Ofsted has published the third in a series of reviews into different subjects across the curriculum. The latest review looks at mathematics education
The review draws on Ofsted’s education inspection framework (EIF) and other literature to identify factors that can contribute to a high-quality maths curriculum, assessment, pedagogy and systems. We will use these findings to examine how maths is taught in England’s schools, before publishing a report about what we have learned in the autumn.
Read the maths research review
English pupils, on average, gain higher attainment in maths than pupils in many other countries, and mathematics continues to be the most popular subject to study at A level.
However, the attainment gap between the lowest and highest achievers is wider than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average. Likewise, disadvantaged pupils in England are much less likely to achieve a grade 4 at GCSE, or to meet the expected standards at the end of the early years foundation stage (EYFS), or at key stages 1 and 2.
In addition to highlighting approaches that could raise the attainment of all pupils, a core theme of the maths review is how to prevent struggling pupils from falling further behind their peers.
There are a variety of ways that schools can construct and teach a good maths curriculum, and Ofsted recognises that there is no singular way of achieving high-quality education in the subject. However, the review identifies some common features of successful, high-quality curriculum approaches:
Teachers engineer the best possible start for all pupils by closing the school entry gap in knowledge of basic mathematical facts, concepts, vocabulary and symbols.
The teaching of maths facts and methods is sequenced to take advantage of the way that knowing those facts helps pupils to learn methods, and vice versa.
Throughout sequences of learning, pupils benefit from teaching that is systematic and clear.
The aim is for pupils to attain proficiency. Pupils are then more likely to develop motivation and confidence in the subject.
Pupils need regular opportunities to rehearse and apply the important mathematical facts, concepts, methods and strategies they have learned.
Assessment is most useful when it focuses on the component knowledge that pupils have learned. This aids pupils’ confidence and makes it easier to analyse and respond to gaps in learning.
Teachers can support pupils’ progression by ensuring written work is of a high quality. This is important because when pupils’ calculations are systematic and orderly, they are better able to see the connections of number and to spot errors.
School leaders can develop teachers’ subject and pedagogic knowledge through opportunities to work with and learn from each other.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said:
Mathematics is an integral part of every school curriculum. It is a foundation of many disciplines and a source of interest and enjoyment in itself. It also unlocks the door to further study and employment in a vast range of fields.
However, for too many children and young people, maths is mysterious and difficult, and this has implications not just for their future attainment, but also for their self-esteem. Our education inspection framework is clear that schools should ensure the maths curriculum is designed to help pupils to gain increasing mathematical proficiency and build confidence in their ability.
We hope this review is useful to school leaders and teachers as they continue to design and develop their maths curriculum.
The review emphasises the idea of engineering pupils’ success in maths, underpinned by systems thinking. This type of approach will seek to transform an offer of content into a guarantee that content can and will be learned.
The review concludes that variation in the quality of mathematics education in England is likely to be the result of the absence of systems and systems thinking, as well as possible gaps in content, instruction, rehearsal, assessment and the plans for their evolution over time.
To find out more about Ofsted’s curriculum work, read the principles behind the research reviews and subject reports.