First posted on 15th February 2020
Natalie Izzard, Mathematics Mastery’s Strategic Partnerships Manager, reflects on how the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) latest recommendations for early years and primary maths fit with the Mathematics Mastery programmme.
It’s fair to say that the challenge of developing children’s early mathematical understanding is a big one and one that’s stature continues to grow, particularly as the importance of early intervention to address the disadvantage gap in the UK becomes more apparent.
The EEF’s latest report on improving mathematics at the earliest stages in pupils’ education includes five very commendable recommendations, all of which chime well or can be met by the adoption of Mathematics Mastery.
The recommendations are:
1. Develop practitioners’ understanding of how children learn mathematics
2. Dedicate time for children to learn mathematics and integrate mathematics throughout the day
3. Use manipulatives and representations to develop understanding
4. Ensure that teaching builds on what children already know
5. Use high quality targeted support to help all children learn mathematics
I’d like to zoom in on three of the five recommendations.
Do you know how your pupils learn maths?
As a Partnerships Manager for Mathematics Mastery I have the pleasure of supporting leaders and teachers with a range of experience in maths to launch the programme in their departments and I have learned that developing practitioners’ understanding of how children learn maths is crucial.
Many primary teams have approached us and report that a real barrier to maths teaching is maths anxiety. I recently took some of the KS2 maths SAT questions and couldn’t believe how long it took me to answer them, even as someone with a relatively strong academic grounding in maths and statistics!
It comes as no surprise to me that there are teams across the country who are struggling to deliver consistent and high quality maths teaching. Schools should be looking to develop their team’s understanding of maths pedagogy to ensure that the all-important early years of a child’s education are rooted with a solid understanding of key mathematical concepts as modelled by their teachers.
At Mathematics Mastery, we promote this through our online and face to face training and are proud of how we support teachers who are not subject experts, alongside those who are more experienced, to deliver excellent quality lessons and remove some of that anxiety around maths teaching.
Regardless of where you source it, professional development and improved subject knowledge is key, there’s little value in having a suite of resources but no support in implementing them well.
Are your pupils encountering maths outside of maths lessons?
The second recommendation is to dedicate time to integrate maths teaching throughout the day. This is more easily said than done when we think of the reality of bustling classrooms, curriculum to cover and scraped knees from break time.
The EEF report advises to ‘make the most of moments throughout the day to highlight and use mathematics’ but what does this look like in practice?
We developed the ‘Maths Meeting’ model, where key areas of mathematics are revisited throughout the day. This is a chance to teach, revise and integrate concepts into other elements of the child’s school life – promoting mastery of these concepts through fun and impactful activities such as singing, chanting and visual displays.
We know that children are naturally curious problem-solvers, and we should capitalise on this! There’s a lot of debate around how long it takes to form a habit, but one thing’s for sure, children love any chance to have some fun together so techniques like this won’t take long to feel business as usual and make an impact.
One curriculum for all
The final recommendation I wanted to spotlight is ‘use high quality targeted support to help all children learn maths’. The standout in this recommendation for me is ‘all children’. Schools are often in a position where they are trying to implement multiple strategies to suit individual pupil need with varying degrees of success.
All too often disadvantaged pupils are not meeting age-related expectations, and at primary disadvantaged children are less likely to meet expected standards in maths.
At Mathematics Mastery we advocate for a one curriculum for all approach, and teachers are given specific training and development on how to implement this approach to help all pupils. This means that no ceiling is placed on the potential of any children in the classroom.
We also provide evidence-based intervention materials which are designed to target the key foundational knowledge pupils need to understand in order to progress in maths, ensuring that knowledge gaps are addressed as they arise.
Strategies such as these also go some way to prevent the sense of ‘othering’ that alternative curriculums can place upon children at such a significant stage of the development of their educational journey.
Take decisive action
The EEF report helps us to answer the question, how do you meet the challenge of developing children’s early mathematical understanding.
The key is decisive action at the start of a child’s maths education. Early intervention is shown to positively impact later attainment and without it we will continue to find ourselves wishing we had addressed problems sooner.
At Mathematics Mastery, we frequently talk to schools who are spending a small fortune in catch up intervention at the end of KS2 and now want to focus their intervention to narrow the gap earlier. The EEF is clearly in agreement with us here: Early support for 3-7 year old’s in their understanding of maths is essential and should not be overlooked.