Sunday, 16 March 2014

New Primary Maths Curriculum 2014 - Epic fail or finally coming of age?

There's now less than half an academic year left before we're all supposed to be teaching to the new National Curriculum 2014.

If you're anything like me, you're part of an academy and have hidden behind the "Well we don't have to implement it." excuse for a while. That's the excuse that followed the "Well it's been so long coming, is it really going to happen?" one.

It seems it really is happening, and if you're an academy you're going to need to back up "We've decided not to implement it." with something majorly your own custom designed expert curriculum tailored to your own children...not going to happen is it.

You may have looked at the IPC (International Primary Curriculum)...I did.  The first page of my google search threw up all sorts of scary things..."the many many problems with IPC, no resources available, woefully thin planning, expensive".  I dare say it's actually very good, but the amount of work involved in implementing it must be massive.

So then, might be best to have a look at the new national curriculum...

I have been working with the maths part of the new curriculum for a while now, and I have to say I really like it. More than that, I think it is going to improve learning and reduce workload. I read it, and I could understand it. My national curriculum joke, "I understand all the words, but when you put them together they make no sense", has been forced into retirement.

I shall now explain why I am so positive about it...

The new vocabulary...

The above words are taken from the introduction section of the document. It is concisely written, there is no waffle, every word counts.

Maths is described as "essential to everyday life" and important for "understanding the world", with children needing the ability to "reason mathematically". All very sensible and practical, but there is a new flavour being introduced...

We are to instill a "sense of enjoyment and curiosity", and support children in appreciating the "beauty and power of mathematics".  I like this.  I'm no mathematician, but the idea of exploring the beauty and power of mathematics sounds almost enjoyable, possibly even inspiring. I would have associated phrases like this with a university prospectus.

In fact I googled "the beauty and power of mathematics" on yahoo, and was drawn to a degree level course in America. I took the following bullet points from the synopsis...

  • Symmetry (regular solids, tilings, Escher, ruler-and-compass, origami)
  • Fibonacci numbers and Golden Ratio
  • Optimal design (soap bubble maths, minimal networks)
  • Mathematical soul capturing (the maths of juggling and lacing shoes)
  • Visualising the 4th dimension
  • The shape of space (Mobius bands, Klein bottles, "pacman" spaces)
  • Infinity.

Enjoyment, beauty & power...teach maths using pacman?

I have little idea what the maths involved is, but I do actually want to find out. The idea of teaching maths through origami, the Golden Ratio, soap bubbles, juggling, pacman and infinity sounds so much more interesting than the endless shopping activities, shape walks and 'weighing stuff for a holiday suitcase' that we do. Imagine not having to bribe kids with merits and stickers to fill a page up with calculations, or to measure and weigh every last pencil in the classroom.

The new vocabulary the DfE have provided seems appropriate when imagining these beautiful and powerful activities; sophisticated, inter-connected, pictorial representation, concrete objects, grasp.

This is all beginning to feel rather grown up, in a way that I think children will appreciate. In fact, even the areas of learning are coming of age...

Geometry replaces 'Shape, Space and Measure'.

Statistics replaces 'Data Handling'.

When Grandpa tries to engage little Lucy in a conversation about what she's learning at school, it's likely to be more productive if he can recognise the subjects. An employer is likely to be impressed when interviewing someone who can remember enjoying 'statistics' when they were at Primary School.

Alongside this new flavour, there is greater clarity regarding the process of teaching maths. The key words seem to be; concept, representation, fluency, concrete, memorise, reason, recall, derive, apply, solve, practise. I see it working like this...

The process of teaching maths...

Following the constructivist theory, all outer elements need to be in place and inter-connected in order to embed learning. In accordance with the aims of the new curriculum, the purpose is to be able to reason and solve. The third aim of the new curriculum is to be fluent.

The difference should become apparent in the children's books. We might see photo's recording a few days where children explore and gain an understanding of a new concept. An example would be 'finding the difference', for which children could compare various objects (not the usual inanimate classroom about real people, real cars, real flowers etc). Their descriptions and comparisons could be steered over time from the more obvious colour, purpose and size, towards the more mathematical 34cm taller and 25g heavier). This could result in the children creating their own pictorial representation of 'difference' that they can go back to when practising and applying.

There should also be acceptance of regular lessons based on 'I can memorise key number facts' or similar. Nothing recorded in the books, but maybe a cross school ICT based scheme that engages children and measures their progress and recall. There are plenty on the market. Most allow the children to login at home. We can think of it as homework, but the quality of up to date educational websites and Apps means that the line between (home)work and play is blurred for them. As the document says, "An emphasis on practise at an early stage will aid fluency".

Differentiation & Streaming...

The DfE have provided some guidance on the thorny subject of setting, streaming and differentiation. It's perhaps a little subtle, but the key phrases are...

The expectation is that the majority of pupils will move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace.

Pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through being offered rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content.

Those who are not sufficiently fluent with earlier material should consolidate their understanding, including through additional practice, before moving on. 

To my mind, this guidance leans towards suggesting maths is taught in mixed ability classes. If teaching in streams or sets, then I think it suggests that content should be lined up to ensure that children can move flexibly and at short notice. With lower ability children in mind, it seems to be a firm rejection of the 'coverage' last!

Note to self: re-title 'extension' worksheets 'rich and sophisticated problems'.

Support materials...

The DfE have also been kind enough to include an appendix with "Examples of formal written methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division". This looks very much like the sort of 'Maths Progression' document that poor subject co-ordinators feel they should spend hours and hours agreeing and producing.

The new flavour here seems to be simplification and standardisation. Grandpa will recognise all the methods in this appendix! More on this soon...

For now, here's a link to a fantastically detailed breakdown of the changes by subject and year group (produced by Michael Tidd)...New Curriculum? What new curriculum?

Finally, the DfE website links to some very useful videos produced by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Maths (NCETM). They have 60 short videos giving examples and ideas for implementing the new curriculum and are well worth a look...they even have their own youtube's an example...


Oh yes, I almost forgot! After all this positivity, there is one problem. It's a big problem actually, but to be fair, not a problem with the new curriculum itself. There is no assessment framework. The levelling system has gone.

The DfE has kindly left it up to schools to decide what to do. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has been looking at the issue since it was announced by Michael Gove in June 2013. So far, they have decided that it would be a good idea if all schools did the same thing, and that until they can work out what that same thing is, we should all use the current levelling system. The levelling system that, at least as far as maths is concerned, is incompatible with the new curriculum. Epic fail

Switching back to positivity, I have done something about this. It only covers Number in Key Stage 1, but it's a start...

I have produced an 'EYFS/KS1 Number Progression' sheet that can be used to assess children in a similar vein to APP.  The sheet can be used to record the progress of children from the pre-school year in Nursery through to the end of Key Stage 1, and to inform their next steps. This is particularly useful for staff in year 1, who have to cope with children working below the level of the national curriculum.

I originally produced the document to clear up the very confusing overlap between Level 1 and the Early Learning Goals/Development Matters. I'm very glad to report that the new curriculum feeds on very nicely from the Early Learning Goals used in EYFS.

Here it is (best printed on A3)...EYFS/KS1 Number Progression

The Edgazette
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