Special education - Adds up to success

There are ways of making maths easier for primary pupils with special needs. Susannah Kirkman explains

Ensuring that pupils with special needs have the skills they need to make progress in maths is challenging, especially when there are 30 children per class and a range of abilities.

"I visited a (mainstream) class recently where a little girl with special needs was working her way through a book of additions; they were all wrong because she had not yet grasped the concept of adding," says Gina Briggs, the deputy head at Curnow School, a special school in Cornwall.

But a curriculum scheme developed in Cornwall by teachers, advisers and external consultants, gives a happy ending to this story. Gina, who also supports mainstream colleagues, was able to relate the pupil's level of working to the national curriculum and show the teacher a list of appropriate activities to help the child progress.

The scheme, which is called Track Back, relates the objectives in the new primary maths strategy to specific targets within the P Scales. These are scales introduced by the Government to help teachers plan and assess the work of pupils of all ages with severe learning difficulties who are at level W and working towards levels 1 and 2 of the national curriculum.

A teacher with a Year 1 class tackling counting, adding or subtracting, for example, which are part of strand I in the new maths curriculum, would see from Track Back that a P8 pupil might begin to solve simple problems such as keeping a score in a game. A P5 pupil, on the other hand, who is only beginning to develop counting skills, might learn to use simple number concepts in practical situations, such as setting a table for up to four people.

Track Back Mathematics covers the seven maths strands for Years 1 to 6, linking them to P levels 4 to 8, plus a bridging level between P level 8 and level 1 of the national curriculum.

Pupils from levels P1 to P4 have a separate Track Back and Key Skills, which is also linked to the primary maths strands. This has been developed with Les Staves, a specialist maths consultant commissioned by Cornwall. It is mainly used in special schools along with the key stage 3 Track Back.

Gina devised the first Track Back scheme in 2001, in response to the original national numeracy strategy.

"It is beneficial for staff to be able to unpick the skills pupils need to understand math concepts," she says.

The Government's National Strategy Team for the curriculum is impressed and has asked Cornwall to provide further examples. Cornwall is also developing an English Track Back, and Gina is working on schemes for science and technology.


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