Mastery misconceptions, Parents becoming pupils, and more. In this episode, Andy and Robin are joined by guest Rosie Ross from St. Bridget’s C of E Primary. How do you get SLT, parents and colleagues on board with change? Are there visible results in pupils that have experienced the maths mastery journey? Plus, Rosie shares the most frightening thing about changing the maths programme at school.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Are you a maths teacher looking for CPD to strengthen your skills? Maths — No Problem! has a variety of courses to suit your needs. From textbook implementation to the essentials of teaching maths mastery. Visit mathsnoproblem.com today to learn more.
Welcome back everyone for another episode of the School of School podcast. We've got Robin here today. Say hi, Robin.
Adam's not here. He did something silly like take a holiday. I don't know why we let him do that, but anyway,
Oh my goodness, come on.
He doesn't work hard enough, that guy.
No, he doesn't. Not at all.
So really, really happy. We've got Rosie Ross with us here today and I've known Rosie Ross for quite a long time now and she's been an outstanding practitioner and we just love her to bit. So Rosie, why don't you say hi and tell our audience a little bit about yourself.
Okay. So hello, everybody. I'm delighted to be here. That was quite an introduction. Thank you. So I'm assistant head teacher at a lovely school called St. Brigid's in the Wirral. I've been teaching for about 26 years. I'm maths subject leader, but I'm still in the classroom, which is lovely. I teach year six, but I get to teach across school as well.
And I do some work for the NCTM as one of their PD leads and mastery specialists. So I have the joy of going into other schools and working with other professionals on maths as well, so I'm delighted to be here.
Well, we're really lucky to have you here, Rosie. So today I think we're going to talk about managing change in terms of developing a maths mastery curriculum.
So just stepping back for a second, what are you talking about? Because a lot of our listeners, Rosie, are probably not in the UK and they might not know what we're talking about when we say a maths mastery curriculum, so can you start off by just explaining a little bit what you mean by maths mastery curriculum and then how do you manage the change?
Okay, so maths mastery curriculum, I mean it's an interesting term, isn't it? Mastery. Because I probably was guilty when I first heard that term mastery to think of mastering something that, oh, this is all about all our children being what we'd call in United Kingdom, greater depth or all our children being high attainers in maths.
But actually mastery is, it's a really beautiful word actually when you apply it to maths, when you apply it to any subject. It's about everybody being able to do something. It's about everybody feeling, "Hey, I can do that. I can do that maths. I'm a confident mathematician, I'm a competent mathematician."
It's about really understanding and knowing maths deeply about enjoying maths and feeling a sense of satisfaction, so it's about every single child in your class feeling satisfied when they're doing maths feeling, "Yeah, I can do this." It's also about children really thinking about the language of maths, making the connections between different aspects of maths, being fluent in that language of maths and having a coherence in their thinking, making connections between different aspects of maths.
So it's about that. I think the best word for me is that satisfaction in maths, they've mastered maths. It's something they're able to do. Just like when we master driving, we can get in our car and we can do it without thinking. Yeah, we have to check things. Maybe there might be a new road sometimes, but we can do this and it's giving every child that sense. And that's quite a big ask to do.
And I can remember when I first sort of came across this idea of teaching for mastery, I mean, it was so long ago. I think it was about, was it 2015 maybe? It was a long time ago. Ban Har had come over to England and heard him talk and I was like, "Oh, that is what I'm looking for," because I was in one of those classes where we were boosting and boosting children, trying to get them where they needed to be while they left primary school, trying to get them through these exams that we have, the SACs in England, trying to get them to that point and it was sole destroying and I thought, "There has to be a better way. How is it that we get all of our children through our school to be mastering maths without this effort that I'm having to put in?"
I mean, I don't mind hard work, but slogging kids through tests is just dismal. It's grim. That's not what you go into the job for. So it was about really having to stop and I think that's the first thing in managing change. You have to stop and think, "What is it that needs to change? What's the thing?" And that's not a decision one person can make. It's about talking to colleagues.
So I kind of did sit with my colleagues and we thought about, "why are we ending up with these 10, 11 year olds ready to leave us and we are still squeezing the last of whatever else, and we're still doing practise tests? We're still trying to boost, boost, boost, boost. What isn't working well for us?" So we is having that conversation, the first thing about managing change is, what's the change going to be? What is it that we need to change?
So we thought about, "Well, not all our children enjoying maths." Our children see maths as a speedy thing, not a beautiful creative subject. So we had to think about, "Well, okay, we want our children to love maths, we want them to enjoy maths, we want them to see it as a creative subject, we want them to retain things. So why is it that maybe we are not building incrementally on things?" And then we thought about ourselves and we thought, "Okay, are we expert mathematicians?" Actually we are not. We're primary school teachers and we're highly educated people, but we are juggling a lot of plates here.
What is it we could do? And I think that was when we went and listened to Ban Har and we found out about Maths — No Problem! We thought, "Okay, this is going to provide the thing that we need." It's going to provide the script if you like. It's going to provide the structure, the progression that we need. It's going to take some of the heat away from us because we are trying to be these really skilled mathematicians and skilled teachers and it's really hard for us to be planning lessons progressively.
We need to stop what we are doing. We need to take a look and think, okay, so that was a massive, massive change because you are talking about we were moving away from all of us as individual teachers planning our own lessons, picking what we were going to be doing to a structure where we are moving to say, a textbook where it's all planned out for us.
So that was a huge culture shift. So we had to have a very clear idea of what we knew we wanted to change, okay, but what is it we want it to look like? So starting with the end in mind, so what did we want? So we started with the end in mind, and then from there we thought back the steps that we were going to take.
And the most important thing that we had to do as a school, we had to acknowledge that if we are going to change things, it's not going to be plain sailing and it's not necessarily going to start well. And I think that's the most frightening thing because actually you can be a school that pulls it out the bag somehow and you get really good data, but actually your children's knowledge is shallow. They haven't mastered maths. It's shallow knowledge.
So to stop and say, "Okay, we're going to change things," you go almost going to have to risk that period of time when that change is happening. It may seem like things are getting worse because actually you are asking people to stop and learn again. So that's about trust and space and this is when SLT needs to sometimes go away for a bit. Just let people have a go.
So we knew where we wanted to be. We knew that we'd need training, so we had to think about our CPD offer as well as part of the managing change. We had to think about our budgeting because there was going to be a cost implication in that as well, so we had to think about how we could manage our cost with that. We had to communicate with our stakeholders as well. We had to communicate long and hard and wide with everybody.
So that's our governors or our trustees that was communicating with all of our stakeholders, so our parents communicating with the children as well, because this was going to be a very different approach for the children. And the children needed to know the why we were doing this and how we were going to be doing this as well. And then it was time.
So people who have been, schools have been successful in introducing mastery, teaching for mastery, they would say it's at least a five-year plan. This is not something that happens overnight. So you have to be prepared that this is going to take time because you're going to have to move those children through. So you've got to give it time.
Sorry to interrupt. Yeah. When you're talking about the stakeholders, I think of it and you mentioned the children and getting them on board, and you mentioned the parents briefly, but again, from my perspective, I'm always thinking from, as a parent, how you bringing this whole new concept and mastery to the school, how do you get the parents on board?
I mean, sure, they're excited if the ultimate goal is that their children are going to enjoy maths and they're going to be better at it, but at the same time, how do you get the parents on board if it's a five-year kind of plan?
And that's a really important question actually, and absolutely. So I won't lie. At the start, there were a few parents like, "What is going on here? What are you doing?" So very quickly, open classrooms, it's actually people understand when they see it, so there is that as well. So inviting your parents in, explaining to them what you're doing, showing them, do a lesson with your parents. Let them see.
I've had a call full of parents and I've taught them as if they're my class.
And doing that with them so they can see, because actually it's quite interesting. A lot of our parents have their own anxieties surrounding maths as well. And a lot of that pushing back sometimes is because there's an anxiety that they bring themselves because of the way they were taught and it is different or that fear of doing something wrong at home.
So open classrooms, workshops with parents very much so as well and pupil voice as well, and getting children to talk to their parents about their maths as well and showing their work that they're doing as well. And gradually that builds that understanding of actually this is the right way of doing things. But yeah, I think it's just by being open and honest and having that communication very much so.
And like you said, parents have their own, I don't know, conceptions of math from their own own experience. And so having that open classroom I think would take a lot of that fear away for them to see it in action.
That makes so much sense.
It's so difficult because I think you so rightfully pointed out, Rosie, that the new version or the first version of the new thing is rarely better than the last version of the old thing. And the transition is so messy because there's so many people who have to change. The students, the pupils have to change, the teachers have to change. The school leadership and administration needs to change. The governors need to change, all the stakeholders need to change.
And of course, it's a tremendous amount of upheaval because you might have given all your pupils an idea that I think you said we want them to see that maths is a creative thing, not a speedy thing. That's a big shift. That's a really big shift. How did you overcome it?
Time. So when we first started teaching for mastery, we had to be kind to ourselves because we had lessons that were just going on forever because we slowed everything down, but it was practise and over time. So I think the time's the big thing, isn't it? You've got to, and working together, that was the other thing. We got better as colleagues because we work together, we talk to each other and we knew we weren't under the hammer of anybody. Now that is about the culture of your school.
At times it must have felt like, "Oh no, we've made a horrible decision."
Oh, absolutely. I mean, there were times when we were thinking, "What on earth have we done here? Because actually when I was planning my own lessons, I could make them work because I kind of knew what the children could and couldn't do. When I'm using teaching for mastery resources, there's no hiding. And I think that was the scary bit that first term.
You almost start discovering holes and gaps in the children's knowledge and learning because they haven't maybe been taught as progressively as you want and that's really, it's dispiriting. And we have moments in the staff room where we'd be sitting there going, "Oh my goodness, this is awful. What are we doing?"
But actually I wouldn't teach any other way now. Absolute. I literally couldn't now and I can't imagine not teaching that way. And I think having conversations, I was lucky in that there were other schools at the same time doing the journey at the same time. So we weren't just in our own bubble feeling this pain. We-
Well, you were pioneers.
... were talking. Yeah, yeah.
You were pioneers, you were, I remember you. I remember that event that you mentioned in 2015. I was there, I remember it. And that the momentum that was starting, there was only a handful of schools really that were going on that journey. You guys really were pioneers.
But now you've seen some of those children who you started the whole thing with, go through their entire journey through primary school and you had to let them go as you do every year. You have to let a group of people say, "All right, we did what we could for you. Now good luck." How are those children a little bit different than, or are they different than the ones that you let go?
Well, do you know what? It's funny that you mentioned parents because my child was one of, my youngest daughter was one of those pioneers in another school in where all that actually started at the same time. And it's really interesting. So now maths is her thing. She does maths for, the maths A-level. But I think what I see that's different between her and maybe children who hadn't gone through that is that the thing, like the journaling in terms of we've got our children at GCSE who have to write down every single thing that they do to be able to get marks on their GCSE.
Now if they've been through that process of journaling, that's not foreign to them. And I see that maybe more of those children from those schools that were part of this mastery journey, they seem to be the ones who've decided to go down, yeah, they're taking A-level maths. They seem more confident in that. We are seeing our children when they go onto secondary. We're getting really good feedback from the secondary schools about their confidence as mathematicians. And it's nice when they come back to see us and their confidence and they talk about, "Oh, do you know what? We can do this. It's not what we thought it was going to be." They're confident as well.
Yeah. And to know that your daughter is doing A-levels of math, I mean that's such a positive. I have a similar experience. So my youngest daughter who was just is doing some pretty tough maths right now. The kind of maths, because it gets hard at that point.
Which is the same, she has the same level, but in the Canadian school system we don't have A-levels. She said in passing as if it was just a normal, she said, "Well because maths is really my thing and it's my subject..." She just said that in passing and she's doing pre-calculus right now. And it was like, "Where did that come from?" But she went through that whole transition as well. She was one of those pilot children if you want. Right?
That got into And that's so exciting to hear that. And you think, "Wow, okay."
Well, especially to be able to hear that feedback from students that have gone on and then they come back and they're letting you know that, "Yeah, it worked. It set that foundation for me and I'm now succeeding." So that's such great news.
Yeah, I mean we had sort of a last year's cohort, the year six, the last year in our school, that group, they were the ones who we said they were like our mastery babies, our Maths — No Problem! babies. They've never known anything different. And our interview test, it was lovely because we really didn't have to be doing much extra with them. We just taught the maths and they came out really, really strong and despite all the gaps that we'd had with Covid and things, because we actually were able to keep teaching that way online as well during the pandemic. Yeah-
... it was interesting.
Wow. That's a happy pandemic story, isn't it?
It was. Yeah.
Yeah. Doesn't sound like they were behind, so sounds like you were able to continue on quite nicely.
Absolutely. Yeah. And we could see those gaps as well, because I think that was one of the things we changed with going to a mastery curriculum. It was really obvious the progression of our curriculum. So it was really, really easy to see, "Oh, that was a bit that missed. That's a bit that we'll need to go back to," because it was very clear what our curriculum was, so that really supported that getting us back on track.
Would you do it again?
Without a second thought, absolutely. So I'm in my second school, no, my third school now teaching for mastery so, yeah. And I wouldn't never move anywhere else that didn't have that passion thread because it works and it works for the children.
Andy, were you expecting a different answer than that? Of course not. Just supporting what we already believe. I mean, I'm so happy to hear it because you are proof that it was worth the journey.
Because it was a journey, right?
Yeah. I'm still on it.
Still on it. Yeah.
The journey continues.
Yeah. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.
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