Featured comment: What is better for the child’s mathematical development in the long run?

This comment was left on the Design your own mastery curriculum article and deserves its own post.

Centering on the what of early mathematical schooling, Helen talks about the emergency, reactive shortcuts that end up being used as a result of pupils not learning the basics by age 8.


The question is, “What is better for the child’s mathematical development in the long run?”

Courtesy of Mathematics Mastery
Courtesy of Mathematics Mastery
What is it going to be best for (her) to learn and consolidate now so that (she) is best prepared to make the most progress in the remaining 5 years before she does GCSE Maths and so be prepared for the Maths she needs in life.

For your own performance management, your own schools’ data and in turn to get a good/outstanding Ofsted, it would be to intensely teach tricks on a one-to-one basis or in a small intervention group – go through loads of past papers and explicitly ‘teach’ her how to get enough marks for a 4b. (Probably avoiding fractions, ratio and algebra questions that require a sound understanding of times tables), This is what most of good/outstanding Y6 teachers do!

What you should really do, is prepare the children for secondary school by making sure they have mastered these basic skills:

1. Can they instantly recall the 221 addition facts to 20 without counting on fingers and recall related subtraction facts?

2. Do they instantly recall and understand times tables and related division facts?

3. Can they quickly and reliably perform written methods of the 4 operations with understanding?

In terms of the new curriculum, they should have come into Y5 (let alone Y6) being able to perform all 3 in order to ‘do well in National Curriculum Tests’.

No problem – you have fun in maths, forget about the progress of the basic skills for those who are struggling

Courtesy of the Guardian
Courtesy of the Guardian
When as Y6 teachers, on management’s demand, we push struggling Y6 children through to a 4b, we are saying to the rest of the teachers in the school is, “No problem – you have fun in maths, forget about the progress of the basic skills for those who are struggling and we will make sure all children in this school make the ‘progress’ In Y6!”

The struggling children get a 4b but aren’t really a Level 4 at all. So in Y7, teachers are asking, “How on earth did this child get a Level 4?”. The answer is the same as when employers ask, “How did this 16 year old get C in maths at GCSE?”. When we get annoyed by this question, we should ask ourselves, “Would she get a Level 4b or get a C at GCSE if we left them over the summer, and they did the exam in September?”

The long term answer is to make sure that children have mastered the basic skills by the time they leave Y4. If they are not mastering these skills – you should be asking, “Why not?” so you are not worrying about a child ‘getting a Level 4b’ with only 22 days to go before the Year 6 Paper A.

For future children in the school, don’t be inadvertently saying to the rest of the staff, “Leave progress to me!” Put some of your energy into helping the Head/Maths Co-ordinator make sure there are systems in place for children to master the basic skills before they get to Y6. It will be hard to begin and take years to feel the difference with but will pay off in the end – and you will never be in this position again – it’s horrible.

It’s not good for your health!
It’s not fair on the child.

The only positive for a child struggling at Maths going through intervention to get a Level 4, is that they don’t feel like a Level 3 failure. The negatives are that there has been a total waste of time in maths during their last 6 months at primary school and they will struggle at secondary school as they still don’t have the basic skills.

Courtesy of Oratory Prep
Courtesy of Oratory Prep
I have 30 Y5/6 children – 18 Year 6s. I did have this problem – but don’t anymore – except when children come to us from other schools. At the moment I am happily teaching fractions, percentages, decimals ratios and algebra to Y5/6 and they love it (only because they have already mastered the basic skills).

This is because there is a now firm focus on basic skills in Y3 and Y4 – especially for those children who are beginning to struggle – not just for those who quickly grasp it.



So the key messages are:

  • Aim for mastery of the basics by the end of year 4.
  • Support the person in charge of maths to make this happen.
  • Year 5 and 6 take care of themselves when pupils have a secure mathematical grounding.

If you teach maths or numeracy in years 1 to 4 or you’re a primary headteacher who recognises this problem in your school then a good next step is to get in touch with your local Maths Hub as they have been spending a lot of time on teaching for mastery of maths. If there isn’t a Hub near you then start by reading these three articles:
Charlie Stripp, NCETM
Jo Morgan, Resourceaholic
Paul Broadbent, Broadbent Maths

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2 Replies to “Featured comment: What is better for the child’s mathematical development in the long run?”

  1. couldn’t agree more.

    As a secondary school teacher it’s often frustrating having to skill up students in year 7 so they can attain the level that they were supposedly achieving at KS2.

    I don’t blame the teachers though, when the main focus of your pay and progression lies in your results, people will invariably protect themselves, their career and their reputation. It is a situation replicated in KS4 as well.

    Just wish there was an easy answer

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