In their own words
Our Maths — No Problem! journey
Belleville Primary School is a National Support School, a National Teaching School, an Academy Sponsor and a Maths Hub. We’re known for our support of others, our school improvement capacity and our outward-facing approach.
We learn from the best, developing relationships with great schools across the UK and internationally. We have followed the PISA global education rankings with great interest and have been particularly keen to visit and build connections with schools in the top-performing countries in Europe (Finland) and worldwide (Singapore). Our links with the latter have had a profound impact on our approach and ethos.
As a Fellow of the (then) National College for School Leadership, our headteacher visited Singapore in 2009 and 2011. This was the start of our relationship with Singapore’s National Institute of Education (NIE). We subsequently funded our three deputies to visit in 2011 to learn from some exemplary schools. They brought back three sets of maths textbooks, which we keenly explored. From 2012, we began to regularly host visiting Singaporean practitioners at Belleville through NIE’s Building Educational Bridges programme, supported by the British Council. Our awareness of mastery was developing rapidly.
Despite consistently strong maths results at Belleville, we were looking for a more structured, logical teaching system, particularly to support our higher and lower attainers. We were aware from our own research that many children do not benefit from the ‘usual’ maths provision in England, with differentiation often superficial and unfocused, and topics covered too briefly. It became clear to us that secure progress is based on deepening children’s understanding of mathematical concepts, to support sound knowledge of procedural steps. We could see that the concrete-pictorial-abstract (CPA) approach, at the heart of mastery teaching, helps children solve problems and gain a secure understanding of concepts.
We knew maths mastery was the way forward for us and in 2012, our senior leaders attended training with mastery expert, Dr Yeap Ban Har. Impressed, we sent our Year 1 teachers and maths leader to learn from Ban Har too, before implementing mastery teaching at Belleville, initially in Reception and Year 1, then building through the school year by year.
In 2013, our headteacher and one of our assistant heads visited Shanghai and Ningbo Province on NCTL’s International Maths and Science research programme. In 2014, following designation as the South West London Maths Hub, we participated in NCETM’s England-China exchange: our maths leader visited Shanghai for two weeks, and we reciprocated by hosting a Shanghai maths teacher at Belleville for three weeks. We welcomed these further opportunities to learn from East Asian pedagogy.
Having had experience of both the Shanghai and the Singapore systems, we could see there were some differences in the two approaches. A focused leadership discussion led us to the decision to implement the Singaporean approach, which promoted better use of manipulatives, something which has particularly supported our low attainers but also helped higher attainers develop concepts. We also knew that our links with NIE would support our journey. We were committed to adopting Singaporean maths teaching and arranged for more staff to train within and beyond the school.
In September 2015 we arranged to host an experienced vice principal from Singapore, an expert practitioner in the mastery approach who visited Belleville to work alongside our staff for an intensive two week period: modelling, team-teaching, observing lessons and giving valuable feedback. We hosted her for a return visit later that year. In April 2016 we took a group of 17 educators to Singapore, including Andy Psarianos from Maths — No Problem!, and in September 2016 we took our whole maths team, which proved extremely valuable.
Maths — No Problem! in our school
In 2015 we took part in a Maths Hub project to trial three mastery-centred, textbook-based schemes.
Maths — No Problem! was found by our staff to be the most effective. The content was higher quality and more carefully structured than the mastery scheme we were previously using at Belleville, and we decided to adopt MNP immediately across the school.