Press release: How young learners master maths - Ofsted report on best practice in early arithmetic
13 Nov 2011
Providing the best grounding in mathematics at primary school is of fundamental importance to children’s future success in education, life and at work in today’s mathematical world, according to an Ofsted report launched today.
Good practice in primary mathematics: evidence from 20 successful schools, looks at how 20 schools successfully taught arithmetic, a key component of mathematics. The report highlights the approaches that best help children progress from counting to calculating, reason about numbers, work with measures and acquire the skills that underpin mathematical learning and applications in school and beyond.
The study shows that practical activities are of crucial importance for three to seven year olds, coupled with plenty of opportunities for developing understanding of mathematical language. Fluency in mental arithmetic methods, including agility with multiplication tables, is also essential for achieving good skills in adding and subtracting, multiplication and division. As well as calculating accurately, pupils who are taught to be flexible in their approaches can solve a wide range of problems.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Miriam Rosen said:
‘Confidence with numbers is an essential part of any child’s early learning. Not only does it help them with day-to-day problem-solving and practical tasks but it also gives them the building blocks to acquire the later mathematical skills valued by the world of industry and higher education.
‘Just as a child cannot hope to succeed without the basic standards in reading, basic mathematics is an essential prerequisite for a decent education. This report looks in detail at what works best in teaching young children about numbers.
‘From the need to ensure children really know their times-tables, to an understanding of how numbers and calculations relate to each other, the report discusses what works. The examples here provide a valuable tool for all primary schools in England – I hope they will take the opportunity to learn from the best practice available.’
The report shows that confidence, deeper understanding and versatility are nurtured through a strong emphasis on problem solving and placing it at the heart of arithmetic. The report highlights several examples of children learning through real-life problems using money and measures.
In one school, for instance, pupils measured the school playground and prepared an estimate for the cost of new tarmac for the surface. In another, children were asked to work out value for money of common supermarket products such as 500ml bottles of a drink versus a two litre bottle, including factoring in special offers and ‘buy one get one free’ deals.
The report contains many other examples of good practice. The importance of good subject knowledge and subject-specific teaching skills was recognised and promoted. Some schools benefited from subject leaders who had high levels of subject expertise. Others engaged parents in evening workshops where they could learn about how their children were being taught and help support them.
With the review of the National Curriculum underway this is a particularly significant survey. It does not currently specify the use of particular methods for division and multiplication. The schools visited had developed clear, coherent calculation policies and guidance, tailored to their particular context. Their staff worked together to ensure consistent approaches and use of images and models that secured progression in skills and knowledge lesson by lesson and year by year.
Most of the schools surveyed emphasised the importance of ensuring pupils fully master each stage before the next steps are introduced. Speedy intervention when pupils falter ensures misconceptions are overcome with some schools returning pupils to the stage at which they are confident before rebuilding learning from that point. Others did not let lower-attaining groups of children tackle long division, for example, if they were not ready.
Several schools adopted whole-school approaches to developing the subject expertise of teachers and assistants. This supported effective planning, teaching and intervention.
Notes to editors
1. The report is available on the Ofsted website www.ofsted.gov.uk
2. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.
3. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 5911 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.00pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359