The Authentic Maths Story

In 2013 a new primary curriculum was published. Because of the political climate, this curriculum had not been consulted with the teaching community in a meaningful way and it had not been trialled. 

The key driver behind the content of the curriculum was the belief of the Schools Minister that forcing all primary school children to study long division would lead to a great leap forward in attainment at GCSE. This led to the creation of a national curriculum that forced challenging content into younger years than is the case for any other national curriculum in the world. While we teach the numbers to 100 to children who are five years old, most national curriculums teach the numbers to 10 to children who are six or seven years old.

To compound this problem, the Secretary of State for Education decided that there would be an even greater ‘leap forward’ if schools were forced to adopt detailed step-wise teaching methods used in East Asia, where children do not formally learn the numbers to 10 until they are seven. This was clearly always going to be problematic, because at the age of seven most children can learn in ways that do not work for many four-year-olds (because their brains have developed the working and long-term memory capacity and the levels of concentration needed to retain and mentally manipulate information that is presented in a step-wise approach).

At the end of 2013 Rebecca published a report which detailed the likely consequences of this worrying combination of initiatives. One of Rebecca’s key underlying concerns was that the expert maths teaching practice which existed in Cumbria which could offer ways of delivering the new curriculum (including in schools where no other methods would work effectively) would be eradicated by a national training initiative that would not enable all schools to meet the expectations of the new national curriculum. This concern was particularly acute for her because she had already seen expert practice eradicated in secondary maths teaching in Cumbria.

Her report hit the national press where it was picked up by Cumbrian Primary Headteachers who invited me to their conference in early 2014. This is where she found some headteachers who had the kind of expert practice I was talking about in their schools. They kindly offered to let her come in and work with their best teachers so that she could learn to deeply understand and share their skills.  This is how Authentic Maths was born. 

Authentic Maths has always paid deep respect to all global theories and initiatives in primary maths education, but it has its own content which is unique and extremely powerful.  This is a detailed understanding of the full range of all the precise structures (e.g. base 10 apparatus) children need to learn to master the current primary maths curriculum. Teaching structures before procedures ensures that no child has dyscalculia, that mathematical methods can be taught much more efficiently and effectively than other methods allow, and that the most secure foundations for future learning are put in place.  

This structural approach also enables teachers to use the higher-level questioning skills (that prompt every child to unpack and explain their own thinking and to connect their thinking to other methods) which are also taught on Authentic Maths courses. Authentic Maths training enables teachers to deliver on the definition of mastery in the 2015 booklet from NAMA (the National Association of Mathematics Advisers) ‘Five Myths of Mastery in Mathematics’ which is

“Mastery in mathematics involves a commitment that all children can and will achieve, teaching less but in more depth and with effective questioning to root out misconceptions and rapidly address these.”

In 2016 Authentic Maths was voted as one of Britain’s top 100 early-growth companies and won the opportunity pitch to Richard Branson’s Virgin Voom team for a major investment prize.

In 2019 over 500 teachers and teaching assistants have been trained using authentic maths techniques, which have now been refined in generation 4 of the training.  Many teachers only need one training day to acquire the skills they need to love their maths teaching and meet the demanding expectations placed on them – even in the most challenging and non-standard school settings.  Some make substantial progress in their first session but feel they need to come back for a second session to achieve this high standard.  

Teachers are never asked to put aside good existing practice. Instead they are shown precisely why their good practice works so that they can better defend it. They are simply offered explanations of how to teach every component of their part of the curriculum effectively to all children for mastery and are encouraged to identify and adopt the strategies that will help them to move forward.

The commitment of co-creation remains at the heart of Authentic Maths training and teachers consistently bring new insights and ideas to the training during their sessions. Because co-creation of knowledge and policy has not been supported in education since 2010 Rebecca has worked outside of education as will as within it to ensure her skills in this field continue to develop as new technologies emerge. Her book on the co-production of healthcare policy is available here.

That Authentic Maths training has flourished in a world where schools are being avalanched with free national training (and many are seriously strapped for cash) pays testament to the quality of the training provided. All Authentic Maths training has been fully funded by the participating schools.

Rebecca’s 2018 open session with teachers at the University of Cumbria is available on YouTube here.

Rebecca is now committing the training to YouTube.

In summary:

Authentic Maths training deeply understands the National Association of Mathematics Advisors (NAMA) description of what Mathematics Mastery is (i.e. that the current ‘DFE definition’ is just one interpretation of Mathematics Mastery) and is carefully designed supports and develop teachers working with all forms of teaching for mastery.

Rebecca was a secondary Head of Maths (working in schools with many challenges) before going on to lecture in Mathematics Education for Manchester Metropolitan University and the Open University, and become and NCETM accredited provider of primary maths CPD in 2013. Rebecca has led successful national and international projects in mathematics education.