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Key Elements (Primary): Improvement Planning

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 18 November 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 07 April 2010 by ncetm_administrator

Features of effective practice

An effective improvement plan:
  • relates to the whole school improvement plan
  • has clear sections for each development area which relate to the department’s self-evaluation (see Fundamentals ‘Self-evaluation’ and ‘Vision’)
  • has a mixture of short term achievable actions and long term changes of culture
  • provides detail about each area which makes clear:
    • what is to be done?
    • who will lead or manage it?
    • what the timescale for the activity is?
    • what funding is available for this?
    • what monitoring activities are in place to help check that developments have been successful?
    • how the department will know when it is done and has been successful?
    • is it regularly reviewed and/or refined?

Case Study 1: School A – Writing and Reviewing a Mathematics Improvement Plan

By July08
A detailed analysis and evaluation of how well we are doing helps to celebrate strengths and identify areas for development.

This is when I start to plan what needs to be done and to prioritise actions for the following academic year. I discuss the key issues with the staff and then I write the improvement plan for mathematics. A timescale for monitoring is agreed.

Improvement Plan

By this time monitoring has taken place with further support and actions decided as a result. The next staff meeting was used to share good practice and discuss issues that have resulted in the inconsistency.

 Improvement Plan cont'd

Case Study 2: School B – Using a Calculation Audit to identify priorities

The analysis of quantitative and qualitative data has identified a need to improve children’s mental calculation strategies. But we needed to get ‘underneath’ this broad headline area for development to find out what children were actually doing. In order to get an accurate picture of the strategies the children were confident in and lacking, I carried out a Mental Calculation Audit. This involved talking to a few middle ability children from each year group (in a bigger school I think I would do this for each class) and asking them to carry out some calculations, mentally with jottings to support their thinking. The questions I asked were drawn from the QCA publication ‘Teaching Mental Calculations’ and the Renewed Framework. They were devised carefully to see if certain strategies were being used by the children. For example, in Year 2 we were interested in seeing whether the question 8 + 14 resulted in children putting the bigger number first and then bridge through the tens boundary, using known facts.
From the audit, I wrote the report Calculation Audit.

As a result of this process, curricular targets were planned for the coming year and I made the following key recommendations to the staff:

  • explore and model the use of the number line and blank number line as an aid to understanding and calculating with all four operationsimprove children’s use of ‘what I already know’ to solve problems with all four rulesdevelop children’s understanding of ‘difference between’ as counting on
  • ensure that children understand how to use partitioning accurately and when it is the most effective strategy to use
  • carry out elements of the Mental Calculation Audit at three points in the year to identify impact of the teaching of the curricular targets and to decide next steps
  • if Year 5 and 6 children are not able to tackle the planned questions linked to yearly expectations, try easier questions (children from Year 5 and 6 often revealed their strategies more clearly when asked easier questions!)

Case Study 3: School C - example of work scrutiny and pupils’ conferencing to support improvement planning

I use work scrutiny and pupil conferencing as the two main strategies for monitoring the impact of the improvement plan. Here are the methods and outcomes from the last part of our planned monitoring cycle in June 2009. Key features from my monitoring are in italics – Work scrutiny (January 2009) and Pupil conferencing (March 2009).

Work scrutiny:

  • class teachers provided samples of work from YR-Y6
  • analysed evidence in the light of findings from previous work scrutiny;

Key outcomes:
Some books contain informative and interactive comments / annotations from class teachers. They provide feedback to pupils, a commentary on learning outcomes and, where appropriate, details / guidance regarding ‘next steps’.

  • developmental marking remains inconsistent across the school. There are examples of teachers giving (written) learning prompts. The use of exemplifications, illustrating learning outcomes, will provide additional support/guidance to pupils;

With the exception of YR, differentiation is uneven and tends to rely on outcomes (of the same task) rather than through differentiated objectives. Average attainers will, on the evidence provided, need to make accelerated progress in order to reach age-related expectations by the end of the year. More able pupils are not consistently challenged.

  • this remains a key issue. Work is now more closely matched to age-related expectations though differentiation through outcome continues to be the most common strategy used;

There appears to be an over-reliance on worksheets in some classes. Often the activities are very structured and don’t allow pupils to develop, and record, their own thinking.

  • overall, worksheets are now used sparingly. Pupils in Years 1 – 6 now have a single (A4) exercise into which all written work is recorded. Each book has a dedicated space for working out and ‘jottings’. This has had a very positive impact. Pupils’ work is generally neat, well set out and easy to follow;

Greater use needs to be made of pictorial/visual representations, including the use of number lines, to support early calculation strategies (Years 1 – 3).

  • there is now more evidence of pupils using number lines and pictures/drawings to support calculation strategies;

Limited evidence of mathematical reasoning and problem solving activities that encourage children to use/apply knowledge and understanding.

  • this also remains a key issue. Evidence of AT1 is limited to application of calculation strategies within story/context problems. Little use is made of ‘open’ questioning and enquiry-based learning;

There is insufficient evidence of pupils using estimation / checking procedures for written calculations (Years 4/5).

  • there is evidence of pupils checking their own calculations using inverse operations. This self-assessment technique can be broadened to introduce peer assessment on selected pieces of work;

Learning objectives need to recorded more consistently and samples of work must be dated.

  • learning objectives are recorded consistently and work is dated. Some teachers make effective use of success criteria to guide pupils and inform marking/feedback;

Pupil Conferences:


  • pupils communicated well and responded enthusiastically to questions asked
  • pupils demonstrated positive attitudes towards their schoolwork
  • most pupils explained that targets are displayed on classroom walls
  • there is a consistent colour coding system (for targets on walls) throughout the school - red, yellow, green and blue.

Area for development: to ensure all pupils know, and can explain, their
targets for reading, writing and mathematics.

Outcome: greater consistency in terms of pupils knowing what their targets are – majority of pupils were able to give exemplifications of target statements (most notably in Oak and Willow classes).

  • some/most pupils described activities that help them to practise their targets.

Areas for development:
a) to ensure all pupils can explain when, and how, they practise their targets.
b) ‘target teaching’ opportunities are agreed and carried out in every class.

Outcome: most pupils gave, at least, one example of when / how they practise targets.

  • responses to the question about how do you know whether you have achieved your target referred mostly to being told by the class teacher
  • pupils in Beech class shared examples of self-assessment against mathematics targets.                                   

Areas for development:
a) targets are prominently displayed (in child-speak) in every classroom.
b) target boards need to provide exemplifications of learning outcomes so that pupils are clear about what they will be able to do when they have achieved their target.
c) (written) feedback from adults must explicitly refer to progress made against targets.


  • target boards consistently display targets using child-friendly language
  • pupils did not refer to exemplifications of learning outcomes on target boards
  • there is some evidence of (written) feedback that focuses on progress being made towards achievement of curricular targets.

What does Ofsted say?

(Excerpts from the Ofsted report Mathematics: understanding the score)

This report offers a range of external perspectives, examples of good practice and indications of national trends and standards which can be very helpful to a subject leader.
Here we have included elements which are relevant to this section on improvement planning.

72. The quality of departmental improvement planning varied widely; the best tackled identified shortcomings and areas for development, linking to whole-school priorities where relevant, with clearly defined actions, and measurable success criteria. A positive development in departments which were effective and improving was the use of meeting and planning time to discuss teaching and learning and share ideas.

NB: The language of ‘departmental planning’ seems to suggest secondary practice. However, we have included it here as we feel the observations may be helpful to primary colleagues. 

Reflection and next steps

  • reflect on the features of effective practice and think about what key areas within Improvement Planning you want to develop now
  • look through the case studies and the excerpts from the Ofsted report Mathematics: understanding the score and decide whether there are any tasks or actions you might want to take that are prompted by these
  • use the NCETM Personal Learning Space to record any personal reflections, actions or tasks
  • from policy to practice.

Use this pro-forma to support you in planning your next steps.

Going further

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