Kath Donovan looks at the Renewed Primary Framework for Mathematics
The introduction of the Renewed Primary Framework for Mathematics brought with it concerns from teachers that all of their current planning would have to be renewed from scratch. It seems that the government’s constant updating of frameworks and strategies has an amazing ability to ‘frighten’ teachers into thinking that they have to start again with their lesson planning. This concern is reflected in the current TES bulletin boards, where many teachers are voicing their opinions.
However, the government has assured teachers that rather than starting again, the renewed frameworks will allow them to build upon the progress achieved so far in raising standards. Ruth Merttens, director of Hamilton Maths and Reading Projects contributed to the original National Numeracy Strategy. According to Ruth, ‘The intentions of the Renewed Primary Framework for Mathematics are generally positive. There is an emphasis on more speaking and listening tied in with further investigative and exploratory approaches to maths. It stresses the importance of creative teaching and of understanding and reviewing each child’s progress throughout each topic.’
Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. Similar assurances have been given with regards to the Renewed Primary Framework for Literacy, and if you delve deep into the intricacies of the new literacy framework, there is much that is different and a lot of re-planning of lessons is required to make sure that all the new learning strands, blocks and units are covered.
The Renewed Framework for Mathematics
The Renewed Framework for Mathematics centres around five main themes which include:
- encouraging flexibility
- a more structured teaching and learning programme
- more effective use of assessment
- raising expectations
- broadening and strengthening the pedagogy.
The new objectives for mathematics are organised in seven core strands. The strands are:
- using and applying mathematics
- counting and understanding number
- knowing and using number facts
- understanding shape
- handling data.
These strands and objectives are then organised into five blocks. The structure is the same for each year group. A block is designed to cover the equivalent of six weeks or nine weeks of teaching. Each block has incorporated into it objectives from the Using and Applying mathematics strand and from two or three of the other core strands.
The blocks are:
- Block A: Counting, partitioning and calculating.
- Block B: Securing number facts, understanding shape.
- Block C: Handling data and measures.
- Block D: Calculating, measuring and understanding shape.
- Block E: Securing number facts, relationships and calculating.
Each block is made up of three units. A unit represents two or three weeks of teaching. For each of the 15 units that cover the teaching year there are overviews of children’s learning, assessment questions and suggested resources. These are intended to provide you with support when planning the children’s learning and reviewing their progress.
The units are designed to be used independently when planning a period of two or three weeks’ work. However, when mapping out the blocks and units over the term or year, the interrelatedness of the content and pitch of the units needs to be taken into account. There are various ways that the units can be pieced together to provide children with a coherent learning experience and the examples provided can be adapted to suit your own circumstances and the children’s needs.
An electronic resource
The framework is available electronically, and teachers can access a wide range of resources at the same time. The fact that the framework is available electronically brings its own unique problems. The content is something of a moving target. You can waste a lot of time clicking on links and sub-links on the website, before discovering exactly which blocks, objectives and strands you are supposed to be covering.
Many teachers have expressed dismay at having to spend hours connected to the internet in order to locate the information they need. If teachers want to produce a ‘hard copy’ reference version, they also have to spend a significant amount of time printing all the materials out. Teachers can, of course, use the framework’s Interactive Planning Tool (IPT) – but this tool has been universally criticised. There are much better planning tools available from a range of suppliers. Copying and pasting text can be done much more easily and quickly with Word and many teachers are just ignoring the IPT.
While it is true that the renewed framework allows for a more personalised approach to learning – for example, it states that in addition to a daily maths lesson, each lesson should be planned out with progression and levels of differentiation – this places a huge burden on the teacher. Teachers have enough to do without having to ‘customise’ government strategies. Differentiation is a complicated and potentially time-consuming activity, and teachers need much more guidance on how to achieve effective differentiation.
Although the original framework’s objectives have been cut significantly, they are now broader. Indeed they are more like aims than objectives. As an example, see the table opposite for the Year 1, Block A unit objectives.
It is now the teacher’s responsibility to break these objectives down into smaller targets, before planning what to cover in each lesson. Teachers are advised to teach in blocks, focusing on one topic for two to four weeks at a time, offering children continuity. However, teaching the same topic for a prolonged period may cause problems, Ruth warns. ‘In maths, there is no evidence that focusing on one topic over a longer period produces better results. If a teacher has taught decimals to Year 4 for a week, most of the class will probably have grasped the basic principles and achieved a degree of practice and competence. Those who have not done so are unlikely to be helped by doing a second week on this topic. A much more powerful approach is to re-visit decimals later in the term. This is known as a spiral curriculum, which we know from evidence here and abroad tends to work well in maths.’
Focusing on the same topic for too long could also mean there is a potential risk of boredom for teacher and pupils alike. ‘Teachers will have to focus on making the learning activities creative and enterprising to ensure the children remain motivated!’ Ruth suggests.
The renewed framework has also introduced a more flexible approach to Key Stage 2 assessment following the changes already undertaken at Key Stage 1. The new approach to assessment allows more flexibility in when and how tests are used. The renewed framework contains guidance for teachers on how to judge
each child’s attainment. It advises that as well as collective assessment, continuous assessment should also be considered.
Teachers have previously voiced concern that one set of tests for the whole year is not a reliable indication of one pupil’s capabilities, and ongoing assessment (for learning and of learning) will offer a far more accurate reflection of their progress and indicate where improvement is needed. Self-assessment is also advocated and teachers are encouraged to set pupils their own objectives and success criteria, giving them ownership of their learning. The renewed framework’s increased support for assessment will help teachers to personalise learning more, meeting the needs of all children.
With an aim to raise standards, there is naturally an aim to heighten expectations – ensuring that children are genuinely involved in their learning will support this goal. The renewed framework aims to deliver a curriculum that is both extensive and varied, with particular emphasis on developing collaborative skills. As well as reading and writing, pupils should have the opportunity to speak, listen and discuss – activities that will be fundamental to their learning. To incorporate this into a mathematics lesson involves exploring outside the traditional boundaries. One way of achieving this is by using ICT solutions with problem-solving activities that require discussion and teamwork.
Teachers do feel frustrated by the framework being renewed, as Ruth points out. ‘The 1996 Framework for Teaching Mathematics worked well and was popular with teachers, focusing their attention on Key Objectives. In addition, it contained a wealth of extremely helpful examples which teachers could access when they were unsure of how to approach the teaching of a particular strand of maths, such as cumulative frequency.’
However, while the changes to the Primary Strategy Framework for Numeracy may seem fundamental, there is a great deal of crossover between it and the previous framework. The time-consuming challenge for teachers is finding where the crossover is and then using existing materials alongside new materials. The government does not expect teachers to start again, but wants them to build on success and make further improvements. But, as we have seen with the Renewed Primary Framework for Literacy, this is easier said than done!
The Renewed Framework for Mathematics, combined with a more effective use of assessment, will make it easier to gauge pupils’ progress to suit the individual needs of the class – but teachers are going to have spend a lot of time re-organising their mathematics plans to achieve this.