How maths mastery aligns with the Curriculum for Excellence

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A big part of teaching is making sure your lessons align with government requirements. If you’re thinking about switching to a mastery approach but aren’t sure how it fits with the CfE, you can rest easy. It’s a perfect match.

The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is designed to help children and young people across Scotland gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century. This includes skills for learning, life and work. If you know a little about mastery-based learning, this should sound familiar.

That’s because the CfE shares many core aims with a mastery approach:

  • All children can become successful learners.
  • Planning is responsive to the needs of children.
  • Assessment is simple and intrinsic to learning.
  • Children are involved in their own learning.

Here are reasons I think maths mastery aligns with the Curriculum for Excellence, and more importantly, how your pupils can benefit.

All children can become successful learners

To achieve a CfE level, it’s important there are no major gaps in your pupils’ learning. All children are expected to achieve a breadth of learning, have secure understanding and be able to apply their skills to unfamiliar situations.

Similarly, mastery puts high expectations on learners. Every pupil is expected to achieve, regardless of attainment level. Mastery means securing skills, concepts and knowledge. It’s not about just knowing a fact, but using it in a range of situations. It’s not just gaining a skill but using it independently in different contexts.

The key ideas behind the mastery approach are:

  • All children can acquire all learning.
  • The whole class moves through topics at broadly the same pace.
  • Each topic is studied in depth and you don’t move to the next stage until all children are secure in central concepts and ideas.
  • Learning is inclusive and builds self-confidence and resilience in pupils.

Planning is responsive to the needs of children

Delivering the CfE can be challenging, but there’s a mountain of support material and guidance available to you — maybe too much support. A 2016 report from the Chief Inspector of Education warned that an overabundance of planning guidance has left Scottish teachers mired in bureaucracy.

Maths mastery aligns with the Curriculum for Excellence because it lets you keep planning streamlined and flexible. It puts the needs of your pupils first, rather than generating unnecessary paperwork.

The key elements of planning within a mastery programme are:

  • Planning a sequence of lessons is more important than writing individual lesson plans. Planning starts from the curriculum, not the activities. The focus is ‘what is being taught today’ not ‘what we are doing today’.
  • Pupils make progress by building content and conceptual knowledge over time.
  • Planning needs to be responsive to the pupil’s learning and the ongoing assessment of knowledge, skills and understanding.

Assessment is simple and intrinsic to learning

The CfE requires that maths teachers use the numeracy Benchmarks to help monitor progress towards achievement of a level. Assessment is periodic and gives a holistic picture of children’s learning.

Your approach to tracking students’ process needs to be as easy to use as possible. Maths mastery simplifies assessment of, and for, learning. It’s no longer an ‘add on’ to learning and teaching — it’s intrinsic to it for the following reasons:

  • A mastery programme provides opportunities for formative assessment to assess understanding and identify gaps.
  • A range of methods are used to evaluate understanding. These include: talk partners, group challenges as well as independent learning. This enables you to respond to pupils’ needs.

Children are involved in their own learning

The Chief Inspector of Education also highlighted that it is essential to:

“Involve children and young people in leading their own learning and involve them in profiling their achievements.”

I use student journals as part of formative assessment. Journals allow me to check pupils’ understanding on a daily basis and then tailor my teaching. This evidence also supports my judgement when assessing if a pupil has reached a benchmark.

Journaling can:

  • Keep students engaged in their learning
  • Help students self-assess and understand their own learning
  • Develop higher level thinking skills in students
  • Help teachers assess individual strengths and needs

For more information on the benefits of journaling, check out: Four reasons why maths students should be journaling.

The CfE is a mastery approach to learning

Using a mastery approach like Maths — No Problem! has improved my pedagogy and understanding of the main drivers of the CfE. It lets me align my planning with the outcomes in the CfE. I’ve seen my pupils gain transferable skills and make accelerated progress in maths.

Based on my own experience, I’ve seen how well maths mastery aligns with the Curriculum for Excellence. I’d highly recommend giving it a go and seeing what you think.

is an experienced primary school teacher with 11 years experience working at senior leadership level and is a contributor to the blog. Her expertise is in innovative curriculum design, effective classroom practices, and developing and delivering training in mastery learning.
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Maths — No Problem! is a mastery programme that supports the CfE. MNP resources stretch learners beyond routine problems and help pupils develop a deep and sustainable understanding of maths.

To see what it could look like in your school, ask us about a free demo: fiona@mathsnoproblem.co.uk