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What do I do about Maths in September? (Part 1)

Posted on July 7, 2020

Implement a Catch Up Programme?  Design a new Recovery Curriculum? 

#KeepCALM and read on!

There have been opposing views about how schools should respond to the lockdown ranging from …

‘It’s a disaster! They’ve missed 6 months of learning. We can’t possibly carry on – we need to design a recovery curriculum!’ 


’47 days of teaching isn’t going to be as detrimental as we think so we should just get back in September and crack on.’ (@mrsjwalms)

and  ….

‘Not to mention the children in the past who may have been taught badly for a whole year and they recover’(@eddysmam)

During the lockdown, there are schools that have focused on ‘cracking on’ with new learning using online ‘lessons’ and schools who have focused on using the lockdown period as a time to practise and consolidate the topics the pupils have already learnt this year. There have been pros and cons for both strategies. 

If pupils have had access to a computer, decent Wi-Fi and supportive parents/carers then strategy 1 may have worked. However, we know this has not been the case for all pupils and the other major con of strategy 1 has been articulated so well by @mathsjem describing her daughter’s experience of online learning: 

‘Made me realise how many children will come back to school with misconceptions embedded …. In short: Misconceptions aren’t identified and addressed in remote learning. Big challenges ahead!’. 

Whereas, Strategy 2 … the #UseItOrLoseIt practice and consolidation approach using the free Maths Workouts (either online or paper based) produced by @CanDoMaths has had huge successes.

‘I’m finding the children are remembering a great deal; they have forgotten nothing’ (@kathralley)

What is clear now is that there are 3 BIG questions all schools need to consider: 

What have pupils missed?

How important is it?

How do we address it?

So, what have the children actually missed?

One way to answer this question is discussed (and immediately rejected!) by @bennewmark in his recent ‘(Don’t) Mind the Gap blog: 

One option would be a raft of ‘diagnostic’ tests and exams for pupils when they return. The purpose of these would be to forensically ‘find the gaps’ in each individual child’s knowledge. These ‘gaps’ could then be recorded on complicated spreadsheets, which would then be used to develop a series of ‘interventions’ which would – Boris and Gavin approved – run after school, on the weekend or in the holidays.

Systemically we are very used to this approach. We know this old beast well. At its heart it is the scaling up of the same approach many schools have used with Y11 ever since we put performance management on steroids.

A more systematic, logical and #KeepCALM approach is to analyse the curriculum since mid-March.

Using the CanDoMaths Curriculum Road Maps, it is quick and easy to see pupils have missed, on average, 7 units of work:

So the question is … ‘Do schools just need to repeat those 7 units of work in September?’ That seems too general and unworkable and this is probably a good time to reference John Hattie’s analysis of pupils’ performance in New Zealand after schools were closed following the earthquake: 

‘Schools were closed for weeks and most students did not have the opportunity for online learning or discussion with teachers. But results did not suffer and high school students did not drop out.

"The students' performance actually went up in the final exams," Professor Hattie said.

He said the difference was teachers focused on "what has to be learned" instead of getting through a lot of curriculum.’

Does missing a term due to COVID-19 really matter? What happened to student results after the Christchurch quake - John Hattie

So, what has to be learned in September? 

Using the CanDoMaths Curriculum Progression chart, it is straightforward to identify the learning pupils have missed in Terms 4, 5 and 6.

For example, if we use year 4 as a model, pupils have missed 22 National Curriculum Statements. With a teaching for mastery approach, these national curriculum statements have been broken down into 74 manageable steps: 

All 74 manageable steps obviously can’t just slot into next year’s curriculum … so a different strategy is needed.

The CanDoMaths team has been busy analysing the curriculum to identify the key mathematical elements that have the biggest impact on supporting pupils to progress to the next stage of their mathematical journey. Of course, this is not saying simply missing some bits of the mathematics curriculum doesn’t matter but there are some elements that clearly have a greater impact than other elements. We call these essentials parts the ‘Key Performance Indicators’ (KPIs) and 24 KPIs have been identified for each year group.

These KPIs are essential to make sure all pupils KeepUp in maths (more about that in a future blog!). 

Therefore, distilling the missed learning during the lockdown down to the Key Performance Indicators from Terms (4), 5 and 6 is a pragmatic and manageable way forward for September. 

Taking Year 4 as an example, the 74 manageable steps can now be distilled to the 9 KPIs missed during the period March to July:

This is the ‘what has to be learned’ list for September and beyond …

So how can schools address it?

There are four options: 

Option1: Do nothing 

Option 2: Write a new Recovery Curriculum

Option 3: Adapt some units (time and/or content) of the current curriculum* 

Option 4: Use Curriculum Time for Maths smartly

Let’s take each option one by one: 

Option1: Do nothing

This not an option! We can’t just ignore it!

Option 2: Write a new Recovery Curriculum.

IF (and it’s a big if) your curriculum is well designed, carefully considers the order of learning and divides the curriculum into manageable steps in learning (please note manageable steps are very different to ‘small’ steps) this option is not needed. 

Option 3: Adapt some units (time and/or content) of the current curriculum.

This option works if your current curriculum is well designed across a year and key stage. This could be the perfect time to review the current maths curriculum, especially if you are following a scheme/textbook and are frustrated with, for example, the design/length of some units and/or the size of some ‘small steps’! September is an ideal time to move over to using the CanDoMaths curriculum as the framework to support long, medium and short term plaaning.... plus resources from other schemes and textbooks can still be used.

Option 4: Use Curriculum Time for Maths smartly. 

Typically, CanDoMaths schools have 2 maths sessions each day – a Maths Lesson (for new learning) and a Maths Meeting (used to make sure pupils keep ‘maths on track’ by deliberately practising and consolidating their learning). This is a structure mentioned in the latest Ofsted framework. 

If your school already has two maths sessions a day then this option will also work.

So the answer to the question ‘So how can schools address it?’ is clearly #KeepCALM by using a blend of Options 3 and 4.

Blog 2 will explore what this means in practice, by looking in detail at one year group initially.

You can watch the CanDoMaths LeadMeet presentation led by Steve Lomax and Liz Hopkins discussing this issue here