Blog: Dr Helen Drury, Founder and Director
Communicating Intent, Implementation and Impact
Dr Helen Drury reflects on Ofsted’s new inspection framework while launching a new section of the Mathematics Mastery website designed to help our partner schools communicate the ‘Intent’ of their curriculum and explaining how Mathematics Mastery supports teachers to close the implementation gap.
England’s obsession with exam results has been really damaging for young people. It’s also made teaching much less fun! Rather than teach the full domain of the subject to every pupil, what’s taught has got narrower and narrower, with teachers under pressure to predict the questions on high stakes exams and drill pupils to succeed in them.
Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework is a huge shift away from that. Exam results are still important, and performance in maths will rightly continue to be a passport to social mobility. But now the experience of pupils in the years running up to those exams matters too.
We’ve long been campaigning for a re-focus on what Amanda Spielman calls ‘the very substance of education’. Our pioneer schools, when the Mathematics Mastery partnership began in 2012, were so brave focussing on substance and understanding in a system where that was undervalued.
Our partner schools have demonstrated again and again that, by focussing on a meaningful mathematics education (rather than test preparation), you can achieve deeper understanding and greater enjoyment and see improvements in exam performance.
However, the big change in inspection emphasis will inevitably have some unintended consequences. Ofsted’s research found that the vast majority of schools do not have a language for discussing curriculum and have given it surprisingly little thought.
No quick fix
It’s great that Ofsted’s trying to shift this culture, but is everything happening too quickly? Because of the accountability culture, many school leaders find themselves under pressure to ‘fix’ curriculum almost overnight. It feels like a missed opportunity, as it would have been great to see schools take their time.
It does mean though that the schools who’ve been collaborating around Mathematics Mastery’s common curriculum for the past few years have put themselves at a huge advantage. I’d love to have seen all schools in the country have those years of thought and reflection.
To ensure that all of our partner schools are able to make the most of and communicate this advantage, we’ve developed a new section of our website to explain how Mathematics Mastery contributes to a school’s curriculum and to describe how the programme helps to close the gap between Intent and Implementation. You can have a read of it here.
Why do we teach mathematics? Because the habits of thinking mathematically are life-enriching. Because it is vital to be numerate to participate fully in society and democratic processes. Because our economy depends on a numerate workforce and a significant number of specialists in maths and science-related subjects. So, when we’re thinking about the ‘Intent’ of our programme, it is all about finding ways to ensure that every young person, regardless of background, has a rich and meaningful mathematics education.
One of the most innovative things about the Mathematics Mastery programme, when it was founded back in 2012, was its integration of curriculum resources with professional development. Before Mathematics Mastery, there were textbooks, online packages and resourced schemes of work, but they often had limited one-off training, if any, and then maybe a ‘Teachers Guide’ which was rarely consulted.
There was a wealth of training on offer, much of it of excellent quality, but as a teacher I often found it difficult to put the exciting ideas I’d heard about on a course into practice in my classroom. We weren’t using the words ‘Intent’ and ‘Implementation’ back then, but we were only too aware of the gap between what’s in the mind of a curriculum designer or resource creator, and what happens in the classroom.
Because we work with all our partner schools over a sustained period, and visit them all regularly, we are uniquely placed to help schools minimise the intent-implementation gap. We provide all our schools with training and resources for preparing to teach, each of which is iteratively honed to ensure it’s efficient and effective. We’re committed to our teachers learning as much as they can about the most important things, in the shortest and most appropriate time possible.
When it comes to impact, it needs to be tangible. Maths is a wonderful subject, but sadly it can con people into thinking it’s easier to assess and measure than other subjects. I have a fear that the language of ‘know more, remember more and do more’ might be interpreted as focussing on fact memorisation and procedures. A mathematics education must involve thinking mathematically, developing conceptual understanding, and communicating mathematical ideas. None of these things are easy to measure.
I’m worried that many dedicated maths teachers might become masters of memorisation, repetition and revision, so pupils reach their SATs in Year 6 or their GCSEs in Year 11 stuffed with meaningless facts and methods. The mastery approach that we pioneered, that is now being advocated by the DfE’s Maths Hubs programme, should mitigate against this; schools are being encouraged to use representations to expose underlying structures, and to challenge through depth of reasoning rather than content coverage.
As the new framework continues to be put into practice, I hope that inspectors are asking pupils ‘why’, and not just ‘what’. Yes, we need pupils to be fluent, but that fluency (as the National Curriculum makes clear) must encompass understanding and be accompanied by reasoning and problem solving.