David Livingstone, part of the STEP Academy Trust, is a one-form entry primary school in Thornton Heath just outside Croydon. It’s an area of high deprivation — many of their pupils are from low-income backgrounds, receiving the Pupil Premium (PP), and many have English as an Additional Language (EAL). Across the country, the effects of online learning on these pupils have been more severe. Deputy Head Teacher and Trust Maths Leader, Neil Almond reflected on these challenges before the start of this academic year:
“We weren't resting on our laurels — we knew that there would be lots of content that the kids needed to know. As good as we tried to make online learning, it's not the same as being in the classroom with our pupils. We knew that, in order for pupils to get to a point where they could successfully carry on their mathematical journey into secondary education, there was lots of work to do.”
As soon as STEP purchased access to the full suite of Complete Maths platforms, Neil set about understanding how and in particular could best be utilised to support pupils’ academic recovery. One year later, he is leading the way in embedding the Complete Maths suite into day-to-day teaching and learning.
Mastery teaching is a core tenet of Teaching and Learning within STEP, who are committed to embedding the practice within their schools, and supporting other schools through STEP Ahead, its East Sussex, and Brighton and Hove Teaching School Hub. Neil therefore began by using the quizzes on to identify the approximate starting point for each class, recognising that “Maths isn't year dependent, it's mathematical-development dependent - you need to find out where the kids are and teach them from there.”
In a one form entry school in particular, a big challenge is the range of attainment levels in each class — it can be exceptionally difficult to make sure everyone is learning maths at the appropriate level. To counter this, two weeks prior to starting a unit, Neil adds all the relevant Lesson Objectives into one lesson on and then generates a Readiness quiz. He explains, “Doing this two weeks prior to the unit gives me the time to decide which are the most important prerequisites children are missing and plan the corrective teaching needed to be ready to start the next unit.”
The resources on offered a useful starting point for teachers to begin this corrective teaching, but the team at David Livingstone also ran daily intervention sessions during Assembly time, withdrawing pupils who needed extra support, and using to close gaps between pupils as effectively as possible. “ [gives] pupils individualised one-to-one tuition, with adult supervision for support where necessary,” he explains. “The 20 minute intervention sessions give pupils enough time to complete one Goal, so if there’s a particular Idea [group of Goals], they’re really struggling with, particularly if it’s a core prerequisite to what we will be learning in Maths the following week, they may well work on across a week to secure that Idea so they can be successful with their in-class learning.”
The next stage in the mastery cycle is checking pupils have gripped what’s just been taught. For this, Neil uses Date-Range quizzes. “We have been very disciplined at adding Lesson Objectives to lessons from the start,” he says, “because we knew that putting that effort into it straight away would bring many benefits later on, like being able to set weekly quizzes based on content from the last six weeks, the last two months, even the last six months.”
Readiness and Date Range quizzes are now a core part of the daily maths curriculum for pupils at David Livingstone: “We've enjoyed the macro level of control that you can get by setting specific date ranges, putting into our teaching practice sound pedagogical theory such as retrieval practice and method selection,” Neil says. “We didn't want pupils to see that as a ‘homework’ task, making time for pupils in our maths lessons so they could complete those quizzes carefully and accurately. As a member of SLT, I see the benefit of spending half a lesson on pupils’ completing a Date-range Quiz - that is an effective use of time in my eyes, moving away from the mentality of ‘new lesson = new content’, as has been the way in the past. We were able to quickly build a picture of these pupils’ gaps and use the assessment data in to plan our interventions to support pupils.”
As part of the year 6 team, Neil could not escape the overriding importance of SATs — and here, too, the power of was evident in supporting accurate predictions. “Across the academic year, we did 49 or 50 of these assessments in addition to summative termly assessments,” he says, “and at the start of the Spring term, we had a term’s worth of rich data from regular assessments. I was interested in pupil’s overall percentages across all the quizzes, particularly where pupils were in relation to the mastery threshold [of 80%]. Then, since we can’t get away from SATs (as much as we may want to!) I wanted to see how effective would be for predicting whether these year 6 pupils reach the ‘Expected’ standard in the SATs assessments.” The results were staggering: data turned out to be an almost perfect predictor of student performance.
Armed with data from previous years, Neil found the median percentage needed to reach ‘Expected’ standard across all past SATs results was roughly 55-58% so he used this to predict pupils’ results for 2022. On comparing his predictions to the real results, he was “...really impressed that those pupils we knew were struggling, corroborated by the data on , didn't reach the ‘expected’ standard’; where pupils were around that 57-58% on , some did and some didn’t [achieve ‘Expected’], but their results were around that point overall, and anyone above 60% came out with those SATs assessments as at least working at the government’s ‘Expected’ standard.”
Schools seeking to move to a mastery approach face the same dual challenges of ensuring every pupil is learning maths at an appropriate level, while also ensuring every pupil has covered enough of the curriculum to be able to access the highest grades of which they are capable.
The team at David Livingstone already knew the importance of making sure prerequisite knowledge is secured before moving on, but, in Neil’s words, “Complete Maths has made it 10 times easier to not only help us identify what those prerequisites are, especially in a one form entry school where you don't have a year group partner to bounce ideas off, but also how quickly you can then test those prerequisites. Within three or four clicks of a button, you can set a Readiness quiz that will test your pupils on those prerequisites and amend your planning according to ’s analysis. As a teacher, where time is your most valuable resource, this is key.”
also supports a mastery approach in the classroom, with Neil explaining “...if I found myself in a situation where many pupils had secured a certain idea, but I still wanted to work with five or six of them, then I'd be happy for the others to use so that they can develop and grow in their mathematical journey. That may then be learning new mathematics, but perhaps revising content that they’ve done previously that is saying they need to revisit. It brings in retrieval practice and secures and strengthens their mathematical schema whilst allowing me the time to teach other pupils in a more responsive manner.”
When schools want to adopt a mastery approach to teaching, leaving behind a scheme of work where you know exactly what you’ll be teaching every lesson and instead using a ‘stage-not-age’ approach can be a daunting prospect for teachers. Neil recommends starting with one year group initially. “I think Year 3 would be a really good place to start because your Year 5 and 6 teachers will have more pressure from SATs, and it’s challenging to move away from thinking SATs is a test on ‘Year 6 content’, despite that for the last two years, our pupils have got good results without having been taught Year 6 content.”
The impact of using and together as part of the mastery cycle is evident, with more pupils able not just to access but to grip more of the curriculum over time, and leaders in a better position than ever to predict pupil outcomes with accuracy.
Such dramatic benefits are worth both the financial and time investment. As Neil reflects, “take the time to get it right the first time and you'll get that time back.”