How to tackle the new maths curriculum

4th July 2014 at 01:00
In September, England's curriculum is changing for key stages 1, 2 and 3. This week, teachers reveal how they are approaching maths


Getting to grips with the new maths curriculum may seem like an overwhelming prospect. However, although the changes are challenging, they are not as radical as some people think.

The curriculum is organised by year group, with many topics introduced at an earlier stage. For example, children in Year 1 will now be expected to recall and use number bonds and related subtraction facts up to 20. New topics have been added, such as complex fraction and decimal work, which was previously introduced at secondary level.

As maths coordinator, my initial aims will be to put in place medium- and long-term plans that ensure sufficient coverage of these new objectives and to make teaching staff aware of the changes. All teachers will need to have a clear understanding of the progression of skills across the key stages.

Expectations have been raised in the new curriculum, especially with regard to number; there is a greater emphasis on mental and written calculations of whole numbers, fractions and decimals. For instance, children will need to know their times tables up to 12x12 by the end of Year 4. With this in mind, it will be crucial for teachers, children and parents to understand the importance of knowing key mathematical facts by heart, including times tables, division and number facts, as well as products of multiples of 10 and 100.

One of the immediate challenges will be to put in place programmes that accelerate the progress of children in upper KS2 who have not achieved rapid recall of this key information. I have begun exploring ways of incorporating these skills into every lesson and through the implementation of a series of weekly tests on times tables and number bonds. Raised expectations will mean there is no time to continually re-teach all this key knowledge, but if it is taught little and often we can make sure that these facts stick.

The curriculum now includes the teaching of traditional algorithms in Years 3 and 4. The challenge will be to ensure that teachers understand the foundation skills needed to use these methods successfully, otherwise it will be easy for children to see methods such as column addition as magic tricks for adding large numbers. I am working on a new calculation policy that will underpin these methods with the requisite foundation skills, making sure children have developed a robust understanding of the concepts underpinning the required calculation, number and measures strands.

The new curriculum will require changes to how we approach maths, but the key will be to ensure that foundation skills are embedded across the school. If these are secure, children will be able to use any method presented to them and solve any problem.

Rhodri Thomas is maths coordinator at Bournemouth Park Primary School in Southend-on-Sea, Essex


When I first heard about the new maths curriculum, I was not overly concerned. But when I sat down with the head of department to look at the changes in detail, we realised they were indeed significant.

The programmes of study for KS3 were announced in September 2013 with the stated aim of developing fluency, mathematical reasoning and problem-solving. These seem like good foundations for a new curriculum, but they are abstract words. It was only when we saw the proposed changes for the GCSE that we realised substantial adaptations were needed.

At the time of writing, the exam boards are yet to announce their specifications, but there are some things we do know for certain. Perhaps most importantly, the new GCSE will have considerably more content than before. The higher tier will now cover topics such as iteration, quadratic inequalities, geometric sequences, interpreting financial graphs and even some form of introduction to calculus in the guise of instantaneous rates of change. In addition, some challenging topics are moving from higher to foundation, including standard form, solving quadratics by factorising and deriving, and solving simultaneous equations. On top of this, we have a new GCSE grading system (1-9) and a reduced formula sheet.

So, how do we prepare? Greater teaching time will be needed, so the number of KS3 (50-minute) maths lessons has been increased from four to five a week from September, to bring it in line with KS4.

The current Year 8 group will be the first to sit the new GCSE. Therefore, a three-year plan needs to be in place for Years 9-11 in time for September. Content will be divided up over these years, with the topics requiring greater maturity held back until Year 11. The new way of grading will probably mean that more students are entered for foundation; I hope that we will no longer have a system where students are asked to sit exams where they cannot access the majority of the content, because this is their best chance of securing a C.

We will also include a key element from our brand-new Year 7 and 8 schemes of learning: compulsory rich tasks. Between two topic units, all students across the year group will take on a carefully chosen rich activity for a couple of lessons, which may be based on something they studied months ago. This strategy consolidates key skills, engages students and helps them to develop into the non-routine problem-solvers that they will need to be.

Finally, I think the days of assessing Year 9s with old Sats papers are over, partly because the levels will no longer be recognised, but more importantly because we have found that the style of the Sats questions is so different to the GCSE that crucial teaching time can be lost preparing students for them.

All in all, I am excited and nervous about the changes: excited to have a more rigorous qualification that promotes fluency and problem-solving, but nervous that we have to get it right.

Craig Barton is an advanced skills teacher at Thornleigh Salesian College in Bolton and a TES secondary maths adviser. Find him on Twitter at @TESMaths

A look inside the new maths curriculum

Key stages 1 and 2


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