I mean Mathematics Mastery, NCETM, Maths Hubs and the many other organisations who have a stake in the future of mathematics education.

And the honest answer to this is yes and no.

Yes, there are lots of shared beliefs over what ‘mastery’ means and what a mastery curriculum should look like. However, we all acknowledge more could be done to clarify our shared recommendations to schools, to alleviate the confusion and mixed messages which often arise.

Here at Mathematics Mastery, we are committed to working alongside other organisations to ensure teachers can access clear guidance and support on what the ‘mastery approach’ is at an essential level (regardless of whether you’re a partner school of ours or not).

We think this has been lacking up until now, and we look forward to rectifying this in the coming year.

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