Herts for Learning Back on Track – Primary Maths

    Published: 07 July 2020
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    With the prospect of pupils returning in greater numbers to school in September, teachers will inevitably be considering the challenge ahead.  As part of the Herts for Learning Maths Team, I feel like I have been thinking about little else recently as we work to support teachers in an unprecedented situation and aim to get as many pupils as possible back on track in a mathematical sense.  In this blog, I will share the rationale  behind our approach and some key ideas that might help schools to think about how they can support pupils towards mathematical success over the coming weeks, months and years.

    The Herts for Learning Primary Back on Track Mathematics Resource Suite aims to support Mathematics Subject Leaders and each teacher to prepare for the effective delivery of the curriculum upon wider school opening.  It ensures that key learning is prioritised, breadth is maintained and learning sequences reactivate and address missed and insecure learning before new content is taught. 

    Details of the training suite are provided at the end of the blog.

    Facilitate effective transition conversations

    Firstly, I think it is worth acknowledging that every school is unique.  During the period of lockdown, schools have made decisions  to best meet the needs of their children and communities.  It is essential to remember however, that whatever emergency remote teaching may have been offered, pupil interaction with this and associated outcomes will be extremely variable.  There will have been varying levels of engagement and different levels of support provided.  Even within the same school, pupil experiences will have differed widely.  Now more than ever, it will be crucial to have effective transition conversations so that the receiving teacher knows what was taught at school and how secure this was. They will also need to know what was missed or taught remotely and  about any particular pupils who have struggled to access any learning that the school may have set.  This will support teachers to identify starting points and priorities for teaching.  However, we would suggest that these are just transition starting points and that particularly for next year, it will be key not to assume previously taught content is secure. 

    Develop pathways through learning which enable building on secure foundations

    It is also worth noting the extent of the situation we now face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many pupils will not have experienced teaching of the mathematics curriculum in school since 20th March 2020.  As DFE announce a “Billion pound Covid catch-up plan to tackle impact of lost teaching time,”[1] we would urge caution as “catch up”  could be a very misleading term.  The trajectory back will be informed and supported by the curriculum structure; what we have called a pathway.  Mathematics is a hierarchical subject and if we continue headlong back into the curriculum, we are likely to allow gaps to open.  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.

    As a maths team, we have spent considerable time thinking about progressive pathways to support pupils to get back on track.  We have thought carefully about how the missed curriculum can be blended with the upcoming curriculum.  We have created long term plans that have been very specifically ordered to allow time to draw in teaching that may have been missed in the previous year. They are thoughtfully sequenced to allow time to reactivate learning and deal with learning gaps before teaching content that build on these.

    Reactivate learning to prepare pupils for the learning to come

    In fact, reactivation is something that we have thought about a lot.  Drawing on our understanding of memory, we urge teachers not to reach for summative assessments when pupils return to school.  They are unlikely to give you a true reflection of learning; some pupils may not be emotionally ready and learning may be stored in long term memory and be difficult for pupils to recall immediately.  Instead, we are recommending a Reactivate – Assess – Teach – Rehearse cycle.  This means that teachers will intentionally reactivate prior learning and start to assess this formatively.  Learning experiences which are hidden deep in long term memories, don’t need to be re-taught explicitly, but they do need to be nudged back into the working memory and we would expect to hear lots of ‘oh yeah, I remember this…’




    This is why we have identified the high value prior learning to reactivate in the initial weeks for each year group. And this is also why we have provided suggestions to support teachers to be able to reactivate and assess learning using discussion prompts, relevant games and fluency session foci not only in the first few weeks, but before every identified learning priority.  By reactivating high value prior learning and having it at their fingertips, pupils’ working memory space will be freed up to allow cognitive focus on new learning.  It will also support the connection of new information to what pupils already know, helping them to develop a strong inter-linked schema. 

    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.  Taking what might seem like a step back is crucial.  We are preparing pupils for the learning to come.  As Jim Cummins says, “Preparing the soil before sowing the seeds.” [1]

    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.  There is little point in using hours of valuable teaching time to identify all the gaps that pupils might have and creating a sense of panic both for children and teachers.  There is the risk that teachers will then try to do everything and achieve nothing.  Instead we have suggested that teachers focus on precise formative assessment of the upcoming learning and the prerequisites that it builds upon.  To support this, we have provided relevant discussion prompts and questions that can be used to generate conversation to reactivate and also to enable assessment opportunities.  It is imperative that teachers are clear about why they are using a particular prompt or activity and what they are looking for in the response and this will require a really secure understanding of the curriculum progression and likely misconceptions.


    Key graphic


    Enable responsive teaching

    What will matter most is enabling teachers to be as responsive as possible to the needs of their pupils.  This requires deep subject knowledge and effective deployment of assessment for learning strategies.  This is why we have put in place clear guidance within our documents and digital training by year group to support teachers to both deepen their understanding of curriculum progression and to reactivate and practise their assessment strategies – considering how they can be flexible and how they can make effective choices.  It will be crucial that teachers are enabled to be as flexible and responsive as possible.  This includes considering choices around what needs to be further embedded and rehearsed after teaching to secure understanding. 

    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.  We are suggesting daily mathematics lessons be supplemented with regular fluency sessions which may include identified games and focused rehearsal of language, strategies and knowledge.  If “memory is the residue of thought”[1], then we need to make pupils think hard again and again and again. Fluency sessions will enable teachers to look backwards to what has been learnt and to check that this is being secured, whilst also looking forward to what will be needed in upcoming learning and using this time to reactivate prior learning that will be built on.

    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.  From a maths point of view, now might be the time to consider how pupils are scaffolded to success and then supported to independence and how they know what is valued in the classroom.  This is one of the reasons that we are such advocates for using games in mathematics and have emphasized the use of discussion and collaboration so significantly in our training.  They are fantastic for building positive relationships, supporting time for interactions and providing space for ‘in the moment’ assessment.

    Consider assessment milestones

    Summative assessments can be helpful to support teacher understanding of learning over time and after a period of reactivation and teaching, these can be used.  We would strongly urge that schools consider the content of these and ensure that they match any revised curriculum structure.  Indeed we have revised our diagnostic assessments so that they can be used after teaching particular priorities.  It is important that teachers have a sense of the milestones that pupils need to reach over time and that these match what is being taught.  In terms of statutory assessments, DFE guidance has literally just flown into my inbox and states clearly that “all existing statutory Key Stage 1 and 2 assessments should return in 2020 to 2021 in accordance with their usual timetables.”[2]  This has been planned for within Priorities and Pathways documents and all end of year statements have been drawn upon before the usual timetable for submitting Y2 teacher assessment and KS2 SATs.  In addition, the Year 4 Multiplication Tables Check is a key focus area within LKS2 and is reactivated significantly in UKS2.


    Climbing a mountain graphic


    Be confident and uncompromising on pedagogy

    There never seems to be enough time to teach the entire mathematics curriculum for a year group, let alone pour in additional missed learning…so how do we find more time?  We don’t really – we just have to make choices and be clever with the time we have got. We understand that it is going to take time to recover and that we need to have the confidence not to rush but to commit to secure learning.  It may feel like climbing a mountain, but be confident that each careful footstep has been planned and the pathways are mapped.

    We have planned to support teachers to help their pupils be back on track by the end of the academic year.  We would urge that the curriculum is not narrowed but that context and connections are used to support building of the mathematical content.  I was heartened to read in DFE guidance that teachers are guided to “Teach an ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects from the start of the autumn term, but make use of existing flexibilities to create time to cover the most important missed content.” And that “prioritisation within subjects of the most important components for progression is likely to be more effective than removing subjects” [1].  This is exactly the approach we have taken – supporting teachers to prioritise and plan pathways to build secure mathematical learning.  Given these pathways, don’t be tempted to compromise on pedagogy as it will undermine the security of learning that is sought. 

    Support successful implementation

    As with any change in schools, supporting implementation is key to success.  Leaders will need to have a plan which lays out the path to successful implementation.  Within the leadership element of our training, we have scaffolded the action planning process to enable the maths subject leader (or the person in school leading on this area) to consider the implications of leading on this; including putting time in the diary for CPD and staff discussion. To support leaders, we have shown different models of implementation - again supporting schools to make choices about what suits them best, based on the time available and staff numbers. We have provided some likely questions and scenarios for leaders to think through and explored how these might be addressed.

    Leaders will need to feel that they have the tools, resources and an action plan to tackle the big task of adapting the long-term planning for maths, to address the missed learning. Our training and materials have been specifically designed with this in mind, exemplifying action planning to support leaders with this thought process.

    As you can see, there is so much to think about and the Maths Team have spent the last few months doing just that.  Now is the time to support teachers to be at their greatest. I am an eternal optimist and passionate crusader for the needs of disadvantaged learners and I truly believe that we have a chance now to reflect on what is most important and to build capacity within our amazing teachers that will make life changing differences to all pupils and particularly our most disadvantaged. 

    The Herts for Learning Primary Back on Track Mathematics Resource Suite aims to support Mathematics Subject Leaders and each teacher in the school to prepare for the effective delivery of the curriculum upon wider school opening.

    It ensures that key learning is prioritised, breadth is maintained and learning sequences reactivate and address missed and insecure learning before new content is taught.

    Leadership professional development modules

    The comprehensive professional development suite will helps all mathematics leaders to action plan, effectively lead and support teachers to manage learning and meet at least age-related standards by the end of the year.


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    Teacher professional development modules


    Flowchart graphic


    These sessions support each teacher to identify missed and insecure learning and how to re-integrate it into new priority pathways. It is underpinned by subject knowledge support and effective teaching practice.

    As we know that schools will be using different planning materials, we have created one suite of training for ESSENTIALmaths users and one for schools using other maths support resources.

    The ESSENTIALmaths suite includes:

    Priorities and Pathways long term plans (per year group from Year 1-6 and mixed age)

    Learning logs for notes, plans and reflections 

    2 pre-recorded CPD sessions for subject leaders

    6 pre-recorded CPD sessions for each teacher from Year 1-6 (36 in total) and for teachers in Y1&2, Y3&4 and Y5&6 (18 in total)

    Gaming PowerPoint for Year 1

    Adapted HfL fluency slide PowerPoints for schools who have purchased these

    Re-aligned diagnostic assessment materials

    Transition conversation documents


    Why not sign up to receive our regular subject leader emails to keep up-to-date.

    For further information about the Back on Track: mathematics offer, please contact david.cook@hertsforlearning.co.uk

    Back on Track support is also available for assessment, English, science, languages, Early Years and wellbeing.

    To find out more about the Back on Track: assessment offer, please contact hfl.assessment@hertsforlearning.co.uk

    To find out more about the Back on Track: English offer, please contact PrimaryEnglish@herstforlearning.co.uk

    To find out more about the Back on Track: science offer, please contact science@hertsforlearning.co.uk

    To find out more about the Back on Track: languages offer, please contact Yvonne.Kennedy@hertsforlearning.co.uk

    To find out more about the Back on Track: Early Years Moving into Year 1 offer, please contact earlyyearsteam@hertsforlearning.co.uk

    To find out more about the Back on Track: Early Years curriculum adjustment offer, please contact earlyyearsteam@hertsforlearning.co.uk

    To find out more about the Back on Track: wellbeing offer, please contact wellbeing@hertsforlearning.co.uk

    Further professional development opportunities

    Detecting shaking learning and dealing with it – Siobhan King

    Cambridge International. 2020. Great teaching toolkit: www.cambridgeinternational.org/support-and-training-for-schools/teaching-cambridge-at-your-school/great-teaching-toolkit. [Accessed 6 July 2020].


    [1] www.gov.uk/government/news/billion-pound-covid-catch-up-plan-to-tackle-impact-of-lost-teaching-time

    [2] www.esolonline.tki.org.nz/ESOL-Online/Planning-for-my-students-needs/Resources-for-planning/ESOL-teaching-strategies/Thinking-and-metacognition/Activating-prior-knowledge#:~:text=Activating%20prior%20knowledge%20is%20like%20preparing%20the%20soil,information%2C%20or%20concepts%2C%20to%20what%20we%20already%20know

    [3] Daniel T. Willingham (2009). “Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom”, p.41, John Wiley & Sons

    [4] Guidance for full opening – schools (Published 2 July 2020) www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/guidance-for-full-opening-schools Section 4

    [5] Mountain Climbing by Juan Pablo Bravo from the Noun Project

    [6] Guidance for full opening – schools (Published 2 July 2020) www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/guidance-for-full-opening-schools Section 3

    Title Image - Decision question by B Farias from the Noun Project


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