Five ingredients for Mathematics Mastery success in your primary school

Blog: Anthony Latham, Development Lead

Five ingredients for Mathematics Mastery success in your primary school

Posted: 25/03/19

Although the benefits of running Mathematics Mastery are clear, the journey to sustain and grow the programme in your primary or junior school can involve bumps in the road.

Anthony Latham, Development Lead for Mathematics Mastery, shares his case notes from three very different schools and suggests a few ingredients for Mastery success.

In my role as Development Lead for Mathematics Mastery, I enjoy meeting a wide range of primary school teams. They all face different challenges while trying to improve their school’s maths offering. It would be foolish to suggest that there is a one-size-fits-all method to success but I often find it helpful to look at schools with differing characteristics to identify key themes.

Let me tell you about three schools that I’ve visited recently before sharing what I think are some key ingredients for success. 

School # 1: Outer-London 3-form primary school (ages 3-11)

Use of Maths Mastery: The programme was launched in 2015 with year groups up to Year 4.

This school has a high level of staff turnover.

Staff who have received training have left and been replaced by inexperienced staff, which has led to a slowing in the development of teaching in those year groups and almost ‘reset’ the development process.

A visit in 2017 suggested that the buzz around the programme had gone. The Reception team was reluctant to use any of the materials and Mathematics Mastery appeared to be considered a KS1 programme that Year 3 felt a little uncertain of.

However, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) was keen to reinvigorate maths and ensure that teaching mirrored its vision: a focus on pupil language, reasoning and mathematical thinking.

This brought about a shift in the school’s approach. The Key Stage 2 maths lead (who was also the SLT link) was given the role of Mathematics Mastery School Lead (MMSL) for the whole school.

Aligned with this, the school started to implement a whole school approach to mastery promoting Talk Tasks (these are opportunities for students to practise new learning by talking about maths using key vocabulary), reasoning opportunities and appropriate choices of representations (opportunities for students to use objects and pictures to represent abstract concepts).

This enabled an ethos of a whole school culture of maths teaching. The strengths of Year 2 teachers were harnessed to support other teachers in their understanding and delivery of the programme through peer observations and model teaching sessions. In addition, the MMSL reached out to other partner schools who were using the programme successfully and visited their schools to see maths in practice.

The change was significant but this is not to say the school is perfect. The MMSL is aware that the school still has some new teachers getting to grips with the programme. What is evident, however, is the revamped school ethos towards maths: teachers are positive and all aware of how their school teaches.

Next steps for the school: The MMSL is keen to develop pupil resilience, mathematical thinking in addition to opening up the school within maths hubs and to collaborate and support other schools.

School #2: A two-form entry junior school (ages 7-11)

Use of Maths Mastery: The programme was launched in 2017 with Year 3 students.

This school’s teaching staff have many years of teaching experience among them, unlike many other partner schools.

Getting knowledgeable teachers to buy into a new programme of teaching maths can be problematic. However, from initial meetings with the Headteacher and MMSL, it was clear that these concerns had been considered prior to getting involved with the programme. The programme has been introduced to teachers as another string to their bows rather than a kind of strait jacket.

Introduction involved a whole school shift of lesson structure with all year groups beginning to use a six-part lesson. The 6 part structure of Mathematics Mastery lessons keeps them pacey, provides flow and allows more opportunities to teach creatively, give feedback and assess learning. They’ve also started using Maths Meetings – 10-15 minute classroom sessions used outside of maths lessons to help consolidate learning.

A driving force behind the success of the programme in its first year was the enthusiasm of the MMSL for leading the programme and supporting teachers across the school in its delivery. This included one to one support, leading inset and PD sessions and getting involved in the wider maths teaching community through NLDs. As a Year 4 teacher, the MMSL was ideally located to support their Y3 colleagues in the changes. They also taught one day a week in Year 3 classrooms and this allowed for model lessons, coaching and mentoring to develop organically.

Subsequent visits have seen the school roll out the programme into Years 4 and 5. This transition has been smoothed through the whole school approach to maths already existing. Indeed, conversations with teachers suggest that after following the whole school approach, effective planning and teaching, along with access to the materials, was a much easier process than it could have been.

Next steps: The school is now developing a more robust coaching model to further support teachers’ pedagogy, delivery and subject knowledge, as well as advocating the approach by hosting information sessions for other schools.

School # 3: A two-form entry primary school (ages 5-11).

Use of Maths Mastery: The programme was launched in 2017 in reception and Year 1.

This school has a growing proportion of students who speak English as an additional language (EAL).

Due to the increasing number of EAL pupils joining the school, one of the major draws to the programme was the focus on language. The Headteacher is an advocate of the programme, having used and experienced its impact in a previous school.

When sitting down with the Headteacher and the MMSL, it was clear that the school had a clear vision of how the programme can have an impact upon teaching and learning. They wanted all pupils to be able to articulate and reason in their maths to create a deeper understanding.

With the support of the Headteacher, it was clear that the MMSL (who is the Year 1 teacher) was the driving force for the approach. Her teaching demonstrated her understanding of how to foster language and reasoning within the classroom.

The school has now moved aspects of Mathematics Mastery across the whole school including the six-part lesson, Maths Meetings and Talk Tasks. Whilst based in Key Stage One, the MMSL oversees the impact of this across the whole school and supports all teachers in their delivery.

This implementation has not been easy. The MMSL openly admitted that embedding the expectations of language with pupils was a struggle. However, over time pupils started to become more fluent and at ease with the use of language and by the second term began to flourish.

The school has chosen to roll up to Years 2 and 3, which has created a strain on the programmes’ development and staff enthusiasm. The MMSL now has more year groups to work with balanced alongside teaching her own class and personal commitments.

Next steps: The school will focus on the development of the programme into Key Stage 2, ensuring that consistency remains across all year groups.

The five ingredients

Suffice to say, each school is unique and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach but it is certainly worth considering some common threads that are prevalent in the schools discussed above and in other successful schools that I’ve worked with:

  • Schools need to have a whole school ethos that states ‘this is how we teach maths at our school’. This culture runs through all of the school and allows any staff turnover to be absorbed as new staff can be integrated into this maths teaching culture.
  • Mathematics Mastery shouldn’t be regarded as just a Key Stage 1 programme. It should be understood as a whole school drive. All staff should have the methodology embedded into their teaching so transition and disruption to new year groups is minimal.
  • The Mathematics Mastery School Lead must be empowered, knowledgeable and proactive. The MMSL needs to have an overview of maths across the school, be involved in the development of teaching and learning, have appropriate time to support teachers in the programme and be keen to develop the programme further.
  • The engagement of the SLT and/or Headteacher is key. Schools where there is this hands-on involvement guarantees that changes are followed through and whole school decisions can be made to ensure impact.
  • We should all accept that no school is perfect. Circumstances can change and problems can arise. The key is having the support network to deal with these.

If you’re interested in finding out how Mathematics Mastery might work for your school, please contact partnerships@mathematicsmastery.org.

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