• Article

Outstanding schools, Ofsted and mastery

Find out how three schools deliver maths through teaching for mastery, and why Ofsted liked what they saw

Outstanding schools, Ofsted and mastery
  • Published: 12/04/2019

For some schools that have yet to embrace mastery, there can seem to be a long list of reasons it ‘won’t work’. “My school is in an area of high deprivation”, “We are already Outstanding so we don’t need it”, “I’ve heard Ofsted don’t like it”… The list goes on!

We recently visited three very different primary schools, but with two things in common. They are all graded Outstanding, and they all deliver maths through teaching for mastery.

Despite very different contexts, the schools have all committed to teaching for mastery and believe it works for their pupils. Embracing mastery has meant reviewing the curriculum, training staff, and engaging with their local Maths Hub. Each school has faced its own challenges and has had to overcome them in innovative and creative ways.

Their headteachers and maths leads told us what makes maths successful at their schools and how teaching for mastery is part of what makes them Outstanding.

Kentmere Primary Academy, Rochdale

Kentmere is an Outstanding primary school in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. With 330 pupils on roll, it has a 1.5 form intake. The school is in an area of significant deprivation. Over 40% of pupils are in receipt of Pupil Premium funding, and 60% of pupils have EAL.

The school’s progress score in maths is well above average. It has a score of 5, compared with a Local Authority average of 0.3, and a national average of 0.0. Kentmere is placed in the top 10% of primary schools nationally for its maths results. Ofsted graded the school as Outstanding in January 2018, having previously been placed in Special Measures in 2013 (prior to it becoming an academy).

Keys to success

After being placed into Special Measures, the school acted quickly to start its journey to Outstanding. Headteacher Sarah Isberg arrived in November 2013. Hannah Duffy, an NQT at Kentmere in 2010, became maths lead in September 2013. Together they created a plan for maths.

Having heard positive messages about the impact of mastery, they signed up for a three-day commercial mastery conference to find out more. It was clear immediately that mastery was for them. ‘We were convinced by lunchtime on the first day,’ Sarah said.

When they returned to school, Sarah and Hannah set about working with teachers to co-create an agreed set of expectations for maths lessons. If changes were to be made, it was important that teachers felt that they were part of the process, rather than having it done to them. Teachers and leaders agreed that maths lessons would be based on the belief that all children could achieve. They also decided to use a combination of workbooks and journals, and that live marking of workbooks during lessons would be one way in which teachers could monitor progress in real time. The school took the decision to buy textbooks too, to help structure teachers’ planning.

Kentmere began to work with the school’s local Maths Hub, North West One. Through the Maths Hub and the NCETM, Hannah trained as a Mastery Specialist and used her expertise to support other teachers at Kentmere in Teacher Research Group style co-planning sessions. As a result of their engagement, Maths Hub Lead Simon Mazumder asked Kentmere to be a lead school for showcasing mastery.

Mastery is now embedded in the school’s maths ethos. Sarah and Hannah have established what they describe as ‘a safe culture of practice’. This means that teachers can ask if they are unsure, and that they can strive for excellence in their maths teaching with confidence.

Shared PPA time enables teachers to co-plan in year teams, with plenty of support from Hannah. The biggest factor in ensuring that mastery really works has been Hannah talking about planning with colleagues. Discussions around how to take small steps, how to incorporate fluency and the best way to use textbooks have created rich professional dialogue. This has led to well-planned lessons which cater for all pupils.

Challenges overcome

When the school was in Special Measures, there was no calculation policy. Ofsted also identified that teacher subject knowledge in maths was inadequate. Hannah devised a calculation policy, which quickly ensured greater school-wide consistency. She also delivered training to improve teachers’ subject knowledge rapidly.

Kentmere wanted to explore whether mixed-attainment classes would work for its pupils (Sarah was already using funding to split mixed-age classes into separate groups for their maths lessons). However, the school didn’t make a blanket move to this approach straight away. Sarah and Hannah wanted to ensure that teachers understood the principles of mastery before significant changes were made school-wide.

Key Stage 1 was the first to move to mixed-attainment groupings in maths lessons, in conjunction with the use of textbooks. NCETM PD materials are now used alongside textbooks to aid teachers’ planning. In the KS1 classes, the decision immediately made sense for both teachers and pupils. Lesson observations were positive, and mixed-attainment groupings were rolled out in Y3–5. Kentmere found that, for its pupils, mixed-attainment groupings reinforced the sense that there was no ceiling on achievement.

The school also faced a challenge when it came to engaging parents. Often parents do not speak much English, or are not engaged in their children’s learning. Sarah admits that there is no easy solution to this challenge. The school therefore maximises its own efforts, making sure that it is doing everything it can for pupils during school hours, and inspiring them to love maths outside school too. Homework is carefully designed to build on what pupils have learned in school, and lets them feel that they can do maths just as well at home as they do in lessons.

What Ofsted thought

Sarah and Hannah both had a positive experience when Ofsted came to Kentmere. The inspectors were impressed by hearing pupils of all ages using mathematical vocabulary.

Inspectors saw lessons across all year groups. They also talked to Hannah about her diagnosis of what needed to happen in maths, and how she was implementing improvements.

During lesson observations, inspectors saw pupils’ journals and could see how careful planning led to challenge in lessons. They could see how mastery was catering for learners of all abilities.

“The teaching of mathematics is a notable strength. Pupils respond enthusiastically to the regular challenge they receive through carefully chosen activities and the good-quality resources that assist them in solving problems.”

“Outcomes in mathematics are similarly impressive. Pupils apply very well their understanding of number to real-life problems and challenging activities. They are adept in explaining their work, using a well-formed mathematical vocabulary, and are confident when giving reasons why a particular strategy or calculation is appropriate.”

If you are interested in following in Kentmere’s footsteps, contact your local Maths Hub to find out more about how to deliver maths through teaching for mastery. Many Maths Hubs run conferences and open mornings for schools interested in learning more about mastery, and CPD is available through local Work Groups. Training for teachers who want to become Mastery Specialists is also available.

Windhill21, Bishop’s Stortford

Windhill21 is an Outstanding primary school in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. With 490 pupils on roll, it has a two form intake. Despite being located in an affluent area, Windhill21 has percentages of EAL pupils (27%) and pupils with SEND (14%) above national averages.

The school’s progress score in maths is above average. It has a score of 2.7, compared with a Local Authority average of –0.3, and a national average of 0.0. Windhill21 is placed in the top 12% of primary schools nationally for its maths results. Ofsted graded the school as Outstanding in October 2018, having previously been graded Good.

Keys to success

Windhill21 works closely with its local Maths Hub, Matrix, to drive and share mastery. Sarah-Jane Pyne is the school’s maths lead and trained as a Mastery Specialist through the NCETM/Maths Hub programme. She has been at the school since 2016 and works with Kirsty Pettinger, Matrix’s Teaching for Mastery Lead, to support other local schools introducing mastery.

Pupils exercise book
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When Windhill21 first introduced mastery, Sarah-Jane worked with all the teachers during formal allocated planning time. Philippa Moore, Windhill21’s headteacher, wanted to ensure all teachers had dedicated time with an expert. Although the approach to co-planning is now less formal, any staff who are new to Windhill21 receive training and support when they arrive. They are immediately involved in year team co-planning.

pupil's exercise book
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Success comes from the school’s culture of expecting all pupils to succeed. Additional support is given as and when required, but is not the norm. Teachers teach to the top of the class and make sure lower-attaining pupils keep up through a variety of supportive approaches, rather than assuming they will not be able to ‘get it’. The approach of ‘Explore, Practise, Apply, Challenge’ is used consistently across all maths lessons and the class is kept together for much of this. During the ‘Apply’ and ‘Challenge’ sections, ‘rapid graspers’ begin to experiment with changing parameters and are used to asking themselves the question, ‘What if?’. Pupils who have struggled to move beyond ‘Practise’ are given additional teacher and TA input to consolidate their knowledge.

Challenges overcome

Before mastery was introduced, Sarah-Jane and Philippa admitted that staff had heard negative things about it. The familiar refrains – “Ofsted don’t like it”, “It involves more time planning”, “Things are different in Shanghai so won’t work here” – had to be overcome. Philippa and her team gave teachers time, expert input and extensive support. As a result, staff soon saw that mastery was no gimmick, and that it would work for their pupils.

Pupils questioned the change to mastery too. Higher-attaining pupils resisted what they felt was a slowing down in their learning. It took time for them to engage with a different type of challenge, rather than equating speed with success. Now pupils are enjoying the process of unpicking why the answer is what it is, rather than seeing a solution as an end point. They like tackling ‘What if?’ activities and manipulating parameters and variables.

Sarah-Jane and Philippa are very clear that introducing mastery is not always easy and that there may be mistakes made along the way. When they first created new schemes of work that they believed were in line with mastery, they admit that they did not get it right.

pupil's exercise book
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Sarah-Jane explains: ‘Getting lesson design right took time. We initially designed a sequence of lessons where pupils could move at their own pace – and ended up with 30 pupils in 30 different places! It was impossible to teach and monitor their progress.’ After careful revision and learning from their mistakes, Sarah-Jane and the other teachers designed effective schemes of work for all year groups. These schemes now keep pupils together and have a narrow focus for each lesson, without treating each topic as a discrete lesson. Elements of mastery are even evident in the curriculum outside maths, as pupils take part in activities such as whole-class reading.

What Ofsted thought

Ofsted inspectors liked that the school had taken time to diagnose what needed doing to make maths even better. They could see Sarah-Jane was developing systems and approaches to create confident mathematicians. Investment in manipulatives, use of Hertfordshire Local Authority planning resources, in-house training on mastery and structured daily maths meetings were all having an impact.

In the lessons they observed, inspectors were positive about the variety they saw. They appreciated that, during the time they were in the classroom, some pupils did and some didn’t get on to the ‘Challenge’ activity.

Sarah-Jane was honest with inspectors about what had been done and what still needed to be worked on. She believes it is crucial during an inspection that the maths lead can articulate why mastery is right for the school. ‘Results and outcomes don’t always tell the story,’ she says.

“Teachers provide pupils with many opportunities to apply their mathematical skills in problem-solving and reasoning activities. Pupils can articulate their learning clearly, using correct mathematical vocabulary. Pupils’ basic mathematical skills are very secure, which enables them to reason at a high level.”

“Pupils’ work in books shows that progress in mathematics is at least good, with many examples of pupils making outstanding progress. This is as a result of teachers’ high expectations and the excellent teaching of mathematical problem-solving and reasoning across the school. Pupils have very secure basic mathematical skills.”

If you are interested in following in Windhill21’s footsteps, contact your local Maths Hub to find out more about how to become a Mastery Specialist. The NCETM and Maths Hubs offer training for teachers wanting to become Mastery Specialists. If your school wants to introduce mastery, CPD is available through local Work Groups.

Copley Primary, Halifax

Copley is an Outstanding primary school in Halifax, West Yorkshire. With 240 pupils on roll, it has a one form intake. Copley’s catchment area is predominantly White British, and the school’s percentages of EAL pupils (2.6%), those with SEND (7.7%) and those receiving Pupil Premium funding (8.5%) are all below national and local averages.

The school’s progress score in maths is average, but above that of the Local Authority and national score (a score of 0.6, compared with a Local Authority average of 0.2, and a national average of 0.0). Ofsted graded the school as Outstanding in October 2013, having previously been graded Good.

Copley is the lead school in a federation with New Road Primary School, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire. A mastery approach to maths teaching is being rolled out at New Road, having been embedded at Copley.

Keys to success

As an already Outstanding school, Copley faced the dilemma of making changes to systems that were arguably already working for their pupils. Headteacher Nan Oldfield wasn’t prepared to let the school simply coast, and decided that mastery would ensure the school remained Outstanding, whilst turning pupils into even more confident and competent mathematicians. After receiving an Outstanding judgement for the school in 2013, she embarked on a mastery journey which would take several years to be fully realised, and is still very much in progress.

Copley has always been proactive in involving parents in their children’s learning of maths. When mastery was first introduced, parents were anxious and resisted the change. Attitudes to maths were especially entrenched amongst mums, who talked about maths being ‘what Dad helped out with’ at home.

To increase parental confidence and understanding, parents were invited in to watch lessons and see how mastery worked. Now, parents are fully behind the approach and feel more equipped to support their children at home.

The school was also keen to promote an open and honest culture of it being okay to get things wrong – for both pupils and teachers. As teachers developed their understanding of mastery, they could always ask and check with colleagues. To show pupils that getting things wrong was part of learning, teachers built common misconceptions into their lessons. Errors were addressed, understood and corrected as part of everyday practice.

Early in Copley’s mastery journey, Nan Oldfield took the decision to move to two maths lessons a day. Pupils have a maths lesson from 9am–9.40am, which involves teacher input on the concept being taught. Assembly is at 9.40am and lasts 15 minutes. During this time, the teacher stays with any pupils who have not yet understood or are not confident. This intervention can be for groups of pupils ranging in size from 2 to 12. After assembly, pupils return to their maths lesson and work on more independent activities.

Challenges overcome

Copley is located in an area where there are a number of high-performing grammar schools. From late Year 5 onwards, many of the school’s higher-attaining pupils receive additional tutoring to help prepare them for grammar school entry exams. This can impact on their maths learning at school. During tutoring sessions, pupils may pick up ‘tricks’ and shortcuts for more challenging questions. The mastery approach must unpick tricks, and ensure that pupils have a deep understanding of concepts, rather than simply being able to bypass understanding by memorising procedures.

Daniel Collins is the school’s maths lead. When mastery was first introduced, he found that many of his high-attaining Year 6 pupils got frustrated. ‘They wanted to rush through questions to get to the answer,’ he explains. ‘Now, they enjoy the challenge in a different way. They work together to push each other. We make sure we have created quality questions and materials which really challenge them.’

Another challenge Nan and Daniel experienced was how best to deploy their teaching assistants. TAs initially felt left out and anxious. Pupils they may have traditionally withdrawn were now staying in lessons and working alongside their peers. Daniel trained the TAs in mastery, so they could understand it in detail and support all pupils effectively. Now, TAs are often the first people to try new ideas and experiment with mastery approaches as they support the whole class in maths.

What Ofsted thought

Ofsted last visited Copley in 2013 – the school is confident that mastery is crucial to it remaining Outstanding.

Inspectors conducted a monitoring visit at New Road in November 2017. New Road was graded Good in 2012, and the monitoring visit showed it continued to be Good.

At New Road, inspectors enjoyed hearing pupils use detailed and accurate mathematical vocabulary. The Ofsted visit was a chance for the school’s maths lead to talk to inspectors about mastery, and explain how it worked at New Road, having been introduced first at Copley.

“Attainment in mathematics and literacy, including reading and writing, are consistently high as a result of the outstanding teaching.”

“Pupils regularly work in groups and pairs and are encouraged to discuss their work with each other in order to solve problems and complete tasks in mathematics. They are encouraged to assess each other’s work and can clearly explain what they have been learning in great detail.”

If your school is ready to embrace teaching for mastery, why not join a Work Group near you? CPD is available via your local Maths Hub, with Work Groups starting from September 2019. Teachers can also train as Mastery Specialists to develop their own knowledge and expertise and take it beyond their school. Find out more about the opportunities on offer and get involved.
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