26 May 2021

Research review on maths education


Ofsted has published the third in a series of reviews into different subjects across the curriculum. The latest review looks at mathematics education.

Key points from the research review

The review explored the literature relating to the field of maths education, with the aim of identifying factors that can contribute to high-quality school maths curriculums, assessment, pedagogy and systems.

  • The publication shows that English pupils, on average, gain higher attainment in maths than “pupils in many other countries”. It also shows maths continues to be the most popular subject to study at A Level.
  • The attainment gap between the lowest and highest achievers is wider than the OECD average.
  • Disadvantaged pupils in England are “much less likely” to achieve a grade 4 at GCSE or to meet the expected standards at the end of the EYFS or at key stages 1 & 2.
  • Chief inspector, Amanda Spielman stated that “for too many children and young people, maths is mysterious and difficult, and this has implications not just for their future attainment, but also for their self-esteem.”

Promoting success

The review identifies some common features of curricula which are high-quality and promote success.

Successful approaches seek to transform an offer of content into more of a guarantee that content can and will be learned. The outcomes of this systems thinking are the observed features and approaches of successful mathematics education:

  • detailed codification and sequencing of the facts, methods and strategies that pupils will acquire
  • instructional coherence and aligned rehearsal that increase the chances of understanding and remembering while minimising the need for guesswork or trial and error

Within these powerful mathematics education systems, the textbooks, teacher guides and workbooks are seen as a vital part of the infrastructure for efficiently transmitting subject knowledge and subject-pedagogical knowledge to new generations of pupils and teachers. Quality and quantity of practice is a vital key that unlocks the development of dual tracks of conceptual understanding and procedural fluency.

Further, in observing pupils’ relative expertise and proficiency, such as in a problem-solving lesson, teachers and leaders should be mindful of the journey that pupils took to achieve problem-solving proficiency. This journey will have involved more than the features and activities of the lessons that proficient mathematicians are taking part in at the time.

Variation in the quality of mathematics education in England is likely to be the result of the absence of systems and systems thinking, as well as possible gaps in content, instruction, rehearsal, assessment and the plans for their evolution over time.

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