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One size fits few

By Ruth Merttens

The latest research about maths schemes from the DfE raises interesting questions for how schools think about Maths. The research, from Brighton University, and funded by Nuffield Trust, confirms that the DfE’s plan to have English children working through East-Asian style maths textbook pages on a daily basis has not gone to plan. See here for more information.

The research report has many fascinating findings from talking to 710 schools, but the things that stood out to us were that:

  • though SLT and subject leads make decisions about purchasing when it comes to schemes, teachers often then supplement with materials they pay for themselves
  • mixed age plans were a major area of need
  • a large number of teachers reported needing to edit and adapt the plans and resources for their own classes.

A key recommendation to publishers, like us, is to “Augment provision of curriculum resources for mixed-age teaching.”. This is what makes Hamilton special - as we’ve always understood the importance of mixed age planning - and specialise in it!

At Hamilton, we continue to hold to our belief that there are three critical imperatives when suggesting or providing materials for primary schools and teachers

Trust classroom teachers.
They are the best people to know what resources are most suitable for their class at any one time. The children’s needs change and so do the topics – so a flexible approach is surely going to be most helpful. The research would appear to confirm this.

Adaptable materials are essential.
Even if you provide the best PowerPoints, problem-solving activities, resources and worksheets ever, every teacher is going to need to make these their own. Not only do they need to put their own stamp on them, but, crucially, the resources need to fit the specific context of their class. This is the only way that things will go well. Teaching by numbers works no better at capturing reality than painting by numbers.

Coherent but not identical schemes of work
It is very important that one lesson leads on to the next, that this week’s work is the foundation for the next and that each maths topic is taught with an eye to the development of that topic throughout the school.

However, this does not imply that the exact same set of textbooks will do for all pupils in all classrooms. The key is to have a coherent approach as the skeleton structure behind a set of lively materials that are fully adaptable. It is precisely this which we at Hamilton, have worked so hard over more than 25 years to provide.

It takes energy, expertise, creative writers, committed teacher specialists and a huge amount of enthusiasm to get together a body of resources (call it a scheme if you must!) which has enough depth to provide all teachers with a choice, including those teaching in mixed-age classes and in small rural schools.

So perhaps it is a small victory for primary teachers that the one-size-fits-all policy, whereby a scheme that works in Singapore is transported to English classrooms, is now seen to be flawed.

Maybe this signals that we can start by asking teachers what works for them, and going from there? We truly hope so.

Professor Ruth Merttens