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Teaching to the TAF – a social injustice?

Blog: Laura Tyler, Mathematics Mastery’s Primary Development Lead

Teaching to the TAF – a social injustice?

Posted: 24/04/19

Might teaching to the TAF result in a social injustice by narrowing pupils’ access to the broader curriculum they are entitled to and will the framework statements complement or contradict the mastery approach?

Laura Tyler, Mathematics Mastery’s Primary Development Lead, sums up how the TAF interplays with our mastery approach.

Year 2 teachers must be mindful of not only the national curriculum, but also this year’s newly released Teacher Assessment Framework (TAF). Although the latter explicitly states that it should not be used to guide individual programmes of study, classroom practices or pedagogy, in reality, teachers are encouraged to keep one eye on the evidence they will need to shore up their teacher judgements.

Tied to the TAF, teachers may face restrictions in delivering the full national curriculum. Here we raise some difficulties you might face and inconsistencies within government policy for you to consider as you prepare to report against the TAF in the hope that doing so will help you to meet the challenges head-on.

What is mastery?

If you’re preparing to report against the TAF later this term, you may have found yourself reflecting upon how pupils’ experience of Mathematics Mastery fits in with this. Here’s our definition of mastery:

“A mathematical concept or skill has been mastered when, through exploration, clarification, practice and application over time, a person can represent it in multiple ways, has the mathematical language to be able to communicate related ideas and can think mathematically with the concept so that they can independently apply it to a totally new problem in an unfamiliar situation.”
Dr Helen Drury, Author of Mastering Mathematics and Executive Director of Mathematics Mastery

Does the new TAF promote this definition of mastery?

Let’s look first at the language used to organise the TAF. The third standard in the framework is called ‘Working at greater depth within the expected standard’, the wording of which indicates an expectation of depth within the Year 2 expectations instead of acceleration into KS2 content.

This means pupils will have more time to explore and clarify, to get to grips with different representations, to develop the language to talk about the concept and to think mathematically with it. Below are some statements from the TAF which demonstrate that problem solving and reasoning are expected from all pupils, including those who are working towards the expected standard. This sets an expectation of success for all.

We like the statement about using pictures and apparatus, repeated twice in the TAF, as it highlights the importance of multiple representations in the development of pupils’ conceptual understanding, one of our classroom principles.

The TAF guidance makes clear that pupils must have met the preceding standards to the one at which they are judged to be working, but there’s no mention of multiple representations in the greater depth standard, so we hope it won’t be the case that some pupils are rushed onto using purely abstract representations.

It’s also encouraging to see a focus on reasoning about related number facts across the TAF. The ability to use number facts flexibly is one of the cornerstones of number sense and pupils who leave KS1 with a secure foundation in this will have better access to the KS2 curriculum.

This flexibility is promoted elsewhere in the TAF, with a new addition of the phrase ‘using an efficient strategy’ to add and subtract. We hope this will lead to pupils using known facts to solve 40 + 30 mentally and avoiding a formal written algorithm when calculating 70 – 49!

With statements emphasising the use of language, reasoning and multiple representations alongside an expectation of ‘depth before breadth’, so far it appears possible for teachers to report against the TAF without compromising on teaching for mastery.

A broad and balanced curriculum?

We question whether keeping a keen eye on TAF evidence may result in a social injustice by narrowing pupils’ access to the broader curriculum they are entitled to though. Understandably, not all national curriculum objectives can be included in the TAF (otherwise it’s an unnecessary replication). However, despite a claim in the TAF preamble that the statements ‘appropriately represent key aspects of the national curriculum’, there are no TAF statements related to the Year 2 national curriculum sections Geometry: Position and Direction or Statistics.

The pressure of gathering enough evidence for the TAF statements means there might be a danger of teachers skimping on these topics, resulting in a narrowing of pupils’ mathematical experiences. This is mirrored in some schools at the end of KS2, where maths lesson time is used to prepare pupils for SATs papers.

Pupils may become fluent in recognising ‘types’ of test questions but we’re sure this doesn’t promote the development of ‘a sense of enjoyment and curiosity about the subject’, which is a stated purpose of the national curriculum.

There’s also a notable difference in the weighting of additive and multiplicative reasoning in the TAF, with addition and subtraction taking centre stage. While we recognise it’s important for pupils to develop a solid grasp of additive relations, we are concerned by the lack of focus on explaining methods and using pictorial or concrete representations within the statements related to multiplicative understanding.

A well-researched Nuffield Foundation report makes clear that ‘teaching should make it possible for children to develop their multiplicative understanding alongside additive reasoning.’ If TAF statements are used to guide teaching, there’s a possibility that pupils’ experiences of multiplication and division won’t be as rich as those of addition and subtraction.

These instances indicate a potential narrowing of the curriculum, which raises a social injustice concern. We hope future policy will address this but, in the meantime, plan with colleagues to ensure that the need to develop ‘a sense of enjoyment and curiosity about the subject’ remains a primary driver. Our experience across schools shows that activities promoting practical activity, exploration and dialogue can be great for developing this.

Some inconsistencies

In a couple of cases, contradictions between the TAF and the national curriculum make it difficult to know what pupils are entitled to. The national curriculum’s statutory advice states pupils should ‘tell and write the time to five minutes’, but this is in the ‘greater depth’ standard of the TAF, with read the time on a clock to the nearest 15 minutes’ indicating a pupil is working at the expected standard.

There’s another contradiction relating to pupils partitioning numbers in different ways, which is a non-statutory statement in the national curriculum, but forms a statutory TAF statement in ‘working at the expected standard’.

In the absence of a coherent link between the national curriculum and the TAF, teachers may struggle to prioritise the types of learning experiences they should provide in order to lay solid foundations for KS2. One way to tackle this is through the cumulative nature of our programmes of study, learning is built upon year by year, which allow for links to be made between key stages. Pupils make ‘rich connections across mathematical ideas’, a stated aim of the national curriculum, as concepts are revisited, applied and built upon. What’s more, our Year 2 Programme of Study is aligned to both the national curriculum expectations and the TAF, with clear teacher guidance provided unit by unit.

TAF: Overcoming the social injustice

Can the social injustice of a potential narrowed curriculum be overcome? Comparing the TAF to its predecessor, there’s an increased focus on opportunities for all pupils to reason, problem solve and develop number sense, which is positive news.

However, if the TAF statements are used to guide teaching, pupils will access a restricted curriculum which won’t fully prepare them for future learning. Stay alert to the challenge that will come in making statutory teacher judgements at the end of KS1 without becoming distracted by gathering evidence for the sole purpose of reporting against the TAF.

The STA guidance on this is clear: ‘Teachers should not seek to track or record evidence solely to show that pupils have achieved the statements within the frameworks.’

We’re sure it is possible to make sure that your pupils will access the broader curriculum that they are entitled to but it will take dedicated teachers and good team planning to avoid falling into unintentional traps. We wish you luck and look forward to supporting you! 

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