Five steps to maths mastery

Written by: Alexandra Riley | Published:
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Successful implementation of maths mastery approaches requires a whole-school strategy and effective support and training for your teachers. Alexandra Riley offers a school leader’s mastery checklist

A mastery approach in maths aims to help all children leave primary school with a deep and secure understanding of mathematics while also upskilling teachers.

To be successful, this journey needs to be taken by the whole school, together, and driven by a passionate leader. Here are five steps to help you plan, implement and embed mastery approaches.

1, Mastering mastery

Before you begin to implement mastery in your school, develop your own understanding of what is meant by the terms “mastery” and “teaching for mastery”.

At its core, mastery rejects the idea that some children can’t do maths. It recognises that by nurturing positive attitudes and building confidence, all children can achieve mastery. Mastering maths involves acquiring a deep and secure understanding of concepts that can be built on over time.

Teaching for mastery describes the pedagogy, classroom practice and school structures that enable children to achieve mastery. It is underpinned by the five big ideas in teaching for mastery.

These are coherence, representation and structure, mathematical thinking, fluency, and variation.

Being secure in what mastery means and looks like in practice will enable you to communicate a coherent vision to your staff.

2, Changing mindsets

In every school there will be a range of opinions and levels of enthusiasm regarding introducing a new whole-school approach to maths. To implement mastery successfully, you need to be prepared to overcome objections and bring the whole school on board.

Senior leaders will want to weigh up the potential benefits and risks, including financial investment, impact on results and changes to school structures. You will need to convince your wider team that the investment in time, training and resources will improve outcomes.

Start by explaining that the mastery approach is endorsed by the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted and underpinned by research. Then describe the benefits you hope to achieve. You could tap into the national Maths Hub network to connect with schools similar to yours who have already successfully adopted mastery.

Speaking to their teachers and leaders and observing lessons will help your senior leadership team to understand the benefits in terms of outcomes, classroom practice and attitudes to maths. Finally, ensure that they are aware that there is funding available (via the Teaching for Mastery Programme) to implement maths mastery.

Among your staff, there may be some teachers who are reluctant to implement a new approach. It can help to explore mastery together. Again, you might want to reach out to local schools who have adopted teaching for mastery so that teachers can talk to their peers about their experiences and successes.

Even at the start of your mastery journey, it is important to think about how you will engage parents and carers. You could send factsheets home or host an information evening.

3, Creating an action plan

Conduct an audit to evaluate where your school is in its mastery journey. Ask whether everyone has the same understanding of mastery. What steps have teachers taken to implement the approach? What resources do you have access to?

The audit will give a clear view of the base on which you will build. Think about your strategy for introducing mastery. For instance, introducing it to every year group simultaneously or rolling it out year by year. Then work with teachers to create an achievable action plan that includes: five steps that can be taken in every classroom to introduce and embed mastery, agreed priorities, objectives, success measures, defined next steps, roles and responsibilities.

You will need to make sure teachers are using high-quality teaching and learning materials that support a carefully sequenced learning journey, from Reception to year 6. You could make a case for ring-fencing time for a group of teachers to plan, create new resources or adapt existing materials.

If you are one of the schools to have received government-funded training and support, consult the DfE’s list of approved resources. If you are investing independently, speak to other schools to find out what is working well for them.

4, Teacher training

Teaching for mastery requires teachers to plan carefully, taking into account common misconceptions and difficult learning points. Concepts are built in small, logical steps and are explored through consistent mathematical representations. Because of this, there needs to be consistency in teacher subject and pedagogical knowledge. This is best achieved through teacher training that focuses on pedagogy (including lesson design and same-day intervention), subject knowledge (including mathematical ideas and vocabulary) and effective use of resources.

Consider a combination of training: face-to-face or online courses, subject knowledge videos and scheduled maths meetings on targeted topics (e.g. developing number sense, using the bar model).

Above all, make sure that teacher training is truly continuous. To embed new ideas and approaches, teachers need to secure their understanding, apply it in the classroom, reflect and refine their understanding and practice.

5, Continuing your commitment

As staff and children progress on their mastery journey, their needs will shift. In light of this, it is important to review your action plan and training needs regularly. Remember, your action plan should not be static; keep it “live” and relevant by adapting and reiterating as mastery evolves in your school. Be open to ideas and make sure that teachers and pupil feedback is heard constructively.

Further information

For more on the government-funded Teaching for Mastery programme, visit

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