Educational Fad: Maths Mastery Teaching

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Yoda Master

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Why do we turn East for help teaching maths?

Maths mastery is a fad and it looks like we are knee-deep in it. Some teachers have fallen head over heels for it.

Look East For Standards

In an effort to improve the teaching, learning and assessment of maths and achieve sky-high standards in England, the government have looked East for solutions. They’ve flown over, lapped up the ‘mastery’ approach, stuffed their suitcases with it, flown back and spread it like cheap margarine over schools everywhere.

A huge maths industry has now mushroomed devoted to maths mastery and many schools have bought into various versions of Shanghai and Singapore inspired maths models. This is despite the fact that there is no ‘one’ model of maths mastery and exemplar textbooks and training can vary widely.

Common misconceptions about what maths mastery is and isn’t are prolific and laughable.

‘We [are] blindly following the Chinese approach to teaching maths’ says The Guardian.

Okay, South East Asian maths results are impressive but we aren’t exactly talking like for like here. Maths teachers are supposed to know about ‘translation’ and symmetry but we’ve got our coordinates all wrong.

A Desperate Cry

In order to achieve these high-standards, teachers only teach two lessons a day and they are maths experts. Our primary teachers have to be a Jack and Jill of all trades, teach all day. Some might argue that they aren’t qualified enough to teach in the deep end anyway. How many primary teachers have a maths degree?

Children aren’t likely to achieve great things without great maths teachers and so mastery will be elusive. This is where quality maths CPD has to be provided so that teachers have a fighting chance and teachers are desperately crying out for it.

Over years senior leaders will have received frequent invitations to events, marketed by teaching alliances, MATs and corporate organisers to attend schools hosting South East Asian teachers, teaching in their schools.

Attending these goldfish bowl lessons can woo and wow you but we jog back to the same issue – showcase lessons are taught by maths experts who know their stuff and they also have a  massively reduced timetable and workload compared to their UK counterparts.

Look Here For Mastery

Maths mastery sounds mystical and magical but in reality it is what many teachers have already been doing quite successfully for many years without the label ‘mastery’.

Why look East when actually all we need to do is look at ourselves or just closer to home? Quite often the most effective maths is on our doorstep and staring us in the face.

Professor John Hattie addressed the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference in March 2017 and said,

“I tell ministers never to go to Singapore or Shanghai. Go to the expertise in your own area, and look at that.”

We have some highly creative and dynamic maths approaches of our own yet we are very good at ignoring them and looking elsewhere.

With joined-up thinking and looking at what works in our country then who knows, the next headline could be ‘English-style teaching helps solve problem of maths failure’.

What other Fads have you wasted your time on? Read 20 Years of Educational Fads to find out.

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