• Article

Mastery brings ‘priceless’ benefits to secondary school

A secondary head explains how adopting a mastery approach has transformed teaching and learning in maths

Mastery brings ‘priceless’ benefits to secondary school
  • Published: 27/05/2022

It’s a big step for a secondary school maths department to change direction. Going into the unknown can feel risky, especially when children’s education is at stake. But that’s just what teachers and leaders at Queen Katharine Academy in Peterborough did back in 2018. That was when they began working with Cambridge Maths Hub to learn about, and introduce, teaching for mastery approaches to their curriculum and teaching. Four years on, the headteacher, Lynn Mayes, confidently concludes that the move has been a success. It’s brought priceless benefits, she says.

Timeline - four years of incremental change

2018/19 – The department joins a Teaching for Mastery Work Group, led by a Mastery Specialist, focusing largely on KS3, and also a separate Work Group looking at challenging topics at GCSE

2019/20 – The Key Stage 3 maths lead, Steph Anderson, joins an NCETM programme to train as a Mastery Specialist

2020/21 – Steph works on mastery within the department, while colleagues attend other Maths Hub Work Groups (Mathematical Thinking, and Years 5-8 Continuity)

2021/22 – While the maths department continue developing, Steph starts supporting other local schools in mastery.

The headteacher’s perspective

Headteacher Lynn Mayes admits she was initially apprehensive about letting teachers in the maths department out of school to attend Maths Hub Work Group sessions, but, once she learnt more about the principles of mastery, her fears went away:

The whole pedagogical approach, that everyone can achieve in maths, fits in with our values. We see ourselves as an inclusive centre of educational excellence.

And as the school’s participation deepened, Lynn increasingly saw the benefits:

The really high-quality CPD [via the Maths Hub] makes such a difference to outcomes and children’s engagement with learning. The benefits of that CPD which members of staff bring back in to develop the quality of teaching and learning in school is absolutely priceless.

Such has been Lynn’s conversion to the mastery approach that she now plans to extend it across the school:

The pedagogical approach should go beyond maths… We’ve already established links to science and there are plans to move it into other departments as well.

The school’s Mastery Specialist’s perspective

Steph Anderson has been the key agent of change within the school. But she gives credit to colleagues she first encountered at Cambridge Maths Hub for providing the initial catalyst for her own professional development:

There are colleagues at the Maths Hub who just have the ability to inspire and to teach amazingly.

Throughout the years of development, Steph was supported by her head of department:

The head of department was the driving force behind getting the buy-in from colleagues, saying this is absolutely the direction we want to go in. He left me the detail of planning and delivering the CPD. It was great to have the support, but also the freedom to take risks with what I’d learnt as part of the mastery programme.

Over time, both the maths curriculum and the teaching approach changed:

We were quite geared… to teaching students memory aids, exam techniques and knowledge, and not so much work on mathematical thinking… or making connections between different areas of maths. But since we moved to a teaching for mastery approach, there are lots of opportunities for interleaving, making connections and developing students’ understanding.

One of the biggest impacts on students that Steph has seen is in the attitudes of those students who, historically, have been low attainers:

That feeling that these students have always had is of ‘I’m no good and maths’ and ‘I can’t do maths’, and their parents feel that way as well. They kind of forget about that… and have a belief that they can achieve. They feel success, and that success breeds motivation.

Steph now feels the department has reached a stage where she no longer needs to ‘sell’ mastery herself:

We’ve got the excitement; we’ve got the buy-in; there’s a buzz and a real excitement about mastery and how that can have an impact on our students. Now we’re going to put some more structure [into how the department works with mastery].

Your school can become part of the Secondary Teaching for Mastery Programme. Whether you are beginning your journey in a Development Work Group, or Embedding or Sustaining a mastery approach, your local Maths Hub can support you with long-term high-quality CPD.

You can see the head and the Mastery Specialist telling their story in more depth

In two short videos, Lynn and Steph explain how the changes were introduced to the maths department

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