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What is mastery?

Mathematics at Cookley Sebright Primary School


We use a MASTERY approach to Mathematics to ensure that pupils have a deep and secure understanding of the concepts that they are taught.  


Why mastery and what is it?

The content and principles underpinning the 2014 mathematics curriculum reflect those found in high performing education systems internationally, particularly those of east and south-east Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea and China. The OECD suggests that by age 15 students from these countries are on average up to three years ahead in maths compared to 15 year olds in England.

Though there are many differences between the education systems of England and those of east and south-east Asia, we can learn from the ‘mastery’ approach to teaching commonly followed in these countries. Certain principles and features characterise this approach:

  • Teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in mathematics.
  • The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace. Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention.
  • Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.
  • Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.
  • Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge, and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up.


Mastery is a coherent programme of high quality curriculum materials is used to support classroom teaching. Concrete and pictorial representations of mathematics are chosen carefully to help build procedural and conceptual knowledge together. Exercises are structured with great care to build deep conceptual knowledge alongside developing procedural fluency. The focus is on the development of deep structural knowledge and the ability to make connections. Making connections in mathematics deepens knowledge of concepts and procedures, ensures what is learnt is sustained over time, and cuts down the time required to assimilate and master later concepts and techniques.


Key features of the mastery approach

Curriculum design

A detailed, structured curriculum is mapped out across all phases, ensuring continuity and supporting transition. At Cookley Sebright Primary School we follow Busy Ant (Collins).  The plans are adapted by each class teacher to reflect the needs of their children.


Teaching resources

High quality curriculum materials are used to support classroom teaching. Concrete and pictorial representations of mathematics are chosen carefully to help build procedural and conceptual knowledge together.  Each classroom has a large number of mathematics resources that are used to support teaching - our Calculation Policy ensures progression.


Lesson design and teaching methods

The teachers at Cookley Sebright Primary School, plan their lessons with care, drawing on evidence from observations of pupils in class.  Class teachers make it possible for all pupils to engage successfully with tasks at the expected level of challenge. Pupils work on the same tasks and engage in common discussions.  Exploring concepts together stregthens pupils understanding of mathematics.   Precise questioning during lessons ensures that pupils develop fluent technical proficiency and think deeply about the underpinning mathematical concepts


Pupil support and differentiation

Taking a mastery approach, differentiation occurs in the support and intervention provided to different pupils, not in the topics taught.  There is no differentiation in content taught, but the questioning and scaffolding individual pupils receive in class as they work through problems will differ, with higher attainers challenged through more demanding problems which deepen their knowledge of the same content. Pupils’ difficulties and misconceptions are identified through immediate formative assessment and addressed with rapid intervention. 


Productivity and practice

Fluency comes from deep knowledge and practice.  At early stages, explicit learning of multiplication tables is important in the journey towards fluency and contributes to quick and efficient mental calculation. Practice leads to other number facts becoming second nature. The ability to recall facts from long term memory and manipulate them to work out other facts is also important.