Changing the Maths Culture in our School

Head Teacher of Yarborough Academy, Hannah Albery, shares the journey of changing the maths culture in her school.

“…this was mastery, but it also transcended everything. It was just good maths teaching. And, for me, that’s what mastery is. Teaching for understanding. And, that’s what Numicon gives us.”

When the new curriculum came into place, we saw it as an opportunity to rebuild everything that we were about. Our Ofsted results had been good, nothing to write home about, and maths in particular had proven challenging.

I like to think of the system we had previously been using as like pebbles in a rucksack. Every time we taught our pupils a new rule or trick, they stuck a pebble into their rucksack. But, when test time came around, they emptied out that rucksack onto the table and they were completely overwhelmed. They had no idea which bit of maths to use with which question, because there was simply too much.

We wanted something more. We wanted our pupils to be confident and fluent in maths, to understand why. We wanted them to reason their way around the bumps in the road when they encountered them.  We wanted children to see connections for themselves and build on that understanding.

As a project-based school, we try to ensure that everything the children do is for an outside purpose. Using the REAL approach – Rigorous Engaging Authentic Learning – we ensure that ideally, everything has a real-life context. But, since the maths curriculum was so huge and links to projects were so tenuous, we decided to keep the maths curriculum pure.

We considered a textbook approach, but we loved the fact that Numicon transcended all trends. We loved that it was for everyone, for all abilities, all age groups, all children. It was the whole-school approach. We imagined our children enjoying and understanding maths while doing it, and the Numicon vision fit.

numicon logo

The Change

A huge part of the process was changing the hearts and minds of both parents and staff to make sure they understood the need for change. There is a cultural perception that it is OK to have low aspirations for maths. We wanted to change this. We wanted to challenge the preconception that getting 10/10 in a test makes you a brilliant mathematician. Being good at maths is more than getting a good score.

So, how did we implement Numicon?

  • Professional Development: We attended multiple training days, including training for Numicon trainers, which is some of the most valuable training I have ever attended, to make sure we knew Numicon inside and out
  • Model Lessons: We made time to both produce and watch training videos on YouTube to ensure our continued development
  • Advocate Days: we used our advocate days as opportunities to coach staff
  • Mini Maths Missions: We ran real-life maths projects throughout the school, for example, Year 5 and 6 redesigned our entire car park!
  • Numicon Intervention Programme: We implemented the Numicon intervention programme to catch up struggling children and it was transformative in the classroom
  • Teaching guides: These are where the magic is! One of the most useful tools that we discovered was the Teaching Guides, which are so often left to the side. These not only cut down on hours and hours of planning, but also helped our teachers to pre-empt problems that the children might have and to use them as teaching points instead of feeling worried about issues that might arise.
  • Breaking down preconceptions: So many people think that Numicon is all about the shapes, that it is only useful for SEND children – we wanted to change hearts and minds. The biggest piece of advice from my affiliate training was, “there’s no magic in the plastic, it’s what you do with it,” and we have carried this forwards through all our activities.

So what’s next?

There is always more to be done – in future we want to come away from the concrete and shift more into the pictorial approach, we want to create a culture of more sharing, showing and variation in the classroom. We want to establish long-term goals in our planning, but also to ensure that we build leadership capacity among our staff, that we build a maths team.

In last year’s SATs, our attainment increased from 53% to 77% with progress in maths being +3.2. We have been in the top 10% of the country for two years now, and 95% of our teaching staff are now Good or Outstanding. I want every single Yarborough child to leave us loving maths. There is no quick fix. It’s all about sticking with it, that and having faith in the process and what you believe is right, and that is how we changed our maths culture.

Find your nearest Numicon Advocate School to attend an open morning, see the lessons in action and chat to head teachers and teachers using the programme.

Or find out more about Yarborough Academy on their website – and don’t forget to follow them on Twitter to see Numicon in action!