Coming back stronger in mathematics

    Published: 19 October 2021

    As a primary mathematics team, we have worked with hundreds of schools through direct support and in our ‘Back on Track’ and ‘Summer Success’ projects. We have seen how leaders and teachers have exerted great energy and skill in prioritising and re-aligning the curriculum to meet the learning needs of their pupils. In spite of all the challenges that have been presented, there is much to be very positive about. This was acknowledged in our English team’s blog:

    Those who can, teach: a heartfelt thank you.

    There is, of course, still lots for us to do. The impact upon the curriculum and learning is significant. This has been researched and outlined by the EEF, NFER, DfE and Ofsted.

    As we are all in the early part of the academic year and our response to the challenges, I urge you to pause and engage in some reflection. By that, I mean pausing to check that you have set the right course; that you are clear and confident in your direction of travel. You have anticipated the tricky parts ahead and know when you will check to make sure you are still on course or need to make slight adjustments to the pathway.

    As a maths team, we have invested a huge amount of time in analysis to identify the specific ways that the disruption has impacted upon learning. Some of this is obvious but some may well go unnoticed until a later point.

    This has informed our next steps and support plans. There is perhaps so much to do that it can feel debilitating. So see this blog as a practical guide to supporting your own reflection and action.

    Our previous advice remains the same. If you have missed them, I would urge you to read these excellent blogs by my colleagues.

    Getting back on track in primary maths – assessment and reactivation opportunities

    Getting back on track in primary maths – tracking back to build up

    What are we going to do about all the ‘lost learning’?

    Our previous recommendations remain and are now even more important.

    Develop pathways through learning which enable building on secure foundations

    There can be no ‘quick fix’ as pupils will not only require teaching, but also time and rehearsal to embed and secure learning or risk creating shaky foundations.  Building on insecure foundations ultimately risks later failure and is so often what causes problems further along the mathematical learning journey.

    Reactivate learning to prepare pupils for the learning to come

    Reactivation time provides space for teachers to undertake formative assessments and provides the time and thinking space to act on them. They will be able identify what needs to be repaired, re-taught or rehearsed further and make choices about when and how to do this.

    Use precise formative assessment to inform teaching plans

    We know that assessment will be essential to support teachers to identify particular areas where pupils have forgotten or misunderstood key concepts and we would suggest that initially this is formative and highly focused.

    Enable responsive teaching

    What will matter most is enabling teachers to be as responsive as possible to the needs of their pupils within and across lessons. This requires deep subject knowledge and effective deployment of assessment for learning strategies. 

    Plan to secure and embed learning

    After teaching curriculum content, teachers will need to reflect on what needs further rehearsal to embed and secure and how this can be best done.

    Create supportive environments

    In order for precious teaching time to be maximised, the climate of the classroom needs to be right. Pupils need to feel secure and expectations need to be high.

    Consider assessment milestones

    Summative assessments can be helpful to support teacher understanding of learning over time.

    Be confident and uncompromising on pedagogy

    …don’t be tempted to compromise on pedagogy as it will undermine the security of learning that is sought.

    So what has changed this year? We would argue that these effective teaching principles haven’t. But there is certainly a need to be even more precise in knowing our learners’ starting points, structuring an adapted curriculum to support this and, crucially, helping our teachers to achieve what we have set out to do.

    We know that to achieve success, our focus must be on helping pupils secure deep understanding of the areas of mathematical development that limit progress. A significant part of this is the identification of learning insecurity or gaps in understanding.

    This is where we have and will continue to exert our energies.

    Summer Success in Mathematics – our learning

    The ‘Summer Success’ project, in the summer term of 2021, focused upon supporting schools to identify and address crucial learning in each year group. 125 schools participated with a collective population of almost 29,000 Year 1 to 6 pupils.

    As an end part to the academic year, each teacher was provided with a diagnostic suite of assessments. These helped provide comparative indicators against ‘normal’ curriculum expectations. But even more formatively, the analysis tools helped each teacher to identify specific learning strengths and weaknesses. These supported transition and a sharp focus about the specific aspects of learning needed in further curriculum adaptations in each year group.

    Over the summer, we have collated and analysed all of the pupil data. This has been used to identify the specific learning strengths and weaknesses in each year group as a whole. This is available to all. Whether you took part in the project or not, these will be helpful.

    The overview guide and each year 1 to 6 summary can be downloaded via the link below.

    Summer success in maths learning summaries

    The detailed year group summaries outline the specific areas of learning strength and weakness in each year group. When reviewing and identifying these in your school, it is important to consider how this learning will need to be addressed but also how this is linked to, and impacts upon, other related mathematical learning. This is the hidden connection.

    These questions (provided in the overview guide) will aid reflection upon your direction of travel this year.


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    It is crucial that your plan is… your plan.

    By that, I mean that the adaptions to your curriculum structure are the right ones based upon your analysis of learners’ needs.

    This is further outlined in the ‘prepare’ phase in our ‘Mathematics Curriculum Re-focusing’ document.


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    Text in table


    We know that all of our teachers will need ongoing and practical support. This will be demanding for leaders to organise and provide. It is for this reason that we have created professional development for each year 1 to 6 teacher.

    Coming back stronger

    Graphic with text
    • spot it – identifying the crucial learning to focus upon, knowing how it builds and common misconceptions
    • fix it – providing a range of practical teaching strategies to address this key learning
    • keep it –modelling effective ways to ensure learning is maintained.

    We know there has been so much challenge for leaders and teachers over the last two years. We know that all have shown great resilience and tireless effort to mitigate the impact upon learning.

    There remains much for us all to do. But we and you can do this.

    See here for further details and to book, or use the following year group links:


    References and further reading

    Impact of Covid-19 school closures and subsequent support strategies on attainment and socioemotional wellbeing in Key Stage 1, The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), January and July 2021.

    Impact of school closures and subsequent support strategies on attainment at KS1: interim findings 2, The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), July 2021

    Ofsted COVID-19 series, September - December 2020

    Teaching a broad and balanced curriculum for education recovery, DfE, July 2021

    Authored by David Cook and Siobhan King.

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