10 things you might not have realised about the new Primary Maths curriculum

Other posts in this series:

Having produced a list of key changes for Primary English aimed at secondary English teachers, I thought it was worthwhile creating a similar list for Maths. It strikes me that the maths changes have been more widely publicised (perhaps because they’re easier for the press to understand), but there may be one or two things here that have slipped people’s attention.

1. Mental Arithmetic has lost its hallowed place.

From 2016 there will no longer be a mental arithmetic test in Key Stage 2. Instead, a written arithmetic test has been added both for 7- and 11-year-olds. It’s not really clear yet what difference this might make to outcomes, as the increased focus on knowledge of number facts may make up for it, but it will certainly lead to a change in the tests that are practised throughout Year 6.

2. Written methods are set in stone.

Many secondary colleagues will welcome this, as I would have done when I was teaching KS3. No longer will there be a free-for-all on methods used for standard calculations. The expectations of the curriculum clearly set out that by Y6 all children should be taught the standard written methods of column addition & subtraction, and short and long multiplication and division. In fact, on the written arithmetic test, where questions imply the long methods of multiplication or division, no method marks will be available if any other method is used.

3. History becomes cross-curricular.

After years of trying to crow-bar maths into History, the historians have got their own back. Now at primary school pupils must be taught about Roman numerals into the thousands, conversions between imperial and metric measures, and to know an approximate factor to convert between miles and kilometres.

4. And calculators are history!

For the past few years, calculator tests have been restricted to the highest-attaining pupils aiming for level 6. As the extension papers are removed, there will no longer be any calculator test at KS2, and so the already small amount of calculator-use teaching will quickly diminish.

5. The averages confusion may dissipate.

One of the trials of Year 7 often used to be trying to unravel the confusion between mode, median and mean averages. Perhaps in an effort to avoid such misconceptions, only the latter is expected to be taught at primary level now. Of course, primary teachers love a mnemonic rhyme, so it may still crop up in many classrooms.

6. Probability is gone.

It was always a slightly odd feature of primary maths, given that the expectations for level 5 in probability were quite limited. As such, it was often an easy way of gathering evidence or picking up marks to imply the higher level where perhaps it wasn’t justified. That problem disappears now as probability disappears from the KS2 curriculum.

7. Fractions are very much there.

In the old attainment descriptors, all a child had to do to with fractions to reach level 4 was to use simple fractions to describe approximate proportions of a whole. In the new curriculum, that’s expected in lower Key Stage 2. By year 6, to reach the new expected standard pupils will be expected to become more confident with addition and subtraction of fractions along with a range of other fraction skills. Expect the bar model slowly to gain currency here. But very slowly.

8. They still won’t be able to draw graphs

As a Year 7 maths teacher, I once complained to Y6 colleagues that children seemed to have no idea about how to construct a basic set of axes to plot a graph. The explanation was, of course, that it would never occur on a test. That remains the case, and in fact the new curriculum focuses most of its statistics attention on interpreting rather than presenting data. There is some mention of plotting graphs in the (untested) Science curriculum.

9. Some things have been left until later

There’s been a lot of hype about things being moved earlier (tables secure by Y4, etc). But there’s also a whole vat of content in the new Year 6 maths curriculum. Much of it is is familiar; some represents the new higher expectations – including introductory algebra for everyone. But in addition, there are some elements that previously were more spread across the Key Stage. Ratio hardly gets a look-in before Year 6, yet in the Year 6 Programme of Study pupils will be expected to solve ratio and proportion problems.

10. Nobody’s too sure about the ‘mastery’ thing

The word has become almost ubiquitous, and yet seems to mean different things to every user. In some schools, mastery has become a descriptor for the highest-attainment pupils, in others it relates to the old Ma1 Problem-solving type tasks almost exclusively. In essence, don’t put too much weight on any judgement a school makes about mastery – they may not mean what you think they do! (I have written about this in some more detail on the Rising Stars blog)

Secondary teachers may find it informative to take a glance through the expectations of the new primary curriculum. You can find it all set out by year group at www.primarycurriculum.me.uk


14 thoughts on “10 things you might not have realised about the new Primary Maths curriculum

  1. @KhiaWonderwhiz 9 August 2015 at 3:46 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on WonderwhizArts.

  2. cazzypot2013 9 August 2015 at 6:31 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  3. thinshadow 10 August 2015 at 7:59 am Reply

    Thank you sir. I was aware of most of these but it is helpful to see the list in full. As for Mastery, everytime i hear this word mentioned I think about Doctor Who.

  4. The Quirky Teacher 10 August 2015 at 10:31 am Reply

    I keep banging on about number 2!

    You will be pleased to know that at least one teacher, moi, has taught children to construct a bar graph and understand the concept of dependent and independent variables (and on which axis they should go). A lot of children just can’t use a ruler properly and this I put down to the fact that anything made for children is made to display ENORMOUS FONT and uses indestructible materials. As a result, children are incredibly heavy handed and also can’t concentrate on the tiny font on a ruler.

    I find I can squeeze some probability into the science curriculum when it comes to discussing the analysis of data.

  5. julietgreen 10 August 2015 at 12:38 pm Reply

    Having now taught the new curriculum for a couple of years, I’m finding certain aspects working quite well. I’m actually grateful for the return to ‘traditional’ methods of calculation, in spite of understanding the rationale behind the multiplicity of methods previously used. The stepping stones and ‘any method that gets you there’ system never worked because much of what primary school children have to learn relies on memory. It was very unfair to expect them to remember all those steps and then abandon them as the next method was introduced. In less than a year, my pupils have all ‘mastered’ the 4 required methods. Personally, I’d like to use the condensed lattice method for multiplication, but this still seems to be a felony.

    My favourite definition of ‘mastery’ comes from an unexpected quarter, although not entirely irrelevant to our profession:


    Like Cesar’s wards, I suspect ‘rules, boundaries and limitations’ are what also give our children confidence to know they don’t have to be the ones in charge!

  6. mrsmayblossom 10 August 2015 at 4:47 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on teachinginspo.

  7. Lisa Graham 11 August 2015 at 11:29 am Reply

    Interesting and useful – thanks for this. However, as a primary maths specialist I’m afraid I can’t help but note the sarcastic tone of some of this, but I shall presume it is all meant to be good-natured banter and no more.
    If anyone is unsure about mastery they could do no worse than to pop over to the NCETM website. They do take into account the many interpretations of the term, but also provide sound definitions. They have also produced materials to assess mastery.

    • Lisa Graham 11 August 2015 at 11:31 am Reply

      Btw I have no idea where that little picture came from – it makes me seem rather angry. Feel I must provide this as an alternative 😃😃😃

    • Barney 20 July 2017 at 11:03 am Reply

      Agree wholeheartedly about NCTEM. The White Rose Maths Hub planning overviews and fluency-reasoning-mastery measures are excellent. http://whiterosemathshub.co.uk/free-learning-schemes/

  8. […] posts, ’10 things you might not have realised about the new primary English curriculum’ and ‘10 things you might not have realised about the new primary maths curriculum’ are especially […]

  9. mjlstories 19 October 2015 at 10:47 pm Reply

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to pick up on the sarcastic tone of some of this.
    My biggest problem with the primary Maths curriculum is that it is full of oughts and shoulds and has tos and whole parts of the content seem to be there on a whim from one particular view of Maths education and what it ought to be.
    As teachers we have to put the child back in there – make it appropriate for children of different maturity, ability ( they’re not the same thing!), confidence etc and keep going even when we know at the end of primary school the world is going to focus on where each child fits on a ladder of marks. Horrible!
    (And a system that suggests obedience/ conforming is more important than understanding makes me glad my children are now grown up.)
    Late at night, but glad someone is talking about this. Sorry to be a bit gruff!

  10. vanessawesterwriter 21 January 2016 at 11:46 am Reply

    As a secondary maths teacher now working with the best pupils in year 6, I consider myself fortunate. It amazes me how much they can learn & how little I assumed when I was working in secondary school. My main concern is that not all pupils continue to be taught at a higher level, unless they are lucky enough to get good teaching as they progress. We need to stretch the most able, keep them motivated to learn, and teach them life-skills through maths. I don’t think this new NC has done it yet. I know this is what they want to see, but there is no advice on how to achieve this or recommended resources. I also worry that at the lower end pupils might despair! They might not be able to answer many questions at all… Again, I worry that pupils will give up before they even reach secondary. Thank you for the overview though. I have been getting them to use rulers all the time – and progress is sometimes about being persistent! 🙂

  11. […] You can read more about the changes here. […]

  12. Violet Thompson 27 September 2018 at 10:40 am Reply

    As a former primary DHT, heading up maths for many years, I find now, in my new role of private tutor, that VERY few children have a secure knowledge of times tables, even in Y6. I tire of seeing children having to count through on their fingers to laboriously find (frequently wrong!) answers to the simplest questions. I have heard of coloured grids showing their ‘success’, but the fact is – they do not know them! And the reason? It is because, however successful it was, we are afraid to use the old, tried and tested, method of daily recitation. I grieve for children who are constantly being asked to embrace more complicated concepts when the building blocks simply are not there.

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