Big Maths is Mastery

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Big Maths is Mastery

Big Maths was launched in the UK in 2010. It immediately introduced the idea that the bulk of the cohort (indeed any child without a genuine learning difficulty for maths, or what looks like a genuine gift for maths) should all be brought to the same point in the numeracy journey and guided forwards together as one large group. In 2014 the English government ‘introduced’ this idea as an Asian approach called ‘mastery’. This has since made its way into Wales and Scotland. Since Big Maths was around before the word ‘mastery’, it appeared to some that Big Maths wasn’t a mastery curriculum, yet, in reality it is the original UK mastery curriculum.

Mastery is simple!

If we return to the principles of Big Maths (and a mastery curriculum) then we see the following features:

  • There is a belief that all children can attain the expected journey being outlined. Indeed, this shouldn’t just be a ‘belief’, but rather the rationale for this should be evidenced in the curriculum design. In Big Maths you can always see why all children can attain the progression in fluency being described. 
  • For this to work, then the early stages of the journey must be light and doable for all. Big Maths has a relatively low age-related expectation in the early years. This allows children who start school with relatively low attainment to still be quickly brought into the expected journey for fluency with number. This happens by having a strong press (i.e. intensity and consistency) on the teacher-modelling and the child copying, with explicit instruction of doing and understanding from expert to novice.
  • Again, for all this to work, then children who have mastered the expectations of fluency ahead of the rest of their cohort (or ahead of the fluency journey expectations) are stretched with their mathematical thinking into other areas of the maths curriculum (for example, problem solving, maths investigations and connecting their number fluency to shapes, fractions etc.). These children do not simply press on with the fluency journey.
  • However, there may be a small group of genuinely elite mathematicians (and it may well look as if they are gifted) who are ahead of the expected fluency journey. This small group provide a management challenge to the teacher (as do those with a genuine special need) and may well need different input to the main group.
  • The outcome of the successful implementation of this curriculum is that the teacher can give input on fluency journey progression to one large group. A common error of a mastery curriculum implementation is that the teacher gives input to one large group where there is a spread of number ability, the teacher then attempting to differentiate through group work after the main input. A successful mastery curriculum provides the teacher with a ‘pre-managed spread’ (due to the reasons described above), not an unmanaged spread. Notice how the teacher in a well-implemented mastery curriculum has a reduction in workload in this regard (preparing less inputs and managing less group work).
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