27 November 2017

Greater than the sum of its parts

Maths Specialist Teacher, Clare Williams, has transformed teaching at Slade Primary School. Here she talks about challenging convention, changing mindsets and spreading excellence further.

A revolution in maths teaching has taken over Slade Primary School. One where pupils are not streamed, where lessons are divided into ‘bite size’ sessions and where all pupils – most notably SEND – are reaching their full potential.

Children at Slade are enjoying learning

This is Maths Mastery, a pioneering Department for Education funded programme that provides an engaging and accessible style of mathematics teaching, designed to enhance understanding and enjoyment, as well as raising attainment for every child.

Run by the National Centre of Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) in conjunction with the Maths Hubs, Clare Williams is one of the hub’s seven mastery specialist teachers tasked with supporting other schools in adopting maths mastery teaching.

“The Mastery Specialist Programme is a very successful system – the training and support for participating schools results in the transformation of maths teaching and learning,” says Clare.

“It’s also sustainable as schools are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to continue to develop.”

With the introduction of the new National Curriculum and End of Key Stage Assessment for mathematics, there has been a revised focus on the way in which children are taught and develop ‘mastery’ in the maths curriculum.

This style of teaching encourages a richer and deeper learning experience. There is no setting by ability, pupils have half hour lessons followed by a break and teachers use a range of specialist resources to fully explore mathematical concepts, rather than accelerate through topics.

Clare says:

A mastery approach to maths teaching ensures that all children succeed in maths and helps all pupils to improve their understanding of the subject. At Slade, the numbers add up, we’ve seen an 11 per cent rise in attainment for all pupils in maths.”

Slade has seen an 11 per cent rise in attainment for maths

Educators have been looking towards the high performing jurisdictions in the Far East to understand how they score so highly in international comparisons. Part of this has resulted in the DfE funding a prestigious teacher exchange programme, organised by the National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics and Maths Hubs. Clare has just returned from China where she was one of 70 teachers selected nationally to take part in the exchange.

Clare says: “By studying approaches in places like Shanghai, Japan and Singapore, we have seen how successful this method of teaching is, not just for performance, but for the non-tangibles like aspiration, enjoyment of the subject and raising the prestige of maths.

“We want to develop the whole child, to encourage a growth mindset and build a positive attitude to learning. We also want to ensure children leave primary school with the belief that they can achieve in maths and that they would like to study the subject further.”

She adds:

Since introducing this programme two years ago, the improvements are clear to see. Results have improved, teachers are more confident and children are loving learning and that’s the key to success – it has to be a whole school approach.”

Clare notes that girls have outperformed boys in maths for the first time at the school and that for disadvantaged pupils, the Pupil Premium gap on attainment has closed in all year groups.

Slade headteacher Helen Hastilow

Headteacher Helen Hastilow said: “Clare has revolutionised maths teaching across the school and has expanded other teachers’ subject knowledge and practice. This is permeating across every subject area of the curriculum. It’s transformed leadership and school-to-school support and we are learning together.

“This style of teaching has made teachers here aware of expectations. It has also raised aspirations and longer term attainment for all children.

 Clare was that catalyst. This revolution may have started with one person, but the impact is wide-reaching and the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts – which is the very essence of the ATLP.”

Clare adds: “The ATLP is so supportive. These opportunities have enabled me to develop, to explore new concepts and areas of learning, with the full backing of Helen, leadership and governors.”

Modelling excellence and sharing with others

Clare pictured with Slade maths teacher Sophie Evans

In addition to her role at Slade, Clare works at ATLP’s Brookvale Primary School and collaborates with the partnership’s other academies.

Clare says: “The ATLP schools are so different and it’s great to be working with them. I’m really enjoying being at Brookvale; I’m also involved in a project with Hill West and have taken part in training with Mere Green, along with teacher research groups.”

Clare works closely with fellow ATLP secondary schools, Arthur Terry and Stockland Green during the transition between key stage 2 and 3 to ensure that high standards in maths are maintained at secondary school.

As one of the Arthur Terry National Teaching School’s (ATNTS) specialist leaders of education (SLEs) Clare is deployed into alliance schools to provide support when needed. She has helped to develop course material for the teaching school’s School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) PGCE programme and recently delivered a training session on ATNTS’ primary NQT programme, ‘developing fluency, reasoning and problem solving skills in maths lessons.’ 

As a mastery specialist teacher with the Central Maths Hub and PD lead teacher for the NCTEM (National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics) Clare is keen to disseminate to an even wider audience.

East meets West Midlands

In January, Slade will welcome hundreds of maths teachers and other professionals from across the country, when it hosts the return leg of the Shanghai Teacher Exchange.

Clare says: “This is a fantastic opportunity to learn from each other, to share best practice and to replicate our success in other schools. We will showcase our talent and model what can be achieved.

We want to be a beacon of support for others and we hope this ambitious event will bring together the very best in maths education. I gained so much from my time in Shanghai, the teachers really are experts in mathematics teaching. By hosting this event over two weeks, we hope to extend this learning to many more schools.”

Both Clare and Helen understand the value in looking beyond their own doorstep. Clare has been involved in strategic maths leadership for seven years at three very different different primary schools. Her decision to follow the mastery route was influenced by neighbouring Parkfield Community Primary School and World’s End Junior School (lead schools for the Central Maths Hub).

Clare says that she and Helen visited those schools and saw the “vision and drive” of Helen Hackett and Claire Duncan (mastery specialist leads).

Clare says: “This inspired the mastery approach at Slade and so much has developed from there.”

Further confidence for the approach came from a presentation from Jane Jones (Ofsted national lead for Mathematics).

Jane said that every child has the right to access quality maths education and that really galvanised us as a school,” recalls Helen.

“We turned to local schools like Parkfield and World’s End and they shared their expertise with us. They showed us what innovation in maths teaching looks like. We’re now extending those opportunities to others because that’s how we make all schools better.”