Excellence and Innovation in Practice: lessons learned from the 2016 Primary Conference

Blog: Helen Williams, Director of Primary

Excellence and Innovation in Practice: lessons learned from the 2016 Primary Conference

Posted: 19/02/16

“Phew!” This was my first thought as our primary conference closed on 1st February. “Thank goodness that’s over!” was my second.

It was a fantastic day, attended by over 250 teachers from 150 schools. However, as the dust settles and the evaluations are perused, it’s now time to reflect.

How did the event support the Mathematics Mastery partnership in collaborating, innovating, learning from each other and sharing excellent practice? And what might we do differently as a result of the discussions, insight, and feedback gathered on the day?

Innovation and inspiration

I was inspired by St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School in Sheffield, whose teachers Sarah and Libby spoke passionately about how their school ensures all children ‘keep up, not catch up’.

They’ve implemented a range of innovative intervention activities, designed to help reduce pupil attainment gaps across each year group. These include a daily programme of pre-teaching for pupils needing additional learning support. They’ve also allocated an extra 15 minutes over lunch for intervention activities (while still ensuring teachers and pupils get an hour’s break!)

Other teachers from our partner schools spoke compellingly about how they’re successfully using mixed attainment working, working with parents to address under-achievement, and how learning within their schools is truly without limits.

This reminded me how the Mathematics Mastery approach is far from rigid. It’s designed to be adapted to a school’s individual needs, leading to huge improvements in attitudes, attainment and staff enthusiasm for the subject!

Learning from others

Our keynote speaker, Professor John Mason, helped us understand how to capture children’s attention by considering how our own attention wanes when we are not fully immersed in the mathematics. We were asked to question whether children were using their mathematical powers or whether these are usurped by worksheets or textbooks.

This has led me to consider how we might evaluate our programme materials when we re-write them next year.

Are our lessons inspiring enough?  Do we encourage children to reason, conjecture, hypothesise and generalise sufficiently? Do we give children the power to demonstrate understanding through their own jottings, rather than using task sheets?

Later on we heard from Michelle Thomas, Executive Headteacher of the Federation of Grazebrook and Shacklewell Primary Schools. She spoke enthusiastically about how the mastery approach supports children’s mathematics learning, and how it’s in line with the National Curriculum key messages on children progressing at broadly the same pace.

Michelle gave some wonderfully practical ideas on how to show progress in books (it’s all about marking for progress and showing how well the pupils’ demonstrate a depth of understanding and readiness for the next stage of learning).  She also asked us to consider how well our maths lessons get pupils thinking and reasoning, applying skills fluently and efficiently, and using mathematical resources.

I was drawn to the parallels with John’s talk, and again, will now review our lesson materials to ensure these crucial key messages are embedded throughout.  I can already see how our teacher training for new schools joining the Mathematics Mastery 2016/17 cohort will benefit from this fresh perspective.

Next steps for depth

As I mull over the conference evaluations, I feel proud of our tremendously powerful, enthusiastic and supportive partnership of teachers. (I’m also immensely pleased with the positive feedback received – “Really productive, engaging and informative”; “Useful and inspiring”; “A brilliant day”; “Feeling maths inspired!”).

However, my focus is on considering…where next?

I want to harness the huge potential that comes with working with thousands of teachers across the country, and ensure we continue working towards our vision of helping every child to enjoy and succeed in mathematics, regardless of background.

Those of you familiar with the Mathematics Mastery primary programme will know we often use “Next Steps for Depth” stickers to encourage pupils to deepen their understanding. I think the key learning from the conference has to be that, together, we have a real wealth of expertise and experience. And as our programme continues to grow and thrive, our next challenge is how can we maximise this and keep moving towards greater depth – embedding our core values and beliefs into all that we do.