Why Mastery Readiness isn't just 'mastery-lite'!

The Mastery Readiness Programme enables schools to put in place structures, systems and positive mathematical culture so they can successfully engage in teaching for mastery

Primary KS1 KS2
Case Study
Why Mastery Readiness isn't just 'mastery-lite'!

A warm smell of baking greets us as we are welcomed into Lowick CE First School, ten miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed and slightly inland from the stunning coast that overlooks Holy Island (Lindisfarne). The buildings and grounds are spacious and bright – the school has two mixed-age classes (Reception/Y1 and Y2/3) and a nursery.

Lowick and Holy Island CE First Schools are engaged in the Maths Hubs Mastery Readiness Project, with the Great North Maths Hub. This new, year-long preparation programme is designed for schools who are interested in teaching for mastery but, for a variety of reasons, face barriers that make it difficult for them to engage in the full Teaching for Mastery Programme. We visited Lowick on a sunny autumn day, along with the local Mastery Readiness Lead, Laura Tullock, to get a picture of the bespoke support work she is doing with the school.

The Schools’ Federation

Lowick CE First School faces all the challenges of a very rural location: mixed-age classes, difficulty recruiting staff, relative isolation from the support available to schools in more populated areas, as well as a peculiarly different challenge of a timetable governed by the tide.

Since September 2018, Lowick School has been joined in federation with Holy Island CE First School, a school on Holy Island that at present has only two pupils! In practice this means that the Holy Island pupils are educated at Lowick when the tide allows, but when the tide covers the causeway, they are taught in the small Holy Island school by Heather Stiansen, the Lowick Y2/3 teacher who also lives on the island. This gives headteacher, Rebecca Simpson, a significant teaching load, as she teaches the Y2/3 class on the mainland when Heather is on the island.

Mainland children also often use the island site for events such as sports day, Forest School and Viking raids! (You can see a short Viking raid video that they made, on their website)

Why Mastery Readiness?

Rebecca applied for the school to join the high-profile Teaching for Mastery Programme that has engaged almost a third of primary schools in England since 2015. However, receiving her application, the Great North Maths Hub suspected that Mastery Readiness support might be more appropriate for a school taking its first look at its maths teaching and learning in a long time.

Rebecca is a relatively new head for the school, taking up post in April 2018, after a couple of years in which the school had mainly survived on long-term supply teachers and leadership that had not stayed long. To complement her own ‘fresh eyes’ approach, she quickly formed a strong bond with Carolyn Strangeways (R/Y1 teacher) who has all the experience and local knowledge of having been at the school a decade.

One of Rebecca’s priorities in developing the school was to make the place more ‘outward-facing’. On the day we visit, there is also a team of three teachers visiting from Suffolk, with the intention of building up a link between the two schools (both Beach Schools) that share a coastline, albeit at opposite ends of the country! As a maths enthusiast, Rebecca was also keen to raise the profile of maths in a school where none of the teachers or TAs could ever remember participating in any maths CPD.

What is Mastery Readiness?

There are a variety of reasons that might identify a school as one that could benefit from accessing Mastery Readiness before engaging with the main Teaching for Mastery Programme, for example:

  • there may be demands from other sources or a fear of taking risks (particularly for those schools judged RI or Inadequate by Ofsted)
  • staff may not be fully convinced of the benefits of mastery
  • high staff turnover may make sustained change difficult
  • there may not be the structures, systems or understanding in place to make teaching for mastery successful
  • there may be competing priorities in the curriculum.

The Mastery Readiness Project works on five particular areas and does so in a bespoke way for each school. Teachers from schools involved meet as a ‘Work Group’ with teachers from other schools on the programme every half term. They also receive six visits from the Mastery Readiness Lead who looks at each school’s individual situation. This bespoke support allows the school to lead its own development but with the support and objectivity of a ‘critical friend’ with strong understanding of teaching for mastery.

Laura Tullock, Great North Maths Hub’s Mastery Readiness Lead, is keen to emphasise that Mastery Readiness is not ‘teaching for mastery lite’ – it is instead preparing a school to participate fully and successfully in the Teaching for Mastery Programme the following year. As such, it is a long-term commitment, for sustained and manageable change.

Five Areas of Readiness

Visions and Shared Culture

The programme recognises that for a school to make positive changes to teaching and learning of maths, there needs to be a shared vision and culture. It helps schools to promote and create a shared vision for why mathematics is important, why they are choosing to embrace a mastery approach, and what they want to achieve through the mathematics curriculum.

Mathematical Mindsets

Working with schools on mathematical mindsets, Mastery Readiness Leads are challenging ideas that some children just can’t do maths, and that mathematical ability is a fixed quantity. They also look at ways to help teachers feel positive and confident about maths and ways of promoting the importance of maths with the children. Are children enjoying maths and how can the school go about creating a buzz about maths?

Subject Expertise

Good subject and pedagogical knowledge is vitally important for teachers and TAs to feel confident in supporting children’s mathematical learning. The Mastery Readiness Programme can help schools to increase subject knowledge and confidence amongst the staff team.


In looking at systems, Mastery Readiness Leads may look at timetabling of maths, intervention systems, use of TAs, differentiation, assessment and schemes of work. The project offers support for leaders in evaluating the impact of current systems and considering alternative ways of working.

Arithmetical Proficiency

To engage fully with mathematical reasoning and problem-solving demands, arithmetical proficiency with basic number facts can help avoid cognitive overload. Schools on the Mastery Readiness Programme consider whether they have the necessary systems in place for encouraging and assisting arithmetical fluency.

What a bespoke school visit from a Mastery Readiness Lead might look like

Laura, Rebecca and Carolyn (the R/Y1 teacher) meet in the head’s office, with tea and biscuits freshly baked by the school cook. (Ingeniously, Rebecca has stopped having to buy in meals from other schools by employing a cook, with a reciprocal arrangement that she uses the school kitchen for her own baking business). Laura has spotted, right from the outset, that maths is now getting a higher profile in the school, with a number of maths displays showing children involved in mathematical activity.

The beginning of the meeting is informal, and Laura is keen to catch up on what has changed since her last visit. She is hugely positive and encouraging. For Rebecca, there is an opportunity to step back and see the progress that has been made, which is not always obvious when working day-to-day. She says:

“It’s like a person who’s lost a lot of weight, but still feels like a fat person, looking in the mirror and realising the change.”

And in their informal chat, Laura is able to ascertain where those changes have been made, and where the sticking points may still lie. There’s a huge buzz between the two Lowick teachers about what is happening with maths in the school:

  • They’ve bought lots of practical resources and have been using them – children found this hard to begin with but are now choosing to use them more independently
  • Rebecca and Carolyn meet regularly and informally after school to discuss maths and the changes they are making to the curriculum
  • Parents have noticed a difference and are being invited to a ‘showcase’ so that children can show them how the manipulatives are used
  • Rebecca has been trying a ‘keep up’ approach to intervention
  • They have been thinking a lot about how to create a positive mindset around maths with the children
  • The school has managed to recruit a ‘maths governor’ who they decide should be invited to the next meeting with Laura.

Action Planning

Next Laura and Rebecca consider the action plan that began to be drawn up in their first meeting, and think about what can be done next:

  • Rebecca is keen to increase the mathematical expertise of her TAs, some of whom lack confidence in maths. She realises how important it is that they understand the new approach to teaching maths and can reinforce it. It is difficult for such a far-flung school to access subject knowledge training for TAs available through the Maths Hub, but Laura is able to offer something bespoke for the school and its local school partnership, thereby benefitting all schools in the area.
  • Rebecca acknowledges that the school culture does not currently involve ‘maths conversation’, except when she and Carolyn get together informally after school. She is keen to involve all staff in the buzz they are feeling and is forced to think creatively, with Heather’s ‘tidal absence’ at the front of her mind.

Rebecca touches on issues of assessment, making provision for greater depth and ‘keep up’ intervention but Laura urges caution. This is about long-term sustained change and she recognises the difficulties of change and the need to do things step by step, for best impact. These are issues that will be covered later in the year. Being part of the Mastery Readiness Work Group will allow the school to benefit from the experiences of other schools on a similar journey. Their meetings with Laura will allow them to take an approach that fits exactly with where they are on that journey. Rebecca says:

“It’s been much better for us, than the full Teaching for Mastery Programme, for this year. I’ve been passionate about maths forever, but the mastery approach is new to me. It was good to be able to say, from the outset, that I wasn’t sure about it. But now I am understanding it better and feel ready for teaching for mastery.”

This case study was first published in 2016.

If your school might benefit from participation in the expanding Mastery Readiness Programme, please contact your local Maths Hub, or email Emma Patman or Elizabeth Lambert directly.