Ofsted has highlighted the key qualities of teaching a ‘high-quality’ maths curriculum which raises pupil attainment and prevents struggling pupils from falling further behind.
Ofsted said it recognised there was no “singular way of achieving high-quality education in the subject”. Instead the review identifies common features of successful approaches.
These are some of the key pieces of advice.
1. Teachers close the ‘school-entry gap’
Ofsted found that teachers can “engineer the best possible start for pupils” by closing gaps in knowledge of mathematical facts, concepts, vocabulary and symbols” that exist when they start primary school.
These gaps are “not necessarily the outcome of natural ability or a different developmental pathway”, Ofsted said, but rather “it can be an indication of parental input and early exposure to the basics in mathematics in the home”.
The watchdog found that a “proactive approach” to helping children acquire everyday language to describe quantity, shape and time “would also benefit disadvantaged pupils, who are more likely to misunderstand instruction and activities.”
It said a high-quality maths education ensures pupils are taught concepts that are useful “now and in the next stage of education”.
2. Pupils are encouraged to avoid guesswork
The inspectorate said teachers should encourage pupils to use core mathematical methods rather than allowing them to rely on guesswork or use “unstructured trial and error”.
It warned that a method of calculation that relies on derivation may be useful in the short term, but the absence of learning core knowledge meant pupils “may rely too much on estimation and looking around for clues, or they may develop the habits of guessing and copying”.
The research advised teachers to help pupils develop their automatic recall of core knowledge rather than allowing them to rely on derivation or guesswork.
3. New content draws on previous knowledge
As in previous reviews Ofsted highlighted the importance of a well-structured curriculum.
It said high-quality maths education would ensure new content draws on and links to content that pupils have previously acquired.
Ofsted advised curriculum progression should be by “intelligent design” rather than by “choice or chance”.
4. Struggling pupils given same tasks (but more time)
While pupils in England have on average higher attainment in maths than in many other countries, Ofsted warned the attainment gap between the lowest and highest achievers was wider than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average.
Research also showed disadvantaged pupils in England are much less likely to achieve a grade 4 at GCSE, or to meet the expected standards at the end of the early years foundation stage (EYFS), or at key stages 1 and 2.
Ofsted found one method successful in helping close the gap was giving pupils who are more likely to struggle or at risk of falling behind the same tasks as other students, instead of providing with them different tasks or curriculums.
5. Low-stakes testing should be used frequently
Ofsted said that frequent “low-stakes” testing of taught content helps prepare pupils for final exams by “providing memory-enhancing opportunities to recall and apply taught content”.
If teachers provide “honest feedback” then pupils’ interest will also increase.
The watchdog said a high-quality maths curriculum would incorporate time testing within lessons to help pupils learn maths facts automatically.
6. Focus on teacher’s professional development
The research review stated that, because initial teaching training can vary, school leaders “cannot assume that all novice mathematics teachers will possess all the tools they need to make the most successful start”.
It advised schools to consider proactive approaches to close gaps and allow novice teachers to adopt and improve expert teaching methods.
Such approaches would include collaborative planning with more experienced teachers and mentoring schemes.