Innovative Practice - Masters of all they survey

18th May 2012 at 01:00
A system adapted from Singaporean teaching helps primary pupils to get to grips with maths concepts

The background

The Ark chain of academy schools was looking for a way to accelerate progress in maths, so Helen Drury, Ark Schools' director of mathematics, worked with headteachers and maths leaders in the chain's schools to devise a programme that would do just that.

The scheme, entitled Mathematics Mastery, is based on principles used in Singapore, a country that achieves a consistently high performance in maths on international league tables.

The approach is based on the idea of giving pupils a thorough understanding of mathematical concepts, rather than a set of techniques to reach the right answer.

The Singaporean approach is already used in a number of US schools and Ark has adapted it again for use in the UK. So while number lines, for example, are not often used in Singapore, the Mathematics Mastery team consider them to be helpful and have therefore incorporated them into the scheme.

The project

Key features of Mathematics Mastery include spending more time on fewer topics, and always using objects and pictures before numbers and letters. There is a strong emphasis on using precise vocabulary.

The programme emphasises mastery of essential knowledge and skills in maths, meaning that teachers do not move on until every pupil has acquired a basic understanding of the current topic. More able pupils can explore each topic in greater depth.

The lessons also move much more quickly, with children given short tasks to complete.

Jacqueline Steele, headteacher of Ark Academy Primary in Wembley, says: "The old three-part lesson meant a lot of time was wasted with children spending 20 minutes sitting on the carpet. We have short inputs and then children practise what they've learned. Their understanding is quickly checked within the lesson and teachers can ascertain where children are."

The Education Endowment Foundation has given #163;600,000 to Ark Schools to develop and trial this approach. The chain is now looking for 50 schools to take part in the project: 25 to start in September 2012 (with Year 1), and 25 from September 2013 (with Reception, Year 1 and Year 2).

Tips from the scheme

Focus on each mathematical idea in greater depth. There is much more time for learning if every child understands fully the first time round.

Use physical objects to help pupils make sense of abstract concepts. For example, in helping pupils to understand algorithms, the mastery approach uses base-10 blocks and place-value counters.

Evidence that it works?

Pupils appear more positive about maths, teachers report, and are enjoying the progress they are making. In the first year, all Year 2 pupils achieved level 2, and almost two-fifths achieved level 3. When Ofsted inspectors visited Ark Academy, Wembley, for a survey report on primary mathematics, they were impressed.

Their report reads: "Pupils' achievement in numbers is outstanding. Pupils are developing a high level of proficiency for their age in the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This is underpinned by a secure understanding of place value and good recall of number facts, such as number bonds to 10 and 20 and multiplication tables."


Name: Mathematics Mastery

Started: 2010

Leader: Dr Helen Drury, with headteachers and mathematics lead teachers across the Ark chain of academy schools


Name: Ark Schools

Location: London

Pupils: 1,450

Further information: The Mathematics Mastery team is offering fully funded training, teaching materials and in-school support to schools in London, Birmingham and Portsmouth. Visit for more information.

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