Off to 'big school': reflections on how we navigate transition in maths

    Published: 02 July 2019

    It is that time of year again – when we start planning for next year. By this I do not mean planning lessons; I mean planning for transition.  In fact, it was about this time last year when I wrote about transition last time which you can find here.  I don’t think much has changed in my assertion that to get transition right, we need to get to know our new children and their maths, so why a new blog?

    I have been thinking about the additional challenges for teachers who do not have access to a conversation with the feeder teacher or who have limited access to pupil work because pupils are moving schools.  In September, new teachers will want to get to know quickly where their pupils are mathematically, where they are not and start to unpick their mathematical journey so that they can plan to meet their needs.

    Now in an ideal world, infant, first and primary school feeders will be able to spend adequate time talking to receiving staff about their new pupils and their maths.  They will have a dialogue which leaves the new teacher with a clear understanding of pupil strengths and weaknesses and how best to support them in their mathematical learning.  In reality, I know that conversations will often be focused on other key aspects which support effective transition such as awareness of pupil emotional and contextual vulnerabilities.

    It got me thinking about how we might need to find other ways to help the receiving schools uncover vital clues to support their maths planning.

    Where there is a strong relationship between schools, it can be possible to access pupil books or assessments.  I would suggest that the most significant information that can be asked for at this stage are any known gaps in learning or aspects of working mathematically which the teacher knows the cohort have in general as this will support the receiving teacher to plan for this.  In addition, I think that a discussion about how pupils have been taught can be very helpful.  For example, knowing that all pupils are used to working with a range of representations or that tens frames have been effective in supporting pupils to build their mental calculation success can really help the receiving teacher to build on this success.

    Where schools do pass up assessments or books, I would use these to look at the approach to learning that has been used and to spot any general weaknesses in strand specific understanding.  I feel it would be better to look at a few books or assessments in detail rather than working through all of them.  I would certainly urge caution if looking at a summative benchmark in terms of the total number of marks a child has scored on a test.  I might use this to select a few test papers to look at and then I would be looking for clues as to the areas of weakness shown. 

    Crucially, when I talk about areas of weakness I would be looking not only for areas of maths, but also trying to dig a little deeper to spot the barriers to success.  This might be about pupils:

    • relying on inefficient strategies pointing to a lack of number sense and flexibility
    • inappropriately applying formal procedure which point to underlying insecurities in place value
    • commonly made errors in calculations pointing to a weakness in mental fluency or understanding of the arithmetic laws
    • pupils regularly missing out problems of the same kind (worded problems/unfamiliar contexts)

    If you can identify the gaps more forensically, you often find that this points to themes and weaknesses which can then be addressed through planning tweaks in provision.

    Once gaps or weaknesses are identified, teachers can consider how they will intervene with individual pupils, small groups or the whole class in the autumn term.  This may include:

    Everyday fluency sessions - What areas could be maintained or strengthened with inclusion into the 10 minute a day fluency sessions?

    Whole class input - What areas does the teacher need to refer back to prior learning before teaching?

    Small group focus - Who needs more and what focus? How will this be arranged and who will deliver?

    Individual pupil support - Who needs 1:1 support and what focus? Emphasis should be on high value areas such as place value, number sense and mental methods first. How will this be arranged and who will deliver?

    For ESSENTIALmaths users, I would advise that Junior schools can make use of The 2019 Key Stage 1 Mathematics papers mapped against ESSENTIALmaths guidance available from our ESSENTIALmaths Facebook group. This will provide focus for where mathematical gaps may be.  More importantly, it will provide direction to, the ESSENTIALmaths sequences where teaching guidance can be found to support pupils.  Middle schools can use the Year 4 Summer Term diagnostic assessment and transition planning in much the same way. 

    If schools have not completed these assessments, it doesn’t stop you using the questions to plan how you will find out what pupils need.  If Year 4 pupils have completed the summer term diagnostic assessment, answers to question 2 will already have identified which pupils have weakness in equivalent fractions, decimal fraction equivalence or where language has been a barrier.  You will already know the learning sequence where this is likely to become a barrier to success and you will know where to go to find support in closing that gap.  However, there is nothing to stop you using this question as a starter or part of a lesson at any point, so that you get exactly the same information.  Even just the act of reading the sequences that you are expecting to build secure mathematical learning on will help you to be aware of possible pupil pitfalls so that you can plan to address these.

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