Educational leadership & learning

I had the pleasure of listening to Debbie Morgan (Director for Primary Mathematics at the National Centre for Excellence in the teaching of Mathematics) this morning at the Fareham and Gosport Maths Leaders conference.

One of the key themes of her presentation was the need for balance and integration between: factual / procedural fluency and conceptual understanding. The need for pupils to develop factual knowledge (I know that), procedural knowledge (I know how) and conceptual knowledge (I know why). The importance of developing mastery through a curriculum with greater amount of time invested in less content and a curriculum which challenges learners through depth rather than just moving on quickly to the next learning objective.

“Focusing on fewer things in greater depth to secure learning which persists, rather than relentlessly over-rapid progression.”

(Tim Oates)

The rationale behind the new Maths National Curriculum is not to move pupils onto the next year group’s curriculum but to extend them through deeper conceptual understanding and application in a broader range of contexts, i.e. mastery. Debbie also exemplified how the curriculum in countries like China and Japan uses this model to good effect.

The conundrum for me and other colleagues on the same table is that if we allow greater time on aspects of maths learning and offer a wide range of deep enriching learning experiences, how do we clearly and unarguably evidence progress? How will an Ofsted inspector or external advisor coming in judge us? My concern is that they will expect to see accelerated progress through objectives and the whole curriculum. Certainly for my year two pupils to see better than expected progress through sub-levels.

If the curriculum really wants to enable schools to help the pupils grow deep and sustainable learning then the accountability measures on which we are judged need to be matched to this. Given the ongoing transition in education nationally and development of different people’s understanding and perspectives this academic year I think conversations will be complicated and possibly confused around this issue. So how do we ensure the curriculum is utilised effectively to enable powerful learning without leaving ourselves open to accusations of lack of clearly identifiable and measurable progress?

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