Good practice identified in mathematics, but challenges remain for secondary schools


Pupils make good progress in their mathematical reasoning when they are involved in problem solving, according to an Estyn report published today. Pupils involved in regular problem solving activities are able to understand real-life problems better and choose appropriate ways to tackle increasingly complex mathematical problems.


‘Good practice in mathematics at key stage 3’ looks at standards and the factors that affect achievement, and includes best practice case studies from 15 secondary schools.

Ann Keane, Chief Inspector, says,

“Mathematical knowledge, understanding and skills are increasingly important for everyday life. It is crucial that pupils develop a secure grasp of mathematics during their school years.

“It is encouraging that teacher assessments show that pupils are achieving the expected level in mathematics at the end of key stage 3, and that results have improved over the last five years. However, pupils eligible for free school meals aren’t doing as well and the gap between girls’ and boys’ achievement has widened. Girls’ attainment at the higher levels has also improved at a faster rate.

“Schools should ensure that all pupils are able to achieve their full potential in mathematics. I urge all schools take note of the recommendations in the report and use the best practice studies to help improve their own mathematics departments.”

In the majority of the schools visited, teaching is good or better, and challenging targets are set for pupils and monitored through well-structured assessment and pupil tracking systems. Inspectors found that many pupils as a result have a positive attitude to learning mathematics, and a good understanding of their own ability and how to improve their work.

However, in lessons where standards in mathematics are lower, pupils are slow to recall prior learning, in particular basic mathematical facts and skills. In many schools, pupils’ problem-solving skills need to be developed more and applied to a wider range of real-life contexts. Inspectors also found that in some schools there is a shortage of suitably qualified and experienced teachers and this restricts schools being able to deliver the mathematics curriculum successfully.

Cardinal Newman R.C. Comprehensive School in Rhondda Cynon Taf is highlighted as one of the best practice case studies in the report. The school has a strong relationship with its partner primary schools and shares good practice in teaching and learning. The initiative has strengthened continuity between primary and secondary school and resulted in improved outcomes for pupils.

‘Good practice in mathematics at key stage 3’ contains recommendations for schools, local authorities and the Welsh Government. Schools should monitor the performance of pupils eligible for free school meals and target interventions as necessary, and increase the level of challenge for all pupils. Local authorities should facilitate networks for sharing best practice and the Welsh Government should address shortages in the supply of qualified mathematics teachers.

Notes to Editors

About the report

This report is the second in a series published in response to a request for advice from the Welsh Government in the Minister’s annual remit to Estyn for 2013-2014 and is available in full here.

Best practice case studies

  • Cardiff High School, Cardiff
  • Cwmtawe Community School, Neath Port Talbot
  • Caerleon Comprehensive School, Newport
  • Cardinal Newman R.C. Comprehensive School, Rhondda Cynon Taf

About Estyn

Estyn is the Education and Training Inspectorate for Wales. Our aim is to achieve excellence for all in learning in Wales. We do this by providing an independent, high-quality inspection and advice service.

Our vision is to be recognised through the expertise of our staff as an authoritative voice on learning in Wales.

We are independent from, but funded by the Welsh Government (under Section 104 of the Government of Wales Act 1998).

For further information please visit our website www.estyn.gov.uk

Publication date

Thursday, 26 February, 2015