Supporting SEND pupils in mastery

'We would like to say a huge thank you to the 35 schools who came to the first workshop on 25th October. The workshop was a huge success and we have had lots of extremely positive feedback around the practical aspects of the workshop and developing the knowledge and understanding of how to effectively support children with SEND with Maths Mastery. The gap task was very well received and we are looking forward to sharing the findings and learning from each other.' 

The Supporting SEND pupils in Mastery work group is to be led by Fusion Teaching School 

To register an interest in engaging in the work group please email Cheryl at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Details of the work group and the schedule of activity can be found below and will be updated as appropriate.

Date Workshop Venue Time
25th October 2017 Session 1 Talbot Specialist School 4 – 5.30pm
6th December 2017 Session 2 Talbot Specialist School 4 – 5.30pm
7th February 2018 Session 3 Talbot Specialist School 4 – 5.30pm
28th March 2018 Session 4 Talbot Specialist School 4 – 5.30pm
23rd May 2018 Session 5 Talbot Specialist School 4 – 5.30pm
4th July 2018 Session 6 Talbot Specialist School 4 – 5.30pm






This work group will be looking at ways SEND pupils are impacted by Teaching for Mastery methods & pedagogy. Participants will explore the implications and impact of teaching for mastery as well as liaise with colleagues both locally and nationally to look at ways of ensuring SEND students are taken into account in the developing strategies for teaching mathematics.

Please see the summary report of ongoning work done in previous years. To engage in this year's work group or for further information about previous local research, feel free to contact Magdalene at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


How do pupils with SEND learn maths when teachers use a mastery approach?

The project

Mastery maths style teaching requires teaching in mixed ability groups. There was some concern raised as to whether the children with SEND would cope with this. An exploratory project was set up looking at several individuals, some with quite complex SEND, in a school which was confident in teaching in a mastery style. The project involved assessment, lesson observations in Y1 and Y5 and interviews with both the teachers and the children.


What helped

Language focus

Many of the children had language difficulties as part of their SEND, to understand and communicate using mathematical language. Specifically, the children were beginning to talk in full mathematical sentences and were able to explain their calculations using concrete materials or pictoral representations.

Teachers emphasised and explained specific vocabulary at the beginning of each lesson. They tried to speak in full sentences and many of the children began to copy this answering questions in full sentences out of habit, which meant that even if the children with language difficulties found it difficult to produce full sentences themselves, they were hearing them constantly.

The children were also encouraged to talk through their ideas with their peers. This sometimes worked brilliantly, with children exploring ideas, rejecting incorrect concepts with confidence and building on conceptual knowledge through explanations without the intervention of a teacher.


Concrete materials

The children were very happy using the concrete materials to both work out and explain their learning. All the children used the materials and so there wasn’t a stigma about those children who felt that they needed the materials. They facilitated good levels of talk around the classroom and allowed children to illustrate their thoughts. The concepts of place value in particular seemed to be stronger.



The children used a variety of equipment and were able to make choices about what they wanted to use. It was interesting that sometimes the teacher thought that a particular piece of equipment suited the problem but showed children several types of equipment and the children decided on something different, often giving reasons for their choice. “(with the bead string) you can see the tens and it’s like a number line.”

The children often found the variation in the questions difficult, but that simply illustrates how important it is.


Slow Pace

Some of the teachers were pleased that they could slow the pace right down and return to concepts that they felt that their class had not mastered. One teacher felt that the chidlren had been able to understand money because she had not introduced it as early as she normally would have and spent more time on place value with numbers to 100. However, there still was a certain amount of pressure to continue through the content, particularly when it was only a small number of children who hadn’t kept pace.


Building Confidence

Lack of confidence was a huge barrier for many of the children. Pre-learning seemed to be the most helpful for this as the children could anticipate what was going to be in the lesson and not panic at the first sign of something they didn’t know.

Finding a well-matched peer to work with was also really important as when the children were able to work through the problems they were able to reject incorrect ideas easily with no stigma. It can be more emotional to find that you are wrong with an adult.

The materials also gave the children confidence as they knew that they could access them when they were stuck and use them to explain their ideas rather than having to hold language in their heads.



The children were independent at selecting equipment and could often explain why they had chosen something. They were beginning to explain their thinking, although the younger ones found this difficult. They often had particular ideas about what was helpful or difficult in the lesson and this sometimes surprised the teachers.


Challenges and Questions

Whole class teaching

Sometimes the emphasis on whole class teaching meant that children with attention difficulties found it difficult to sit and listen for extended periods. This was particularly true of the younger children and the teachers found that some children needed to have much shorter periods where they were required to concentrate. It is worth mentioning that children do not start school until 6 or 7 in many parts of the world where this kind of maths teaching is popular and therefore the Y1 children were younger than that.



There was some debate as to the nature of the interventions given. Were they simply to make sure that the children understood that day’s lesson or were they meant to plug gaps in previous learning. This was particularly relevant for the older children as they had some significant gaps and misconceptions. Some children received pre and post teaching many times in a week and this is worth considering for the impact on the broad curriculum. It was also worth noting that this particular school did not reject more conventional and proven interventions such as 1st class @ number in order to plug gaps and address misconceptions.



There was little emphasis on recording calculations as the focus was on understanding concepts, but some children did not get enough practice at writing the numerals accurately, setting out calculations and being systematic.



Despite the emphasis on language in the teaching, the children still found the subtleties of mathematical language difficult, particularly when applied to every day problems. In fact, the variation in the questions which the children were asked to do illustrated the difficulties.

It was sometimes difficult to match children with a suitable peer to work with, particularly when the child was very quiet or shy and this was often where an adult would step in with pertinent questioning.



Both the children and the teachers were not used to providing context for the maths and so this was generally not done as well as the teachers would have liked. When the children were struggling slightly the teachers’ instincts were to go over the procedure rather than reset the context. As a result the children with SEND found it hard to connect learning and to see it’s application. Inventing or finding context for mathematical concepts that make sense to the children is challenging and time consuming, but is particularly important for those children who find it difficult to make connections.


Concrete materials

Many of the children struggled to turn their mathematical knowledge with the objects into abstract thought. As one teacher said, “They’re still a bit concretey” meaning that they could do the problems and understand them, but only with the materials in front of them. They struggled with the visualisation in more abstract situations. The teacher was very clear that they should have the concrete materials available, while they still chose to use them, which is in line with mastery style teaching and more generally seen as good practice. However, this meant that calculations that they were able to do in class, they were not able to do in a more formal test situation.


Results and Progress

The children’s progress over the 7 months varied enormously from 2 months to 22months, so no conclusion can be made as to whether mastery style teaching was helpful for the children with SEND. Some of the children did make above average progress and ‘caught up’ their peers – some fell further behind. However, it didn’t seem as if teaching in this way was particularly detrimental for the SEND group. As is inevitable, some of the children’s difficulties were outside the scope of just one subject e.g. anxiety, language difficulties, medical issues, ASD etc. and these difficulties had an effect on their progress in maths, as well as in other subjects. It could be suggested that the children with less complex difficulties did better, but the situation was by no means clear cut.


What next?

This project looked at a very small number of pupils in just one school and so it would be helpful if it could be expanded to other pupils in a wide variety of schools focusing on the questions raised from this research. Some of these include:

What does differentiation look like when teaching mixed ability groups?

How can the principles of mastery style teaching support children with SEND in particular?

What intervention/catch up/pre-teaching/post teaching works?

How can we reduce barriers to learning in a mastery classroom?

In the next year, it is hoped that teachers from a variety of schools and year groups will work collaboratively to explore these questions further and find out what works, sharing good practice with our colleagues.

Magdalene Lake will be leading the workgroup for the South Yorkshire Maths Hub and if you would like to get involved then please contact her on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Last modified onTuesday, 07 November 2017 09:13
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