Kingsley Primary School
School at a Glance
- State school (Community Primary School)
- About 500 pupils
- About one fifth of those pupils are on the SEND register
- Latest Ofsted rating ‘Good’ (2019)
Craig Robinson is now assistant headteacher and maths subject leader at Kingsley Primary School in Hartlepool, where he started his career in 2007 as a teaching assistant. He is also a local leader of maths education at Archimedes Maths Hub. He told us the story of how Maths — No Problem! was integrated into Kingsley Primary.
I first discovered Maths — No Problem! in 2014 when the English National curriculum changed for primary in England. I had been researching the Mastery approach. I attended some really inspiring PD by Mike Askew and Andrew Jeffrey. I could see this was a new way of thinking, and we immediately started putting certain things in place in the classrooms.
And then I don't know whether it was the Internet or someone mentioned Maths — No Problem! to me but as soon as I started researching it, I was hooked, and it spiralled from there. We managed to get a free trial in the autumn term of 2017. We trialled it all the way through school — Year 1 to Year 6 — and then it was a matter of keeping on the slow journey towards convincing our governors and our heads, because — yes, it's quite a lot of capital to put in, but there's so much we knew we'd get out of it.
The thing that convinced them in the end was that it was constantly developing the teachers' subject knowledge, which is vital to develop the kids’ learning. And that’s the main objective, isn't it?
I managed to convince the governors and the head, and then we started formulating the plan. Quite a lot of advice at the time that you bring it in from Key Stage 1 and work your way up. But the Year 5 and Year 6 groups said, “no you're not taking this back off us now!” Obviously the problem was that the gaps already were quite big in Year 5 and Year 6 in comparison to the expectations of Maths — No Problem! The Year 5 and 6 teachers simply said: we'd rather try and use Maths — No Problem! and adapt it, despite the challenges, than removing it from us now.
From that point onwards we've never looked back. The school developed the programme to include Foundations as well in 2022. We’re in love with it, I would say.
In our school, the proportion of SEND pupils we have is probably our biggest challenge. We've got four SEND bases within school, ranging from Reception age all the way up to Key Stage 2. And in those bases they have needs that are very similar, or on par with, a special school, so that does pose its own challenges. That also means quite a lot of the children who would normally be in those bases are in classrooms. It’s a challenge but it’s also something we pride ourselves on — we’re able to adapt our curriculum for any need.
Initially the main obstacles were that the principles of mastery weren’t embedded in our approach, so things like teaching the whole class the same objective, and differentiating during the lesson instead of before the lesson — those were things we started to implement but they certainly weren't embedded. That became a challenge when we started to introduce Maths — No Problem!
Some teachers would say “I can’t teach this lesson to my high children and my struggling learners as well. It's not going to work.” So that was the main thing, and then questions around parents. Teachers were saying things like, “what if Jimmy's mum says that he's doing the same lesson as so-and-so, how can I justify that he’s getting pushed?”
There were three ways we overcame those problems. The first was giving them time to try it themselves and offering support as we went, and not avoiding it as a leader, making sure that we had the conversations constantly to try to answer the difficult questions that they had at the time.
Secondly, modelling the lesson and making sure they could see it in practice, even with the most difficult children in school.
Third, I was lucky enough that I had some teachers who had that vision straight away, who could see it, and it wasn't just me trying to tell teachers to do something that I believed in. I had people who supported me from the start.
It wasn't an easy or a short process. We're talking over the course of a couple of years before some teachers completely started to accept it and use it effectively. They were using it, but you don't get the max out of it until someone actually believes in it and that belief took a while, and that’s ok.
Because of the amount of buy-in that we've got now for our existing teaching workforce, it doesn't take long for anybody joining the team to work out that this is the way we do it here, and they accept it pretty soon after.
We're seeing particular success through journalling — and I make a point of making sure that we celebrate journalling throughout the school — it's something that is a constant PD priority because it’s the best way to demonstrate the understanding that the kids have. I’m showcasing that, number one, for the kids’ benefit, so that they get that pride in their own work, and secondly, it sends that message to everyone including leadership that this is what we were aiming for and we're getting there now. I find that's really powerful.
But in terms of what has convinced leadership to stay with the programme, I would say that it’s the depth of understanding. For example, when they cover lessons, they can witness this, the way the kids talk about maths, the way they are much more confident in how they answered the questions. Another example would be when our head teacher would invigilate on the Key Stage 2 SATs. She would see that the fluency and the understanding was much better than the last time she invigilated on the Key Stage 2 SATs.
The journalling has become a much more recent thing. Key Stage 2 has developed much quicker than Key Stage 1. Our focus this year is on the younger kids’ journalling, and we accept that what journalling looks like in Reception is not always written down. It's the way they speak and the way they talk about it and the way that the adults question them. And that obviously leads to Year 1 and Year 2 pupils being able to articulate their understanding in a written form. That's been a priority this year, but journalling has just enhanced what was already a convincing argument because of the understanding that they witnessed.
In terms of the results, our SATs results are misleading because the definition of results as we see it is the actual understanding and that is the evidence that the children provide on a daily basis. In the last few years, the makeup of our school has changed to cater for a higher percentage of SEND in our bases, a higher percentage of SEND in our cohorts generally — and so in terms of the SATs results, not much has changed, but the fact that not much has changed is an improvement because the percentage of SEND kids and children with profound difficulties has increased but our SATs results have stayed the same.
In terms of interest from other schools, most recently we have been working with a local primary school to improve their journalling. They've asked me to go in and do some PD for them there. They've actually sent all of their teachers to our school, last summer term we planned a couple of weeks where every single one of their teachers came and observed a lesson in Kingsley to improve their journaling.
I've been using our experience with Maths — No Problem! whilst working as a local leader of maths education for the Maths Hub. I lead a group called the Year 5 to Year 8 Continuity Group, which looks at transitioning maths from primary to secondary education, and we do lesson studies as part of that group.
My group consists this year of three secondaries and about four primaries and part of that is always a lesson study. They'll come and watch a lesson at Kingsley, and that will be a Maths — No Problem! lesson.
I had a trust called the Northern Lights Trust get in touch. They're a trust of seven or eight schools, and it’s constantly growing all around the North-East region — Sunderland, Hartlepool, etc. Six head teachers came to watch a Maths — No Problem! lesson in Year 6 because they wanted to see what it looked like in a school.
This community outreach work is growing. We became an accredited school and hosted a webinar. I also spoke in London at the Leadership Summit in 2023 on the community panel there, which was a great experience.
This work helps us at Kingsley because the more people you talk to the more you learn, and the more you can improve your learning for your own kids.
For schools who are new to mastery or Maths — No Problem! my recommendation would be to accept that there's going to be challenges, but the outcome is something that you definitely won't regret. It's not a textbook, it's not a scheme, it’s a whole approach. It revolutionises your whole way of teaching.
At Kingsley, this isn't just limited to maths. Since we brought Maths — No Problem! into the school, other subject leaders have looked at what we do in maths, they’ve taught maths the way we’ve been asking them to teach it and they’ve thought, can this work for other subjects?
Maths has become a vehicle at Kingsley for development of learning throughout the curriculum. Maintaining the challenge in the classroom and giving the kids time to explore and discover and the way that you question the children works. For example, our science coordinator has found great success in applying this lesson structure and approach to science lessons.
To any school thinking about it, I would just say go for it, build a community and take advantage of your community because you're going to need it.
We're quite open with people who come to me and ask me about Maths — No Problem! and say we've made mistakes over the years and I'd rather share them with you because it might help you not make them mistakes as well. So the community is really important but, you will not regret it if you take the programme on board, there's no doubt about that.
One more piece of advice is that you've got to commit to Maths — No Problem! There's absolutely no point in just buying textbooks and thinking that will change things for you. Maths — No Problem! is more than just a textbook. It’s an entirely new approach.