Putting secondary pupils into sets for maths, based on their perceived ability, is widespread and established practice in English schools. But it doesn’t happen in most of the places that top international rankings in maths performance, in particular not in Shanghai or Singapore. That partly explains why one Maths Hub lead school, which has been exposed first hand to Shanghai teaching, is moving away from ‘ability-setting’ in Key Stage 3. That school is The St Marylebone CE School, which leads the London Central and North West Maths Hub.
But the change hasn’t been achieved in one fell swoop. It’s been a process of trial and refinement, with the key successful catalyst being the introduction of a regular system of joint lesson planning within the maths department.
During last year (2015-2016), Year 7 teachers started to meet weekly, to discuss progress in the current week’s teaching, and to outline lessons for the week ahead. This led to the creation of an outline plan. Detailed planning was then divided up so each teacher then planned 1 or 2 lessons per fortnight in detail. Maths Hub Lead Dan Chandrakumar describes the revolutionary effect that this had on everybody’s teaching: ‘We started doing these Teacher Research Group-style meetings, and the teaching quality just rocketed.’
When the teachers discussed this last summer, they resoundingly opted not only to repeat what they had done with the new Year 7, but to carry on into Year 8 (with last year’s Y7). So now the school has all-attainment groupings in Y7 and Y8 with weekly joint planning meetings. The school has managed to timetable the maths teachers so that they have common non-contact periods in which to attend the meetings, meaning that the teachers are, in effect, choosing to use their own PPA time for this collaborative planning purpose. For a detailed account of how this school is moving away from setting, go to www.ncetm.org.uk/stmarylebone