How should senior leadership teams monitor maths mastery?

|6 min read

Senior leadership teams are responsible for monitoring teaching and learning. If you’re wondering how to effectively monitor maths after adopting a mastery approach, we’ve got you covered.

Senior leadership teams (SLT) can include the headteacher, deputy headteacher, subject leaders, and possibly the SENDCO and Key Stage leaders. The SLT is responsible for monitoring teaching and learning within the school and making sure that whole-school changes, like switching to maths mastery, are delivered successfully.

What does effective monitoring look like?

One big question SLTs need to ask themselves is: how can leaders make sure their monitoring supports teachers and helps them deliver effective maths lessons so that children have the best chance of learning?

Don’t monitor for the sake of it, make sure it has an impact on learners

It’s easy to fall into a rut of lesson observations, learning walks, book looks, planning scrutinies, and learner interviews. If we forget the purpose of these activities, we run the risk of chasing our tails.

How often do we find ourselves carrying out activities because we think they’re what Ofsted is looking for — becoming busier and busier, but failing to have an impact on the children?

In The researchEd Guide to Education Myths, Mark Enser quotes Worsley in describing the cargo cult of some South Pacific islands. Here’s how the story goes:

The islanders wanted to attract the goods they had seen arrive by planes from Europe and America. As a result, a religion grew up around rituals designed to attract the wealth back to the islands. Sadly, however many airstrips and planes they built from wood, the planes would not return as the underlying reason for the arrival of the cargo (World War II) was gone.

Ofsted tries to make sure that a new cargo cult does not grow up around perceptions of their expectations — as rumours spread fast.

What does Ofsted expect from SLTs?

We know from the 2019 inspection framework that when making a judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management, Ofsted inspectors use the following criteria:

  • Leaders have a clear and ambitious vision for providing high-quality, inclusive education and training to all. This is realised through strong, shared values, policies, and practice.
  • Leaders focus on improving staff’s subject, pedagogical, and pedagogical content knowledge to enhance the teaching of the curriculum and the appropriate use of assessment. The practice and subject knowledge of staff are built up and improve over time.
  • Leaders engage with their staff and are aware and take account of the main pressures on them. They are realistic and constructive in the way that they manage staff, including their workload.

When teaching changes, monitoring needs to change

Over the years, SLTs have become very good at monitoring to generate information about the quality of teaching and learning in their school — until mastery came along.

Adopting a maths mastery approach is a big change for everyone in a school. Teachers have to make changes to lesson delivery while children need to adjust to a brand new way of learning.

Often when a school adopts a mastery approach to teaching, it takes time for the monitoring pro-formas and leadership expectations to catch up. But it’s really important to align your teaching approach to monitor criteria, otherwise monitoring can undermine teaching. Here are two areas where this can happen:

Whole-class teaching

In a maths mastery approach, three-way differentiated pupil tasks of the past are replaced by one core task. All children are supported to achieve the same learning and differentiation is achieved through depth.

So if one of the monitoring criteria is ‘differentiated pupil tasks’, any effort to help all learners achieve the expected standard by completing the same, core task will be undermined.

Encouraging discussions

Instead of working on maths problems independently and in silence, maths mastery learners are encouraged to discuss their ideas with their classmates and support their explanations with concrete resources and pictorial representations.

If school leaders still think effective lessons mean learners working silently and independently for as much of the lesson as possible, where does that leave a teacher who sees the value in paired talk and shared discussion?

How can SLTs monitor maths mastery?

So, the next question is: how do SLTs monitor teaching and learning in a school that has adopted a maths mastery programme?

Agree on what your school values in maths lessons

Effectively delivering a mastery approach — without causing extra stress or workload for teachers — starts with agreeing on what your school values in maths lessons. This doesn’t need to be a long or involved intent statement: a simple list of bullet points is fine.

One school I worked at used this list to get everyone on the same page:

  • Start lessons with a review of yesterday’s learning.
  • Use an introductory problem to give that day’s learning context.
  • Use a ping pong style of teaching: alternate instructions from the teacher with activities for the children (talk, act, talk, act).
  • Choose when to reveal your ‘we are learning to’ (WALT) in a lesson. The reveal could be part way through, or at the end, it’s up to you.
  • Link the WALT to a stem sentence that the children repeat throughout. Use the stem sentence as a speaking frame for the children to embed the key learning.

Bear in mind that this might not be your list and you can easily add more to it; the importance of paired talk, making sure all learners use concrete apparatus and pictorial representations, the value of jottings in journals, and encouraging pupils to solve problems in multiple ways. Of course, these criteria can change over time as your school moves along the mastery journey and so will need to change every now and again.

Decide on a shared vision for maths lessons

It’s important that staff at a school agree what they value in maths teaching. You need to ask: what is our vision for maths lessons at our school?

Depending on the size of your school, this can be done by SLT or the whole staff together, but once the criteria are agreed, all staff will have a joint agreement about what good maths teaching looks like at your school.

With a clear, shared understanding of what is valued in lessons, teachers can plan and deliver lessons feeling confident that they are meeting the expectations of the school. Leaders can then plan their monitoring activities, knowing that their actions will support the development of maths mastery rather than undermining it.

But don’t forget, the key part of monitoring is making sure what you do improves the learning outcomes of maths lessons. How will you use the information you generate to ensure ‘the practice and subject knowledge of staff are built up and improve over time’?

The researchED Guide to Education Myths, ed Craig Barton, pub John Catt 2019
The education inspection framework, Ofsted, pub 14 May 2019