Innovative practice - The next rung

14th September 2012 at 01:00
A system of 'learning ladders' enables teachers and pupils to track their progress in maths together

The background

Last September, Lucy Westley joined Tiffield Primary School in Northampton as the new head of teaching and learning. She also became the maths coordinator for a newly formed collaboration of three small Northamptonshire schools, and currently teaches a mixed class of pupils from Year 3 to Year 6.

Described by a colleague as "an outstanding maths teacher and an outstanding coordinator", Westley was concerned that the numeracy strategy was not working for her pupils. So she revised the school's maths system using an approach she had started to develop at her previous school.

The project

Westley created a system that she called Maths Learning Ladders. This involved her taking every strand of mathematical learning and plotting its development from the Early Years Foundation Stage to past level 5.

Leigh Fox, a fellow teacher at Tiffield Primary, says: "Often children were jumping around from topics such as 'shape' to 'money' without actually consolidating much. Lucy's very systematic approach means that they learn the equivalent of the letters A to E before they can do F. So before a child can start adding three-digit numbers together, they need to be able to find one more or one less than any number up to 5, 10 and so on."

At the beginning of every school week, each pupil is plotted on the "learning ladders", which provide teachers with a "pre-assessment" of their classes' strengths and weaknesses.

"It allows us to see where gaps are," Fox says. "It could be that a simple starter might be enough to secure the learning. In one case, a student teacher placed in our key stage 2 gave the children a pre-assessment and found that the majority of children could plot coordinates, but very few understood the compass points."

The "learning ladders" system also enables teachers to group children by where they are on their ladders, not simply by their age or year.

Tips from the scheme

Consider methods that ensure pupils' learning is consolidated before they move on.

Giving pupils awareness of the level they have reached is one of the most important aspects of teacher feedback, which in turn is one of the highest impact areas of teaching practice.

Evidence that it works?

Since Westley introduced her ladders at Tiffield, all the children in both key stages have made accelerated progress in maths, compared with previous years in which the children had attained satisfactory progress. Westley's ladders also have the endorsement of Jackie Beere, a consultant and author of The Perfect Ofsted Lesson and The Perfect Ofsted Inspection.

Fox says: "On a personal note, Lucy taught my sons this year, one in Year 6 and one in Year 4. They loved her maths lessons. They knew exactly where they were and where they were going."

The project

Approach: Maths Learning Ladders

Started: September 2011

Leader: Lucy Westley, teacher and maths coordinator

The school

Name: Tiffield CEVA Primary School

Location: Northampton

Pupils: 21 (2011)

Age range: 4-11

Ofsted overall rating: Satisfactory (2011).

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today