26 Mar 2015

Mastery - some considerations

There is a great deal of discussion about what 'mastery' means. The new national curriculum which came into effect from September 2014 is underpinned by the concept of mastery. This has a number of implications for lesson planning. The draft performance descriptors for use in key stage 1 and 2 statutory teacherassessment for 2015/2016 refer to four performance descriptors: mastery, national, working towards and below national standard.

It is important to note that they are designed to assess pupils at the end of key stages 1 and 2 in 2016, once pupils have been taught the new programmes of study for two years. So it is not advisable to use them for teacher assessment until then, nor use them in assessment systems until September 2015 when the final versions have been published.

So what does this mean for classroom practice? And how is the Department for Education supporting schools as they work on the new curriculum and develop systems to show progress? The DfE has produced a summary of advice and resources. There are two strands to this: eight schools were successful in bidding for the funds to develop new assessment packages. These can be found on TES Connect along with resources which have been developed by schools. The department has also announced a new commission on assessment without levels. This will will identify and share best practice in assessment with schools across the country and ensure they have information to make informed choices about effective assessment systems. The commission will highlight work that is already being done in many schools and will help to foster innovation and success in assessment practice more widely. The National College has produced a tool to help schools develop their curriculum.

Underpinning the new curriculum is a different understanding of what constitutes progress. The expectation now is that all learners fully understand the key facts and concepts before moving on to new material. Under the old curriculum the temptation was to move pupils on to higher levels in order to show progress. They might not all have fully understood what they had learnt in previous levels with the result that learning was not fully secure. So, the expectation now is that pupils learn fewer things in greater depth.

Tim Oates who led the expert advisory group on assessment repeats 'fewer things, in greater depth' three times in his explanation of the thinking behind the new curriculum.

 new curriculum

The programmes for the curriculum focus on the key knowledge and concepts and, apart from English and maths, contain less content. There is helpful guidance from the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics on approaches to mastery. These principles are helpful in thinking about mastery in other curriculum subjects:

  • Teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards
  • The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace. Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention.
  • Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.
  • Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.
  • Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up.

David Didau has written about planning for threshold concepts in a KS4 curriculum. The principles would apply to any key stage. And Joe Kirby was writing about mastery in 2013 in this terrific blog.

Examples of how some schools are developing their curriculum to show mastery have been produced by the National College for Teaching and School Leadership: Beyond Levels: alternative assessment approaches developed by teaching schools.

'Fewer things in greater depth'

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