Like it or loathe it, the time is coming when it will be impossible to ignore the new curriculum (unless of course you teach in an academy). Year 6 will have another year to continue with the old curriculum but other year groups need to start teaching from it from next September.
I am currently taking the NCETM Professional Development Lead Support course (which I would so far highly recommend) and had my first residential training at the end of last week. In the main I found this somewhat reassuring. I am sure that Michael Gove had a heavy influence in determining much of the content and in particular the emphasis on the aim of fluency with recalling facts and using procedures, and generally higher expectations by the end of the primary years. Despite this, the three overarching aims are difficult to argue with, focusing on fluency, reasoning and problem solving. The NCETM approach is to emphasise that fluency can only be achieved, and should only be achieved by building on a foundation of good conceptual understanding. Their training and the training that we in turn will be passing onto schools explores the key role that representation and the use of concrete apparatus has in building up this conceptual understanding. They are also keen to encourage teachers to make connections between different mathematical ideas in their teaching.
My worry is about how well this message will be conveyed to schools. I have had two years of training as a Primary Maths Specialist, another year of work towards my masters in primary maths education, training as a Numbers Count teacher and have done lots of reading and research in addition to this. I understand the importance of representation and of making connections. I have seen the damage that can be done when children are moved too quickly to working with abstract mathematical procedures before they have been able to build up their conceptual understanding to support this. I have experienced those wonderful ‘light bulb’ moments with KS2 children who have fallen well behind and lost all confidence in their mathematical ability, but given the chance to step back a little and revisit concepts of place value or calculation using concrete apparatus, suddenly see how it works. Many of my colleagues however have not had these opportunities. I’ve learned so much from the high quality professional development I’ve received in the last few years and could probably fill at least a year’s worth of weekly staff meetings by sharing all of this.
In most schools, professional development time is very limited. Maths has to vie with many other subjects and priorities for staff meeting and Teacher day time. Courses can be expensive and require teachers to be covered which adds to the expense, and budgets are limited. In my opinion, however, it is good quality professional development which has the potential to make a huge difference to the quality of teaching and learning in schools. If even half the time and money which is currently spent on inspecting, monitoring, evaluating, tracking data and gathering evidence was spent instead on good quality CPD, I believe the impact would be incredible.
The introduction of the new curriculum could be a great opportunity for schools to revisit their teaching approaches, to ensure teachers are clear about progression and route ways, to explore the range of concrete apparatus and representations which will support conceptual understanding, to explore the links between different mathematical ideas and to share approaches and ideas. But this will require significant investment of time and money. I suspect, however that many schools will not find the resources to do this and instead the new curriculum will be presented as a list of requirements with the result that many teachers will feel under pressure to move children on too quickly, which could lead to even less conceptual understanding.
In his (always helpful) blog yesterday, Derek Haylock also made the very important point that the format of the new assessments (currently being developed) will have a great influence on what is actually taught in schools. Will these assess children’s understanding of underlying concepts, their ability to reason mathematically, their ability to apply their skills to problems? Or will they focus on assessing the children’s ability to use mathematical procedures fluently?
For more information about the new curriculum and some resources which might prove helpful when introducing it, my New Curriculum Pinterest board may be helpful.