‘The Scheme that’s not a scheme’. That is the terminology I used when introducing the new HfL Essentials maths planning to staff at my school. The very mention of ‘scheme of work’ makes my hairs stand on end – it is my greatest anxiety that we will adopt something which ends up being followed to-the-letter, without any thought of where the learning is headed or where it has come from.
But that is the beauty of the ESSENTIALmaths sequences – it is simply not possible to follow it blindly as it is not a comprehensive scheme of work. It focuses on the most important elements of planning: unpicking learning into manageable steps, building on prior learning and progressing towards end of year expectations. All elements which I find are the most time-consuming and exhausting to do.
The purpose of this blog is to share my reflections of how the sequences are being used in my school, the impact it has had on learning so far and what has become apparent about the subject leader’s role in their implementation.
In the beginning, there was a staff meeting…
As with most new initiatives in school, I started off with a staff meeting to train staff on how the sequences should be used. I focused a lot on the cover page for each sequence, as I believe this is where the magic starts. Yes, the steps are fab and include lots of whizzy ideas and activities, but the cover page is the thinking element of the planning. It is crucial that teachers pay attention to this part in order to make sure the learning is pitched accurately to meet the needs of the pupils in their class. Personally, for my Year 6 class, I have found that there were some elements in the planning which assumed knowledge that might not be secure for my pupils. So I have done some gap-filling, particularly when it comes to calculation strategies. I have also found that there are some activities, particularly investigations, which are my old tried-and-tested favourites, so I have planned them into the sequences.
At this point, I also modelled how the sequences could fit with our planning template and provided an example from my own class. After much deliberation it was agreed that we would remain with our planning template in order to put the information from the sequences into a coherent sequence of learning for our own purpose. I have found this has helped me to make sense of the documents and allowed me the chance to adapt and include details of differentiation as appropriate.
The other key focus for our school was the use of the buffer zones, which is mentioned in our School Development Plan in relation to assessment for learning. These have been particularly helpful for teachers in identifying the core learning, particularly in LKS2 where there are some statements, such as times tables, which don’t explicitly appear again in UKS2 but are testable in the SATs.
I was pleasantly surprised how quickly impact on teaching and learning became apparent in relation to the sequences through monitoring this term. Teachers reflected that the planning has helped them to break those huge statements down into manageable steps and some have reflected how they previously hadn’t even realised the importance of a specific step, such as the depth and application of place value or the importance of regrouping prior to formal calculation methods. Whilst the planning should never be used as CPD for teachers, they have certainly contributed to teacher’s improved subject knowledge for their year group. For others, it has provided reassurance that time should be spent on specific elements of the maths curriculum, sometimes at the expense of others, thanks to the buffer zones.
Book scrutiny conducted after 6 weeks demonstrated a marked improvement in how pupils are recording their reasoning. Lodge Farm has been developing mathematical reasoning for the past few years and so for teachers to now have a bank of speaking/ writing frames to use with pupils, I have noticed that all pupils, regardless of ability have been given the opportunity to record and really show off their mathematical vocabulary. The pupils use mathematical language fluently in maths lessons – it no longer feels forced. Modelled by the teacher, yes, but not forced.
Building mathematical language and connections
In one Y4 lesson, I noticed a pupil using the language of equivalence when referring to the equals sign, despite the lesson being about fractions. It is connections like this that are made possible by the focus on mathematical talk in the sequences. In Y6, I have found that the use of mathematical language has shifted the importance of depth and breadth for the pupils. It has become as empowering and just as important as other elements of maths, demonstrating their evolving attitude towards what constitutes challenge.
Concrete, Pictorial and Abstract approach becoming effective
From my monitoring, I have also noticed that teachers are opting to teach more through the CPA (Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract) approach than previously. This is evident in learning walks, book looks and the fact that I have had many teachers coming to find me and request more concrete resources! The materials support the approach providing clear ways of modelling for understanding.
Whilst the positive impact has been evident (and therefore well worth the investment) it has highlighted several things to me, in my role as subject leader:
The sequences cannot be a CPD substitute! Many teachers have said they would benefit from digging a bit deeper into the steps and mathematical learning for their specific year group so we have planned a ‘Planning staff meeting’ where each phase will receive subject specific development for an area they have identified through using the sequences.
Calculation development is crucial. Over the course of the Spring term, I will be offering training to staff regarding the progression of mental calculation across the school. This is in response to many teachers seeking out advice relating to this element of planning.
I need a maths shopping spree! Resources are now being used more consistently across the school which means that when I want to use the Cuisenaire rods, they might already be being used by Y5! Time to go shopping and stock up on supplies…
I am aware that coverage of objectives may be an issue if teachers are doing a lot of gap-filling. In response to this, I plan to have a mid-point check with staff where we look at the programmes of study and highlight what has been covered and then prioritise what must be covered by the end of the year. Following this, I will encourage staff to think a bit more ‘out-of-the-box’ for the following academic year and plan to tackle some of those objectives in a cross-curricular way to save some time in discrete maths lessons.
In summary, I feel confident that that the ESSENTIALmaths materials are having a positive impact on teaching and learning. As a school, we are not quite ‘there’ yet in its effective use… but in teaching, we're always striving to be better.
School development is an ever-evolving beast and I feel ready to embrace the next phase of the Essentials evolution.