What is the 'Mathematics Mastery' approach?

What is the 'Mathematics Mastery' approach?

South Asian countries including Hong Kong, China and Singapore sat at the top of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) worldwide rankings in 2015, a measurement of 15-year-old students across reading, science and mathematics. They are likely to be in a similar position when the latest results are released.

Countries in this area of the world are renowned for their academic ability and China has not finished outside of the top 3 of the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) since 1997. In 2019, the United Kingdom hosted the event and finished in 20th.

Since September 2016, there has been a pioneering exchange programme taking place, sending UK teachers out to Asia to understand what exactly makes them so strong in this subject.


The main focus of the approach

The idea is based around whole-class teaching and developing a deep understanding of the fundamentals within mathematics. A typical maths mastery lesson is led by the teacher, with all children working at the same time, on the same task.

It’s a common misconception that Asian children are simply taught by repetition and have more ‘natural ability’ for numbers. While of course there is an element of repetition in the approach, it is also a well-paced, highly interactive environment where children are encouraged to work hard and they will succeed. There’s a mixture of short tasks, explanation, demonstration and discussion during lessons involving maths mastery.

The concrete > pictorial > abstract approach is the basis of the teaching. Children use manipulatives and physical objects like Multilink to represent concepts, alongside standard numbers and symbols. This helps children to visualise abstract ideas and cement the concept, giving a deeper understanding and ability to apply their learning to future challenges.

Here is a list of ‘concrete’ resources you can use in the classroom with the approach:


Who is it for and how does maths mastery benefit children?

Maths mastery can be taught at any Key Stage as it is a flexible approach. Schools are able to decide how much they integrate the approach with current teaching techniques, though the DfE is hoping for a more radical overhaul of maths teaching.

Pupils in countries that use this approach currently, are noted to be 10% less likely to have ‘functionally innumerate’ children at 15 years-old i.e. unable to perform basic maths functions. If a child struggles with maths, there may be concerns about them taking on whole-class activities, but this certainly shouldn’t be the case with the approach.

The DfE says that ‘every step of a lesson is deliberate, purposeful and precise’ – if some children are struggling with a concept that others understand, learning continues until the concept is embedded. The pupils who have understood the concept earlier, will move on to a ‘deeper understanding’ section with more challenging questions and principles.


Core beliefs and key principles of Mathematics Mastery

All schools and educators have the aspiration that they can ensure every child will reach a successful level within mathematics. The maths mastery approach sits these values at its heart:

  • Success in mathematics for every child is possible
  • Mathematical ability can be increased through effort and is not innate
  • Focus on fewer topics in more depth
  • Mastery for all pupils, full understanding
  • Number sense and place value come first
  • Problem-solving is central to all learning


What does the term “mastery” mean?

Here is a quote from the founder of the approach to describe what it is to ‘master’ mathematics:

“In mathematics, you know you’ve mastered something when you can apply it to a totally new problem in an unfamiliar situation.” Dr. Helen Drury, Director of Mathematics Mastery


To can view our full mathematics range here.