Mastery Maths – Changing the way in which maths is taught


Mastery Teaching Methods

With the introduction of curriculum 2014 we, at Hartpury Primary, have made the transition in teaching methods to what is termed ‘Mastery Teaching’. This style of teaching has revolutionised the way in which maths is taught, learnt and viewed by all in the school. Since their introduction in Summer 2016, everyone is beginning to believe maths is a subject that they can achieve in and many children are being challenged to explore concepts in more depth.

For those children that commonly view themselves as weak at maths, we now see more confident individuals that are able to access work appropriate to their age group with no restrictions on how deep they take their knowledge.

For those commonly termed the more able. We are able to plug existing gaps in knowledge where children have previously been encouraged to explore breadth of content rather than depth. This group have the chance to explore depth in various concepts, secure knowledge in concepts they are weaker at and apply their knowledge in a wide variety of ways.

The focus within maths lessons is on fluency and not speed. Children are encouraged to think carefully about mathematical problems, discuss and explain their understanding and learn from one another.

The result is more fluent mathematicians with a deeper understanding of concepts and their inter-relationships and a group of children that have a firm foundation to build on and a more confident outlook towards the subject.

‘Mastery’ in high performing countries

The content and principles underpinning the 2014 mathematics curriculum reflect those found in high performing education systems internationally, particularly those of east and south-east Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea and China. The OECD suggests that by age 15 students from these countries are on average up to three years ahead in maths compared to 15 year olds in England. What underpins this success is the far higher proportion of pupils reaching a high standard and the relatively small gaps in attainment between pupils in comparison to England.

Though there are many differences between the education systems of England and those of east and south-east Asia, we can learn from the ‘mastery’ approach to teaching commonly followed in these countries. Certain principles and features characterise this approach:

  • Teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in mathematics.
  • The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace. Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention.
  • Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.
  • Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.
  • Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge, and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up. The intention of these approaches is to provide all children with full access to the curriculum, enabling them to achieve confidence and competence – ‘mastery’ – in mathematics, rather than many failing to develop the maths skills they need for the future.

Curriculum Changes

The 2014 national curriculum for mathematics has been designed to raise standards in maths.  The expectation is that the majority of pupils will move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace. Pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content. Those pupils who are not sufficiently fluent with earlier material should consolidate their understanding, including through additional practice, before moving on.

Pupils work on the same tasks and engage in common discussions. Concepts are often explored together to make mathematical relationships explicit and strengthen pupils’ understanding of mathematical connectivity. Precise questioning during lessons ensures that pupils develop fluent technical proficiency and think deeply about the underpinning mathematical concepts.

Taking a mastery approach, differentiation occurs in the support and intervention provided to different pupils, not in the topics taught, particularly at earlier stages. There is no differentiation in content taught, but the questioning and scaffolding individual pupils receive in class as they work through problems will differ, with higher attainers challenged through more demanding problems which deepen their knowledge of the same content. Pupils’ difficulties and misconceptions are identified through immediate formative assessment and addressed with rapid intervention – commonly through individual or small group support later the same day.

(NCETM – 2014)