At ease… Mastering maths in Westphalia

The context
Bielefeld School currently serves 150 children aged between 3 and 11 years, most of whom are the children of British soldiers and civil servants. The school follows the UK Primary National Curriculum, delivered by its team of UK-qualified primary teachers and supported by LSAs and key workers.

Bielefeld’s Headteacher, Ann-Marie Mason, explains, “We’d identified that maths performance in our school was lagging slightly behind reading and writing, and we wanted to put this right. It’s hard to find good CPD, but one of our teachers had already been inspired by a training course she’d attended: it was run by the White Rose Maths team in the UK, and her enthusiasm was infectious! She loved the fact that the training was engaging, exciting and delivered by practising classroom teachers who understood the need for down-to-earth practicality. When we asked White Rose if they could help us, they agreed to send Beth Smith and Stephanie Kirk to work with us here at Bielefeld (and at a surprisingly affordable cost)!

A new chapter
Ann-Marie continues, “The whole teaching team had around six days’ training in total, exploring various aspects of mastery teaching in maths. Mastery was new to the majority of staff, so it was quite a learning curve. However the sessions were presented clearly and with passion, and our team soon began to understand this different and exciting approach. Beth and Steph also checked with us to make sure they were delivering just what we wanted, and presented some very useful 1-1 sessions as a result. We also followed up after the White Rose team had left by cascading the training to our support staff, so they were on board, too. We all learned so much – for example that it’s vital for children to fully understand maths concepts, that CPA really helps achieve this, and that spending more time on a subject is a good thing when it leads to deeper learning!”

Creating confident mathematicians
“The training has had real impact around the school,” Ann-Marie adds. “Whereas some teachers once felt challenged by teaching maths, they now feel that gaps in their knowledge are being closed. Everyone’s grown in confidence. Staff are now happier to share ideas and experiences, and if, say, a group or class is struggling with fractions, we’ll talk it through to explore other strategies we can use to fix it.

The children, of course, are changing, too. It’s great to see them using lots more concrete and pictorial equipment and coming up with new and imaginative ways of tackling the same problem. Our Y1s and Y2s are definitely better mathematicians than our Y5s and 6s were at the same age, and of course they’ll keep growing in confidence and understanding as they continue on their mastery journey.”

Spreading the word
The school has already begun to share the new approach and strategies with the children’s parents and families. “Our Maths Lead has recently invited parents to workshops to show them how teaching for mastery looks in the classroom,” explains Ann-Marie. “For example, one workshop focused on teaching addition using manipulatives and visuals. We’ve always organised Numbers Days, which are informal fun events, usually well attended by parents. Our Numbers Days include games, treasure hunts and – since the training – lots of practical activities and equipment to discover around the school!”

Sustainable success
“All in all, we’re delighted with the training and the impact it’s had on our school,” Ann-Marie reflects. “We were never looking for a quick fix: we wanted a sustainable approach to implement and develop, and that’s exactly what we have. Everyone’s embraced it and we know it will enable us to keep moving forward.”