Year 5: making the last term count

    Published: 28 April 2017

    Calling all Year 5 teachers! Louise Racher sets out what your pupils need to secure this term in readiness for their final year at primary. 

    Yes, the summer term is fast approaching. Year 5 are pulling up their socks, straightening their ties and getting ready to oust the current Year 6 pupils from their top spot.  Year 6, this final year of primary school, or the end of Key Stage for those in middle schools.  Along with Year 6 comes the end of Key Stage assessments which the school will be accountable for, whether they are good, bad or ugly.  It can be seen from the change is test style since the introduction of the new curriculum in 2014 that pupils are building towards learning across the whole of KS2, which they will be ultimately tested on.  It has therefore become increasingly difficult to maximise progress in one year group alone.  Everybody has their part to play to ensure pupils are on that upward trajectory to reach Age Related Expectations (ARE) by the end of the year.

    So what can Year 5 teachers do which will really launch their pupils into a year 6 feeling confident and ready, not only to achieve well in a test scenario, but to be truly secondary ready, having an understanding of maths which will not result in them reaching for their phone calculator when they don’t need to?

    Teachers may wish to consider three elements, which support a good grounding in maths:

    • Mental fluency versus written strategy
    • A range of problem solving strategies
    • Reasoning skills

    To begin with mental fluency, and in particular place value, being able to deepen learning of place value will reap benefits when discussing and introducing a range of mental strategies to pupils.  Efficiency in calculation means they have choices, a playfulness with number, which allows them to see and select appropriate strategies.  Having seen pupils attempt to solve calculations such as 160 ÷ 10 by using the short division, it would appear that pupils do not always see the whole calculation, only bits of it which they want to deal with in a formulaic way, despite the fact that this might not be the most efficient method.  What mental strategies do your pupils currently use?  How do they talk about these?  How do you hope your pupils will choose to calculate the following?


    Of course, it is statutory for teachers to ensure pupils have been taught formal strategies, and there are many situations when this is the best choice for them.  Pupils often think each year group brings a “new strategy” and don’t see the progression building towards the most efficient strategy.  If we consider multiplication as an example, pupils begin in year 1 counting in steps of 2, 5 and 10, this feeds into the pupils learning their multiplication facts for 2, 5 and 10 in Year 2, alongside other facts being learnt the pupils use those facts to derive others, so multiples of 10 could be an example here.  Then KS2 might introduce pupils to “the grid method”, where they are looking at the separate components of the number and using place value and known facts.  When the pupils are ready they may progress to expanded method, so the grid now becomes replaced with something slightly more efficient, now they are ready to look at short multiplication.  How we help the pupils see the links between these strategies will depend whether pupils are ready to progress.  Year 5 might need time revisiting some of these strategies, and time to see the links between them so they can move on more quickly.  See the illustration below and consider whether pupils can see the links between these strategies.


    All the time that pupils’ are calculating we want to ensure they make the right choices.  When finding missing angles do your pupils default to using column method for a calculation such as 180 – 90? We need to be tenacious in seeking opportunities within other domains to ensure the pupils make good, informed choices. Of course, this is a challenge for teachers to consider how best to do this, but putting in some time to tackle this in the summer term will really ensure they are ready to apply their number in Year 6.

    Problem Solvingroutine and non-routine.  When choosing tasks for pupils to carry out in class we want to make sure we offer them a range of opportunities to apply their skills.  Jane Jones, Ofsted’s National Lead for Mathematics, has spoken about ways in which you might take a more closed activity and ensure it has challenge within it, she suggests considering the following ways to present ideas to pupils:

    • removing intermediate steps
    • reversing the problem
    • making the problem more open
    • asking for all possible solutions
    • asking why, so that pupils explain
    • asking directly about a mathematical relationship.

    If pupils still struggle with word problems then bar modelling looks at how pupils can transform the words into a visual to help them identify the calculations that need to take place.  Non-routine problem solving is a fantastic vehicle to rehearse taught skills, as well as helping pupils identify the different problem solving strategies which might give them a way in. These could vary according to what time you have spent on this already:

    • find a starting point
    • work backwards
    • prioritise information
    • drawing a model

    These are all strategies, which help pupils approach problems.  Are your pupils aware of these strategies? Could they read a problem and identify the best strategy? Presenting these to pupils across the summer term and helping them rehearse these skills, and then identify which skills to use will develop their problem solving skills.  Look at the problems below and consider which strategy would be the most appropriate for the pupils to select and use to solve the problem.


    In conclusion, reasoning is the final aspect to consider during that final term in year 5.  Helping pupils express their thought process is often a challenge.   When asked, “How do you know?” the response is often, “I just know.” Or “I did it in my head.” Sometimes a pupil folding their arms defiantly accompanies this.  We want to encourage pupils to speak in complete sentences and articulate processes they take, so that when pupils experience an unfamiliar problem they have tried and tested routes to take, alongside their problem solving strategies as discussed above.


    Janes Jones, Lead HMI Mathematics, Better Maths Conference June 2016

    National Curriculum 2014

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