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Mastery Teaching at Valentine Primary School

Maths at Valentine Primary School is built upon the values of Mastery Teaching.  We have been a member of the Teacher Research Group (TRG) which is run by the Solent Maths Hub and overseen by lead Mastery Specialist, Carla Laney of St John’s Primary School.  The purpose of the TRG has been to disseminate Mastery training to local schools so that they may improve children’s depth of understanding of the underlying principles of mathematics. This should enable our pupils to apply their skills more fluently to different situations and contexts.  Since our involvement in the Solent Maths Hub we have also been part of the Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) overseen by the Portswood Teaching School Alliance (PTSA).  This program has provided an opportunity for local schools to receive funding for training and support at all levels in order that the school meet outcome targets for Key Stage 2 by the end of the 2018-19 academic year.  Our involvement with the SSIF has enabled us to further embed the values of Mastery Teaching, improve teacher subject knowledge and raise attainment.


Anna Rutter (Deputy Head, Teaching and Learning) and Russell Purchase (Maths Leader) have been involved with the TRG since September 2017.  As part of this group we have: observed Mastery Teaching by experienced teachers from Singapore and local schools; taken part in lesson studies which explore the planning, teaching and learning of the lessons observed; and contributed to planning twilight sessions.  With the support of Carla Laney we have conducted learning walks at VPS in order to identify areas of focus and create our school ‘Mastery Teaching’ action plan.  Carla also visited VPS to support our Year 5 team in their implementation of Mastery Teaching and help review our Action Plan. This coincided with attendance at further TRG professional development.


The SSIF gave the opportunity for many of the KS2 teaching staff to receive high-level training which has strengthened the quality of Maths provision across the school.  This included the Outstanding Teacher Program for one identified member of KS2 teaching staff; the Improving Teacher Program for two identified members of KS2 teaching staff; and the Subject Knowledge Enhancement Program for two members of KS2 teaching staff.   The SSIF also included governor training for the Maths link governor, enabling the governing body to hold the Maths team more closely to account due to their increased knowledge and understanding of the subject.  In addition to this, were half-termly visits from Specialist Leader in Education, Emma Robson to support with: undertaking learning walks and book scrutinies with Maths Leads; monitoring progress towards end of year targets; plan and lead professional development; ensure consistency in provision and progress across KS2.  Ultimately, this meant that the target of 70% ARE (by the end of KS2 for 2018-19 academic year) was met.


The leadership structure for Mathematics at VPS has been adapted in order to make sure our vision for Maths has been spread throughout our large school quickly and consistently.  A specific Maths team has been formed, with each year group having an ambassador who meets regularly with and is led by Maths Leader, Russell Purchase and Deputy Head, Anna Rutter.  These ambassadors have all received Mastery training including observing Mastery teaching, taking part in lesson studies and contributing to TRG year specific planning sessions.  The Maths Ambassadors work closely with the Maths leadership team so that they are able to lead planning, monitor progress, check consistency and report to governors on Maths in their specific year group.

At Valentine we have chosen to focus on some specific key principles of Mastery Teaching which we feel are appropriate for our setting and the stage we are at on our Mastery journey:


Planning - To develop the small step planning for teaching for mastery.

  • Small steps planning is used across the school to develop deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.  Maths Ambassadors lead the planning in their own year groups, mapping out the baby steps necessary to build up a complete picture of mathematical concepts.  There is an emphasis on teaching fewer things but in greater depth.  Teachers use White Rose Maths Hub resources and ‘Maths No Problem’ teacher resource books as the basis of their planning, ensuring that the children are exposed to lots of variety in the way Maths is represented and structured in terms of both procedural and conceptual variation.  This can be evidenced in Medium Term and Short Term Planning as well as the activities that the children complete in class and work in their Maths books.  

Teaching - 

  • The use of repetition to embed stem sentences and key concepts.  Encouraging children to respond in full sentences in Maths lessons. 

There is a focus on important Maths vocabulary specific to the concept being taught.  The vocabulary needed to convey the Maths learning is carefully thought out during the planning stage and is given a high profile at the teaching stage.  Teachers will use stem sentences repeatedly which will demonstrate to the children the necessary Maths vocabulary and its correct use.  These stem sentences can be built upon or added to as the learning experiences and concepts are developed.  Children are expected to use these stem sentences themselves to describe and explain their understanding of the Maths learning.  Evidence from learning walks and observations, as well as the work in children’s books demonstrates deeper conceptual understanding, in particular through their reasoned explanations and use of key vocabulary.

  • The use of manipulatives to support children as they move from concrete, through pictorial and onto abstract mathematics.

We have invested in Maths resources that we believe help children embed their understanding of Maths concepts so that they may later be able to understand and deal with Maths problems presented in pictorial and abstract representations.  Children in all year groups are encouraged to use manipulatives.  In particular these are most evident (but not exclusively) when a new concept is introduced so that children are able to gain an understanding of the underlying principles of what they are learning before they move on to more formal methods of working.  Evidence of use of manipulatives can be seen on tables and work spaces in classrooms, through photographs in books as well as teacher and pupil references in books.

  • Whole Class Learning

This is one of the foundations of Mastery teaching and has been a big change from the way we traditionally taught Maths at Valentine.  Whole class learning means that all children begin lessons at the same start point. There has been a move away from static ability-based groups with children completing differentiated tasks based on their expected level of understanding.  Now you will see all children completing the same activities,   usually led by the teacher introducing the learning focus and the appropriate language during a whole class   learning stage.


All children in the class (with the exception of some SEND children) will usually have the same worksheet in their books and it can appear as though there is little differentiation.  However, this is not the case. The marking codes (detailed below) help sign-post a child’s level of understanding through the amount and nature of support given.  Furthermore, the accuracy and detail given in the children’s reasoned explanations also help staff differentiate between children who are working at greater depth, those who are working at national expectation and those who are working towards the expected standard.  Teachers know the children in their classes and they are aware of the children who are likely to need support as well as those who should be challenged to show evidence of greater depth understanding.  However, it is important to recognise that the constant feedback and targeted questioning between teacher and the class means that this is a fluid process.  All children accessing Mastery Teaching should be encouraged and expected to show greater depth understanding at times.


Whole class learning involves a lot of fast-paced questioning by the teacher, partner talk and sharing ideas.  This gives the teacher an opportunity to gauge the understanding of individuals and the class as a whole, and ensure key vocabulary and stem sentences are being used accurately. 


Children will then move on to independent practice/fluency which gives them the opportunity to show their understanding and ‘practice’ the skills that they have been learning.  At this time the teacher and support staff can question individual children on the work that they are doing and challenge children to demonstrate their depth of understanding or clarify misconceptions if necessary.  Teachers and support staff use marking codes to show the level of support given (I = independent, P/W = Partner work, G = Guided work, VF = Verbal feedback given).  If they get the chance, fast graspers are able to move onto a further challenge before the teacher brings the class back together to go through the independent practice and challenge work.  This is an opportunity to reinforce the learning from the beginning of the lesson and can be used for children to mark/correct their own work in blue editing pen.  Evidence of the blue pen and whether it has been used to correct or mark work can help denote the level of the child’s understanding for teacher assessment. 

Next, there is usually an opportunity for children to ‘Go Deeper’ in their learning with a reasoning or problem solving task.  The teacher will set this up as they see fit.  They may decide that certain children will work independently or with a partner while others work in a more guided capacity with the support of the teacher or support staff.  All the while there are opportunities for adults to probe children’s understanding with questioning.  Often children will be required to give written explanations of their understanding to show greater depth and apply the mathematical language and stem sentences to the work they have done.

Overall, we have seen very positive results from the introduction and implementation of Mastery Teaching in Maths at VPS. Through scrutiny of pupils’ books it is clear that pupils are accessing core mathematical concepts at a greater depth.  Their written explanations are more accurate and the correct use of mathematical language and stem sentences is embedded across the school.  We are confident that this will continue to improve pupil engagement and, ultimately lead to better Maths outcomes in all key stages.


Further evidence of impact from

SSIO visit – 16/07/2019

  • By the end of key stage 2, more pupils than was previously the case have achieved age-related expectations and greater depth in mathematics. Early indications of progress between key stage 1 and 2 reflect a more positive picture than has previously been the case, particularly in mathematics.
  • As a result of stronger leadership and management and a better system of accountability and support for staff in mathematics, including from the Solent maths hub, pupils have made strong progress in this subject area this year.


OFSTED inspection – 26 & 27/3/2019

  • Recent changes to the curriculum, particularly in mathematics, have strengthened pupils’ progress.
  • Middle leaders are ambitious for their school and have a clear idea of what needs to be achieved. For example, changes to the mathematics curriculum have secured a more consistent quality of teaching than in the past and improved pupils’ progress.
  • Teachers provide pupils with useful instruction in mathematics and allow them to practise and hone their skills. As a result, pupils can tackle challenging problems with confidence, as they can quickly draw on a range of methods to help them.
  • Pupils throughout the school are making strong progress in mathematics. This is because they have a good grasp of the basics of calculation and number and practise these often. As a result, they can solve increasingly complex problems, using their mathematical understanding to support their working out.


OFSTED monitoring visit – 16/07/2018

  • Leaders have successfully introduced a new way of teaching mathematics this year. A wide range of activities has been planned and delivered by leaders to ensure that leaders, governors and staff quickly take on this new approach. Teachers feel well supported by the training they have received.
  • Leaders for mathematics have been identified in each year group, improving the quality of planning and assessment. A governor with responsibility for mathematics has been appointed, and the school has made good use of visits to other schools. Pupils recognise and appreciate these improvements. They can describe how the teaching has improved.
If you have any questions regarding the curriculum we teach please contact the school directly