By Helen Hackett, Assistant Headteacher, Maths Lead and Specialist Leader in Education
Parkfield Community School in Birmingham is an inner-city, much larger than average primary school, with 768 pupils aged from 3-11. More than a third of its pupils qualify for pupil premium, which is well above the national average. Almost all pupils come from a wide range of minority ethnic groups, with just over half of Pakistani background, with the vast majority using English as an Additional Language. The number of SEN children is also above average and the school also makes provision for pupils excluded from other schools because of behavioural, social and emotional difficulties. In March 2015 it was awarded a £100,000 prize for winning the primary category of the national Pupil Premium Awards (PPA) which recognise schools that have made the best use of the money allocated to them under the government’s pupil premium policy.
As the PPA judges recognised, we exhibit a relentless focus on closing performance gaps – tracking, measuring and tackling gaps based on pupil premium as well as ethnicity, cultural background and gender – and have made significant progress in doing so.
The issues faced
Many of our pupils face specific barriers, linked to their cultural context. Located within a predominantly immigrant community, many parents have English as a second language, or have other language difficulties making them less able to support their child’s learning. So we wanted to offer parents learning opportunities too and engage them in their child’s learning so that they were better able to provide support at home and therefore contribute to the higher attainment of their children.
Secondly, as Andreas Schleicher of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has said recently, we know that ‘good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health’. The links between maths skills and life chances are compelling.
Pupils beginning secondary school with very low numeracy skills but good literacy skills have an exclusion rate twice that of pupils starting secondary school with good numeracy skills. 14-year-olds who have poor maths skills at 11 are more than twice as likely to play truant. Then, should further proof be necessary, we know that a quarter of young people in custody have a numeracy level below that expected of a 7-year-old, and 65% of adult prisoners have numeracy skills at or below the level expected of an 11-year-old.
Finally we know that around 90% of new graduate jobs require a high level of digital skills (Race Online 2012), and digital skills are built on numeracy.
We did a great deal of research before deciding which strategies to use. As well as involving ourselves with various university research projects, I conducted more informal interviews with pupils who were falling behind in maths and struggling with homework to identify their particular problems. Armed with all this information, we embarked on a raft of strategies, key among them being to set up breakfast, lunchtime and after school maths clubs using Mathletics. This has significantly improved our maths results.
Our pupil premium children are given first option to attend the breakfast club at 8.30am every morning, and other pupils can fill any remaining spaces. We run the club in our ICT suite which has 30 computers running Mathletics and combine that with a high level of adult support – typically four teachers and teaching assistants who support and guide the children in their work.Further access to Mathletics is available at our lunch time and after school homework clubs and pupils can also use it on an ipad during registration periods.
At our school, like many others, we especially like the ‘Live Mathletics’ option and find this is also a nice way in with teachers and parents too – everyone likes a competition! Our parents like the fact that the live maths brings up conversations about different countries and time zones – plus with many of our children having friends and family abroad they particularly enjoy having links with those countries.
‘With the new curriculum’s increased focus on maths vocabulary, it’s vital that children are up to speed – and this can sometimes be a weak area for teachers too.’
A real favourite feature of mine is the concept search dictionary – a function I often find is underused in other schools. With the new curriculum’s increased focus on maths vocabulary, it’s vital that children are up to speed – and this can sometimes be a weak area for teachers too. Certainly lots of parents don’t know what certain maths terms mean and used to ask us for maths dictionaries – but many of these are poor and inaccurate, as can also be the case using a search engine. But within Mathletics, not only do the children get a great explanation of what a particular term means, they are also directed to other areas of maths where it is relevant too.
The support available via the help tab is also first class and the rewards systems are invaluable. As well as the incentives which are built in to the online activities, we make a big deal of certificates and give them out at weekly assemblies, along with other class and whole school rewards.
We also love World Maths Day and it’s a huge event here, again involving parents as well. In 2014 at Parkfield, 82% of the school’s pupil premium pupils achieved the expected standard in key stage 2 tests at age 11. And 78% achieved at a level above the standard (level 4b+), compared with the national average of 53%. In 2015 SATS 99% of the pupils achieved their Level 4, 64% achieved Level 5 and 9% Level 6.
Pupils receiving pupil premium met their challenging target in maths – 80%, at the end of KS2. In year 3, our pupil premium children made more progress than non pupil premium children and achieved above the national average in maths.
Our school is recognised as a local maths leader, having this year established a “maths academy” to work with other schools in the region to provide maths education to pupils, and continuing professional development to enhance teacher confidence in teaching maths. It’s great to have this dedicated space as a shining example of the high priority our school places on maths as a vital skill for life – we want children and adults alike to wonder at the beauty of mathematics. As well as all the teaching and CPD work that goes on in our academy, it’s provided a great space in which to run our parent workshops.
For Mathletics please visit https://www.3plearning.com/mathletics