Getting started with Teaching for Mastery

Posted by Viv Lloyd on February 20, 2018

Getting started with Teaching for Mastery


A lot of attention is being given to the changes that are happening in the way teaching and learning in mathematics is being approached. What initially may have been a few tweaks and updates to the National Curriculum has been superseded by pedagogical shifts that are rippling through schools. More and more schools are adopting Teaching for Mastery (TfM) principles and are endeavouring to develop this approach in their schools.

What if you are not currently part of this and want to get started on developing this with your teaching team? Here are a few things to consider in getting started.

1. This is not something that you as an individual teacher can do on your own. The first conversation that you need to have is with your Subject Leader and the leadership team. Teaching for Mastery needs a whole school approach as some school systems will need adapting to support the consistency and progression across the subject.

2. You need to develop a tangible understanding of the principles behind the practice so engaging in some reading about the pedagogy is key. A few useful starting points can be found here:

The Essence of Maths Teaching for Mastery

Mastery approaches to mathematics and the new National Curriculum

NAMA – 5 Myths of Mastery in Mathematics

A video presentation to teachers on Teaching for Mastery

3. Try to see some schools that are already working on this approach with Teaching for Mastery Specialists. Each hub has a primary Teaching for Mastery Lead so get in touch with yours and they can direct you to some practitioners. Try to see a range of practitioners; some are using high quality textbooks to support with lesson design; some are using programmes; some are engaging with workgroups *

4. You may wonder where do you start in your own school with this? If you have visited some TfM specialists and watched lessons you may have an idea as to the features of a lesson and how a lesson is structured; this will be shaped by what you have seen. One key consideration is whether you invest in a high-quality textbook. If you choose to take this route then ensure your budget allows for the training that goes with those materials. Everyone needs to understand how they use these textbooks to support in the lesson design process. If you choose not to take the textbook route then you need to further develop the following:

  • Ensure your medium term plan gives you sufficient time to develop a concept. In TfM we see larger chunks of time allocated to the big ideas. This varies according to Year Group, but it would not be unusual to see Place Value for two weeks then three weeks on addition and subtraction.
  • The structure of the lesson in a TfM approach - we see a teaching time of 35 -40 minutes, which is followed by independent practice. The teaching time involves a constant ‘ping-pong’ approach between the children and the teacher. This often starts with a simple problem (a hook) that relates to the learning; the children
  • explore this with each other and feedback on strategies used. The teacher can then focus on the learning for the day and can use structures and representations to model and explore this further. The children will complete some examples under the teacher’s guidance. This part of the lesson involves lots of paired work and the children explaining the mathematical thinking. The answer is often not the focus; it is the method that is paid attention to. The teacher is constantly observing the children and checking on the approaches that are taken. By the end of this section of the lesson some learning may be generalised and key points are drawn out. Where possible the children now have a short break – they have been very focused and working hard for 35 minutes. The children are now ready to move onto their independent work. This provides some carefully chosen practice questions for the children to work through. This also enables the teacher to ensure all children are keeping up and provide any necessary intervention to support those at risk.
  • How the children are using mathematical language is a good place to focus your attention. Consider the key learning within a lesson and how language is used to draw attention to this key point. Often we see teachers providing a stem sentence so children are able to structure their mathematical thinking and using “I say. You say, we all say” so the children can rehearse the language they are using. Focusing on language helps you with planning to make sure that the focus is clear.
  • Planning in small steps. This is where lots of practitioners need support – a small step is often not a National Curriculum objective (they are too broad). Practitioners often start with mapping out where they want to get to over a concept and then identify the key learning points. Some material to support practitioners with identifying small steps and delivering concepts in varied ways can be found here:

5. One of the key principles of TfM is that everyone is capable – there is no maths gene but if you work hard you will succeed. In this approach children are not set or sat in ability groups. The whole class is taught as one and the emphasis is on ensuring the teaching is scaffolded so that everyone keeps up.

Understanding, planning and applying variation to the concept

One key aspect for staff training is on variation – this is the glue that holds all of the TfM principles together. Variation is about the way in which the concept is presented, and the questions structured to support the children with applying their understanding across a range of contexts. I cannot recommend strongly enough that this is where reading needs to be undertaken, examples seen, and staff training developed so that variation can be identified and planned for.

Schools that are developing this approach recognise that they are on a journey and this approach will take time to adopt and embed. Leadership teams are reviewing policies and processes in light of the changes to practice and ensuring time is allocated to staff training to support.

*Workgroups are specific projects that hubs run. One of these is working with a TfM specialist for a year engaging with lesson observations, discussions, analysis and reflections. See

Understand more about how your school can successfully adopt Teaching for Mastery in UK and international settings:

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