Five takeaways for Primary from Ofsted’s Subject Report Coordinating Mathematical Success

Children solving primary maths problems with Numicon apparatus

By Jayne Jarvis, Primary Maths Publisher at Oxford University Press

1. Positive steps forward… but more to do

We’ve seen a ‘resounding positive shift’ in mathematics education in primary schools over recent years. All schools are some way on their journey to embedding mastery, and a high-quality, ambitious spine has been established in the majority of schools. The widely-used small step approach provides coherence across the school, reduces teacher workload and helps teachers clearly see prior knowledge and identify next steps.

There has been a cultural shift on differentiation – the days of differentiating 3 ways, of having different groups moving at difference paces through the curriculum, are gone. The mastery approach advocates ‘keep up, not catch up’ and sees schools using pre-teaching, manipulatives, variation and greater depth questions to ensure the needs of every child are met.

But despite this positive shift, the report highlights areas where schools can focus for sustained, iterative improvement.

2. The power of manipulatives

The Maths Hubs have supported schools in embedding mastery and continue to be a valued network providing advice and professional development. With their support, manipulatives are now used in the majority of primary schools. Concrete apparatus help children see the underlying structure of mathematics, to reason and hypothesise, to clearly articulate their thinking. Through the CPA approach, teachers can be sure children develop deep understanding and can see and address misconceptions quickly.

Clear and consistent representations on Whiteboard software also help children ‘see mathematical structures better’, as well as providing teachers with a simple and effective tool for modelling.

However, a lack of consistency when using manipulatives across the school leads to too many models being used by teachers. This can result in confusion for children. Establishing a set of models and images that will be used consistently across the school will have the greatest impact on children’s understanding.

Take a look at Numicon manipulatives, teaching resources and award-winning Interactive Whiteboard Software by clicking here.

3. Practice isn’t perfect

Children need access to both Type 1 practice, retrieving and rehearsing facts, and Type 2 practice, exploratory problem solving. Both types are important and children need quantity and quality practice, for both types, to develop deep understanding and commit knowledge to their long-term memory.

While the report acknowledges that the importance of practice is widely understood, and that opportunities to rehearse facts and apply knowledge are central to maths lessons, it identified that there are deficiencies and variation in the quality and consistency of practice in schools. Curriculum should be designed with practice incorporated, ensuring it is core to planning. In addition, systems are needed to assess the success of that practice, ensuring children have the knowledge and proficiency before moving on.

Homework is often arithmetic practice only, requiring children to practise something they have recently learned. Leaders want homework to require minimal parental input but acknowledge that it is an important opportunity for purposeful practice.

The White Rose Maths Practice Journals are aligned to White Rose classroom teaching, offering pupils both Type 1 and Type 2 purposeful practice. Learn more and view a digital inspection copy by clicking here.

MyMaths offers pupils the opportunity to build fluency and practice their maths skills across the whole KS1 and KS2 curriculum. Click here to learn more and sign up for a free trial.

4. Start at the beginning

High-quality, small step mastery curriculum planning should take place in Reception, as it does across the rest of the school. Developing deep understanding of core Number concepts needs to start at the earliest stages through quality whole-class teaching and use of the CPA approach, with consistent use of models, images and concrete apparatus. Emphasis also needs to be given to understanding number facts and committing them to long-term memory. The ability to quickly recall addition and subtraction facts is vital for children as they move up the school and are taught more complex mathematical concepts.

Numicon Firm Foundations is a comprehensive programme of fun maths activities that fully aligns with the Early Learning Goals in England. Click here to learn more.

5. Support children in becoming ‘Year 7 ready’

The pressures of accountability in Year 6 are balanced against the needs of individual pupils, and as a result, interventions in Year 6 are common and gap-filling is a focus to ensure children are successful in SATs. However, often the mechanisms are not in place to understand why misconceptions exist and why there might be a lack of progress. Success at Key Stage 3 relies on children having solid foundations and deep understanding of core mathematical concepts. So, ‘teaching to the test’ in order to meet age-related expectations does not mean children are Key Stage 3 ready.

Numicon Big Ideas is a programme that provides additional sessions for children in KS2 to reinforce and embed key maths concepts ahead of progressing to KS3. Learn more by clicking here.

The Year 6 White Rose Maths Practice Journal includes ‘Year 7 ready’ questions. Learn more by clicking here.