Ofsted give further reassurance to schools using mastery approach to mathematics teaching

Schools adopting mastery approaches to the teaching of maths have received a further reassurance from Ofsted that such an approach is wholly consistent with the new curriculum.

Speaking at a Maths Hubs programme event on mastery teaching in primary schools, Jane Jones HMI, Ofsted’s National Lead for Mathematics, also gave some advice to schools on how to explain their approach to Ofsted inspectors.

The speech came at the end of a day in which schools that have recently hosted teachers from Shanghai outlined how their approaches to teaching maths are already changing to reflect a number of the mastery approaches. For example, the practice of putting children on different tables, with different work, according to perceived ability had been abandoned in favour of keeping the whole class together on the same content for the entirety of the lesson. Depth of understanding is being prioritised, alongside high expectations of every child.

Jane Jones explained that both the new curriculum and the Ofsted handbook stressed that an objective of teaching was to create deeper understanding rather than to accelerate pupils into new content.

In the past, she said, differentiation was often achieved by a teacher preparing different activities or worksheets for different groups of pupils. Now there are other ways, consistent with the new curriculum and a mastery approach, of catering for different attainment levels within a classroom.

These could include giving pupils differing amounts of time using concrete resources to help them grasp concepts, and giving what she called the ‘rapid-graspers’ more challenging questions and problems to work on, and reason about.

She acknowledged that the whole class teaching model—a key feature of teaching for mastery—can sometimes look slower than usual. But she assured her audience that inspectors will not judge teaching and progress based on the speed of getting through content. They will focus on the depth of pupils’ learning – the impact of the teaching.

That said, she conceded that headteachers in schools following or developing a mastery approach might feel nervous when they know an inspection is imminent. In these situations, she suggested heads could prepare a single sheet of paper to give to the inspector (and/or talk to the inspector) outlining the following:

  • What their school is doing as it delivers/moves towards a mastery approach
  • What an inspector might typically see in maths lessons
  • How the school intervenes swiftly to help those having difficulty to make sure they keep up, and to stretch and deepen the learning of the ‘rapid-graspers’
  • How the school is developing its systems for tracking attainment and progress in the subject – focusing on the most important things ready for the next stage/year/term.

She ended her address with an impassioned plea for teachers attracted by the mastery approach to ‘go for it’ in the best interests of their pupils.

Her address has been warmly welcomed by the NCETM’s Director, Charlie Stripp:

There can now be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ofsted is fully supportive of schools changing the way they teach maths, to reflect a mastery approach. We are very grateful to Jane Jones for spelling out so clearly how the mastery approach is completely consistent with the aims of the new maths National Curriculum, and for the immensely helpful advice she gave to headteachers preparing for Ofsted inspections. We hope this will give schools more confidence to take a mastery approach to maths teaching, which, evidence suggests, helps all pupils to improve their understanding of maths.