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A Question of Numbers

When you reach the holidays it becomes possible to listen to WH Davies’ advice and take time to stop and stare. So with two thirds of the year complete, there is a chance for me to stop and contemplate my role within Schoolsworks Academy Trust.

I have been asked to support the rollout of Inspire Maths across all the schools in the trust and as a consequence have managed to accidentally end up with a visitor badge from most of them!

As a head of school, I had previously looked at how we were finding the ‘new’ 2014 maths curriculum difficult to implement and frustrating to deliver. Research showed that other schools were taking up a text book curriculum approach and experiencing success. I knew that my teachers were too good to need to use the textbook approach and just as I wouldn’t consider making children stand up when the teacher enters the room, nor sit at individual desks I wasn’t going to implement the use of textbooks when I fully believed that good maths was fun maths.

Then I found out about Inspire Maths.

Whilst listening to the more than inspiring Andrew Jeffrey, I started to change my mind about some textbook approaches. Teach mental strategies, play, draw, play, show, talk, talk, play, don’t focus too heavily on the answer, teach more mental strategies, repeat… This seemed like a sensible and fun way to teach maths. The more I found out, the more I liked the Inspire Maths approach and the more I forgot about my preconceived ideas of textbooks. So we implemented the new curriculum across the whole school.

I taught a maths group in Year Six using the Inspire Maths materials and alongside the rest of the teachers grappled with the delivery of this new approach. During this first term there were many issues and some of the feedback from my colleagues made me reflect on whether or not I’d made the right decision. After all, just as I’d previously pondered whether Claudia does actually use Head and Shoulders, I was starting to wonder if someone like Andrew Jeffrey really does use and believe in Inspire Maths.

Then the world changed.

Three of us completed the 5-day training course led by Rachel Rayner and Fiona Goddard and the fog lifted. We started to see much better mathematicians across our whole school and saw the positive impact that the new Inspire Maths curriculum was having, particularly the renewed focus on using concrete materials.

I was asked to work closely with the other headteachers to support the implementation of Inspire Maths in their schools. One of the main focuses of Inspire Maths is the professional development of staff and this is something that Schoolsworks has really been able to make a difference with. I had already led quite a few staff meetings at different schools but sadly I am no Andrew Jeffrey and definitely nowhere near the standard of Rachel Rayner. However, this is not a problem as people from Inspire Maths were keen to hear about what Schoolsworks were up to and came to meet myself and Nick White. We were offered our choice of trainer to support our development programme and Rachel was the obvious choice.

With the other heads, we put together a group of staff from across all the schools to become Inspire Champions and organised six training days led by Rachel. This is something that, as a stand-alone school or academy, we would never have been able to do. Rachel has run two of six planned training days so far and already there is a renewed buzz for maths across all the schools.

The outcome of all this has been very positive for me personally. I have been able to experience what real school-to-school support actually is and have been able to continue to develop my career, without leaving my position as head.

The year ahead seems exciting as Schoolsworks have appointed a teacher to work across the schools to support with the planning and delivery of Inspire Maths sessions. I will continue to visit all the schools and support where needed. And Rachel still has 4 days left of training for me to enjoy.

In the meantime I can return to pondering as I persuade my brain to switch off for the holidays. Why didn’t we change to this approach sooner? I wonder who it was who first looked at a cow and instead of eating it, decided to squeeze those dangly things and drink what came out…

Maybe I should stop pondering and get back to the real world. But it just goes to show that sometimes you can look at what you know, but from a different perspective. It’s that different perspective that can lead to great reward. I truly believe that this different approach to the teaching of maths will lead to great success to the staff and children of all our schools. Now back to that cow…