Our Mastery journey: jumping in with both feet

Tackling a declining trend in maths

In 2014, we achieved an Outstanding Ofsted, which was fantastic – a reflection of the dedication of our staff and their hard work. However, hidden behind that was a declining trend in maths. The gap between maths and English was widening and this was a concern.

We became aware of Inspire Maths, so we visited schools to see it in action. I must admit that I had great reservations at first. I couldn’t get my head around the lack of differentiation, nor the idea of infants using textbooks. How on earth were our Year 1s going to manage with a textbook when they were only just beginning to read? This filled me with horror.

Our leadership team talked to a range of staff in the schools we visited and we were so impressed by what we saw we came away saying: ‘This is it – we’re doing it!’  So, after five days of professional development, we jumped in with both feet and the whole school started using Inspire Maths.

The results speak for themselves:

  • In 2015 our SATS results were reasonable and showed that 80% of children were working at the expected level (ARE).
  • In 2017 we had 89% ARE, with almost 35% working at Greater Depth, which was amazing.

Our tips for success

1. Involve parents, governors and peers

We’re a three-form entry infant school, so we don’t have a Key Stage 2, but we do have a partner junior school which was suffering in the same way that we had been, with a decline in results over a number of years. They were also an ‘Outstanding’ school. The headteacher came to visit us at the end of our first year of using Inspire Maths and could see straightaway the impact that the programme was having, and how staff confidence had grown enormously. He went away and implemented Inspire Maths. Our parents played a part in facilitating this decision. We hold regular workshops with them where they can come in and observe lessons – and they can see the benefit Inspire Maths has brought to their children. When they found out that the junior school wasn’t using it, their reaction was: ‘What’s going to happen when our children go into Year 3?’ ‘This is just going to end. This isn’t right.’

Our governors have supported us the whole way. They appreciated that we needed to do something about maths and they’re thrilled by the impact Inspire Maths has had on the school.

2. Focus on the transition to Year 1

One of the biggest challenges for us has been the transition from Reception to Year 1 – working with children who are struggling to find the right page, to read it independently. And it is a challenge. We tell schools just starting out: ‘There will be pain before you gain.’

At our last Advocate School open morning, we covered transition. We showed 20 minutes of Reception class teaching before colleagues moved into the Year 1 classes. It went extremely well. They could see how it was emerging – the children’s use of language, their reading skills. Staff are very aware that the language is essential for the children to understand and focus on this. As our Reception classes move into Year 1, we really will see the benefits of that and we’ll get the Year 1s off to a flying start.

3. Invest in professional development

The upskilling and the empowering of staff and children has just been one of the major impacts for us as a school. The PD is brilliant and inspires the staff. Teachers come back and say: ‘I realise now how rubbish my teaching was when I was a child learning maths.’ ‘I now know that I’ve taught maths wrongly for 20 years.’ ‘This has transformed what I’m doing.’ And this is from experienced professionals – ‘Outstanding’ teachers.

There’s also lots of support on the website, so that teachers can focus on their delivery. They don’t have to spend lots of time planning. All of that helps. They’re now confident enough to adapt and use Inspire Maths to suit our children.

4. Be prepared to challenge your assumptions

Inspire Maths provides the children – particularly the middle ability children – with the firmest foundations to progress forward. They’re so quick. They’re not fazed by anything at all. You can give then the most difficult challenge – a three-step problem that you would never in the past have given to Years 1 or 2. They just eat it up. They don’t always get it right but that doesn’t faze them either. They just think of a different way and they explain exactly what they’re doing. And that for me is the crucial bit of it.

Staff said to me that they thought the top ability groups would be those working to greater depth. However, we found that some lower ability children were able to reason more confidently, and they were in fact the greater depth children. That in itself is mind blowing when your assumptions of abilities of children are completely wrong.

5. Make time for daily intervention

We are seeing growing numbers of SEN children coming through the school. Out of 90 children in Year 2 this year, five have EHCPs.

There are times when not all children grasp a concept at first and may need some extra support to feel confident to continue their learning. If this does happen, we have allocated time in our timetable to support children and their understanding of a concept. Our support staff assist with pre-teaching and over learning. They will usually work in small groups with whoever needs support that day. We also prepare the children for the next day’s learning if we know they might not be so confident. This may involve children working with apparatus so they can visually see what is happening – drawing pictures or going over the formal method again.

As we know there are many different learning styles and Inspire Maths accommodates all of them, which is why it is so successful and allows all children to achieve.

Wendy Angus is Headteacher at Fulwell Infant School, Sunderland, an Inspire Maths Advocate School. Read the Fulwell case study and attend an open morning to see Inspire Maths classes in action.