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Guest blog by Jane Jones HMI, Ofsted

Created on 12 November 2014 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 09 October 2015 by ncetm_administrator

Charlie's Angles - guest blog by Jane Jones HMI, Ofsted

Charlie Stripp’s recent blog on mastery and differentiation has raised the question, voiced widely by maths teachers around the country, of the implications - if the mastery principle is followed rigorously - for Ofsted inspectors’ evaluation of maths teaching in a school (Inspectors no longer judge teaching in individual lessons).

To address that very question, Jane Jones, Ofsted’s National Lead for Mathematics, has contributed this Guest Blog

You might not expect to see the three words, mastery, Ofsted and synergy in the same sentence or blog, but they are exactly what I’m going to use in thinking about the direction of travel in mathematics teaching following the implementation of the new national curriculum in September 2014. Following the publication of Charlie Stripp’s blog, a number of thoughtful and constructive comments have been posted on the page. In one of them, JL Pearson posed the question: The Mastery Approach is clearly going to make an impact, but has anyone spoken to Ofsted about this? Well, the short answer to that question is ‘yes’ – at policy and leadership levels, and through initial training for inspectors on the new national curriculum. Ofsted does not have fixed expectations of what the curriculum in practice will look like, including how teachers differentiate to meet pupils’ learning needs. It’s also worth saying here that Ofsted inspectors no longer give judgements on the quality of teaching in individual lessons.

The aims of the mathematics national curriculum, fluency (that blend of conceptual understanding and procedural flexibility), mathematical reasoning and problem solving, capture the best in mathematics education that we would surely want for any pupil. The word mastery is not used in the programmes of study, but the principles cited by Charlie are at one with them. Likewise, the messages from Ofsted’s report, Mathematics: made to measure, emphasise the importance of developing conceptual understanding (not just procedural proficiency on its own) and giving all pupils the chance to solve problems and reason about their work. So, there’s synergy in what we are all aiming for.

The national curriculum makes it clear that the majority of pupils are expected to move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace. In all key stages, pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content and those who are less secure should consolidate their understanding before moving on. Ofsted is considering whether a footnote referring to this in our school inspection handbook would be helpful.

Differentiation should therefore be about how the teacher helps all pupils in the class to understand new concepts and techniques. The blend of practical apparatus, images and representations (like the Singaporean model of concrete-pictorial-abstract) may be different for different groups of pupils, or pupils might move from one to the next with more or less speed than their classmates. Skilful questioning is key, as is creating an environment in which pupils are unafraid to grapple with the mathematics. Challenge comes through more complex problem solving, not a rush to new mathematical content. Good consolidation revisits underpinning ideas and/or structures through carefully selected exercises or activities. Mastery calls this ‘intelligent practice’.

The notion that headteachers might encourage their staff to retain previous ways of working because they fear criticism from an Ofsted inspector is a concern but one that everyone can play a part to dispel. While the curriculum is new, leaders whose schools are being inspected may want to take the opportunity to explain to inspectors how mathematics is organised in the school, what an inspector might typically see in a mathematics lesson or a support/challenge session including how differentiation works, and how pupils’ attainment and progress are assessed.

[In addition to reading the above blog post, you may like to refer to the paragraph relating to mathematics in the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook from September 2015 See paragraph 160, which starts on page 47 of the handbook]

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11 February 2017 18:44
Still a valuable article from Jane - good to hear direct from Ofsted. More Senior Leaders should read this!

NB Ofsted handbook: It is now paragraph 163 starting on page 46
By cwatson
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13 December 2015 09:05
I have been teaching Maths for 21 years in the abstract stage. If only I knew to help pupils have the depth of understanding I should have used the concrete and pictorial stage.Jane Jones has got it completely right! I am teaching the singapore bar method for problem solving. My last two observations were deemed outstanding. I only wish I had taught like this in my whole career.
By dhaldane
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04 May 2015 22:21
How are teachers in small schools with ever decreasing budgets being supported?
By vransford
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05 January 2015 12:20
"Challenge comes through more complex problem solving, not a rush to new mathematical content." Great stuff from Jane's blog. We are celebrating the legacy of the Cockroft Report and it is great to see truths like these threading their way through to current advice.
By BrianRob
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30 November 2014 14:40
I am not surprised by Laurie's experience at the headteacher conference. In my work I visit many Primary schools, very few seem to have yet fully appreciated, the implications for the teaching and learning of maths, that the New Curriclum brings.
By mathzapper
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16 November 2014 21:21
Nice to read something from Jane (Ofsted) about the 'new world' but what really has changed? High quality mathematics teaching and learning hasn't changed with the new curriculum, the challenges remain the same - ensuring ALL teachers teach mathematics in such a way that is engaging, interesting and meaningful and ensuring that mathematical reasoning, problems solving and fluency (now the three aims) is the vehicle for learning the 'stuff'.

I recently led some CPD at a Headteacher conference. Only 1 HT out of 25 primary heads was able to describe the three aims of the new maths curriculum. There is much educating to be done that 'mastery' is not just content driven.

If we have a current workforce that either don't fully appreciate this or hold these values to heart, then it goes without saying that the inspector workforce (derived from the teacher workforce) will also need 'educating'. How well inspectors are 'educated' to understand that this is effective practice in maths has always been a concern and will no doubt continue to be for some time to come.

It's very sad to hear jaydougs' experience as a teacher. That although able to identify the gaps you don't feel able to spend time 'filling the gaps'. How on earth does the DfE expect schools and teachers to feel empowered to take autonomous decisions about curriculum and assessment when there are teachers out there saying things like this? (And I don't doubt more out there)

I am intrigued by Jane's comment 'Mastery calls this 'intelligent practice' '. Who is this 'Mastery' - is he/ she some character from Dr Who?
16 November 2014 16:07
It is all very well and good to talk about "Mastery" but the sad reality is that teachers are pressured to get pupils to certain levels within a year and this mostly means that they teach pupils higher-level topics by rote while scrimping on basics such as numeracy. My pupils struggle with numbers but I cannot teach them more on numbers because that is not the correct level; they have no confidence in Mathematics because they cannot do basic arithmetic. I personally do not think that making the curriculum more challenging is the way to go because pupils already dislike Maths by the time they get to high school; they have been shown algebra etc. at primary level and struggle with it because they do not understand numbers. Some primary school teachers have a C grade at GCSE Maths (as far as I am aware, this means they got 30%-50% in the higher papers). How will these teachers teach a more challenging curriculum? I started doing algebra at age 13; prior to that, my Mathematical study comprised of numbers and it was fun. Pupils doing KS1, KS2, KS3, KS4 and KS5 exams is way too much pressure on them and their teachers. I feel sorry for our kids, they are not learning because non-teachers are telling teachers what to teach, when and how. Our kids come out of school with C grades and people are happy (If the pupils have put in a lot of effort, then fair enough, they should be pleased)? Even worse, kids get C grades but are still not numerate; there is no point to educating them excepting a piece of paper saying they got a C- they are unable to apply their qualification (it's used to get a job). People from other countries get C grades (but these are mostly worth 55%-70% in a higher paper), they are a step ahead of us in a lot of ways and are numerate. Our curriculum appears to be set based on repetition (drumming it in to pupils year after year) instead of learning. We need to get back to teaching basics, the four operations on number (including proportions) up to the age of 12 before embarking on algebra, otherwise we will never reach the heights of Mathematical learning as other countries. Take a longer view and lose the short-sightedness of wanting quick results. "The government wants this many levels of progress each year" REALLY? Boxes can be ticked to make sure this happens but the kids have not learnt anything and a lot of good teachers are not happy that they are pressured to show these results; they leave the profession because they are not making the difference they signed up for.
By jaydougs
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15 November 2014 08:18
I'm pleased we have reasoning and problem solving moving to the forefront. I'm further pleased that we are looking more deeply and conceptually at 'big stuff', like fractions. The fractions content on the ncetm is brilliant! All deep thinking takes time!
By Jillt
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14 November 2014 11:47
At my junior school we are excited about the curriculum and its new focus regarding the teaching of maths. Is Jane Jones certain that all Ofsted inspectors fully understand how and why the teaching of maths is changing, and that their training is adequate?
By dellcelles
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14 November 2014 11:02
'Singaporean method' ? Teachers have been using this model in this country since the Cockcroft report! Not enough teachers perhaps but.......!

Enrich the learning!
By peter_hall
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13 November 2014 20:19
It's nice if consultants will not mention the secret word "Ofsted" during their consultancy task but unfortunately the culture within and around school is what the almighty "Ofsted" will say.

Untill all the culture of sudden inspection is changed I am afraid those to be inspected will have no choice than to prepare for the show. We know how more and more schools are moving down the line and teacher likewise moving from Good to satisfactory at a single judgement e.t.c

Following cfangiers advise unless the Senior managers are of Maths background they will definitely not be interested in what the Maths blog is saying they will be more interested in what their employers thinks. Of course we can stop this nonsense only if we are determined to face the music not minding being down graded e.t.c
By adenolu
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13 November 2014 14:28
Absolutely agree with Mathmagician, the focus of support should certainly not be on Ofsted, and if schools think that is what they need from a consultant then it is the consultants duty to try to move them away from that thought.

By mathssolutions for schools (It says mathzapper but the name has changed and no matter how I try I cannot seem to get the name change registered on this site)
By mathzapper
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12 November 2014 18:05
Excellent Article - full of common sense! For too long teachers have felt obliged to prepare several different bits of work for EVERY lesson.

Why? Because they say their SLT insist.

Why? Because they say that the LA insist.

Why? Because they say OFSTED insist.

At last we can stop this nonsense and differentiate according to each pupil's needs, rather than the table they are sitting at.

I agree 100% with cfangler's comment about snake-oil sellers, too. Consultants should not even talk about OFSTED much; it should certainly not be the focus of support; it should surely be about how to maximise opportunities for children.
12 November 2014 14:29
Unfortunately there is now an industry of consultants travelling around schools selling snake oil to "get through OFSTED". Senior teams then issue extraordinary edicts that every teacher must follow which not only denies teachers their professional space but in my experience all too often contradicts the sensible and empowering approach Jane is advocating. I would urge maths teachers to share this blog with their senior team.
By cfangier
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