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Research School Network: Our ​‘Maths Masterclasses’ for Parents: An Insight into the Programme Find out about this innovative approach to engaging parents in the teaching of Maths Mastery

Our ​‘Maths Masterclasses’ for Parents: An Insight into the Programme

Find out about this innovative approach to engaging parents in the teaching of Maths Mastery

Nicol Winfield is Maths Lead at Wyndham Primary Academy and the Derby Research School, a Specialist Leader of Education at the George Spencer Teaching School Alliance and an NCETM accredited Teaching for Mastery Specialist for the East Midlands West Maths Hub. After piloting and developing a parental engagement programme aimed at improving parents’ understanding of maths teaching, she successfully bid for the SHINE Grant to roll this project out across Derby Schools in the Opportunity Area. 

There are few Maths focused parental engagement projects so this was an area of interest for the Research School to utilise the evidence on Working with Parents. Following on from the strong support of Derby schools, she was awarded a further extension of the programme into a national roll-out with the support of the Research School Network and Maths Hubs. Find out more about this innovative project committed to making a difference in pupils’ lives.

Our Maths Masterclasses’ for Parents: An Insight into the Programme
The attainment of disadvantaged children in maths at primary and secondary schools in Derby is, generally, below the national average. After consultation with teachers and parents across the region and through making comparisons to contexts where the attainment of disadvantaged children is significantly better, Nicol found that parental attitudes towards maths played a huge part in this.

Looking at the outcomes of a parental engagement project led by National Numeracy, 24% of parents said that their largest barrier to engaging in maths was their confidence and 40% stated it was new methods of teaching”. With these two barriers in mind, and the knowledge that parent support programmes which focus on both academic outcomes and training in parent skills are more effective than those that do not include such training, Nicol developed the concept of maths masterclasses’ for parents – a name suggested by one of the parents from her school.

Nicol said: So many of our children have a belief that they can’t do maths, and because that attitude is often shared by their parents, it’s incredibly difficult to overcome this. Parents play such a huge, influential role in what drives and motivates children, so I felt it was crucial to engage and empower parents and in turn, begin to challenge the attitudes of our students.

For our parents, the teaching of maths has evolved since they were at school. Our parents admit they often learnt by rote, memorising key facts and procedures and spent very little time understanding the structure of the mathematics being taught. They can therefore be fearful of us challenging their understanding and so are reluctant to engage with maths at their child’s school. But I can empathise – when I was training to be a teacher, I had to revisit and unpick particular mathematical concepts so that I could make sense of them for myself, essentially re-teaching myself the curriculum.

When I was at primary school, I was a higher attainer and always scored well on tests. When the complexity of the maths increased in secondary school, I became stuck. I didn’t have an understanding of why the procedures I’d been drilling worked and in year eight of secondary school, I began to feel like I was failing. I adopted the attitude that I couldn’t do it and so my teachers and parents became incredibly frustrated with me. My parents thought there were other factors involved in me disengaging with school at that point, but as I look back, I know it was simply because I had started to struggle and I couldn’t see a way through that. I now see this in the children I teach and I can completely identify.

A lot of my friends at school disengaged with maths too, but as someone who is very intrinsically motivated, I took it upon myself to study in my spare time. I have been supported by some incredible teachers and have taken inspiration from them because of the positive, lasting impact they have had on my life – they have spurred me on to make a difference.

Many parents have a fear of engaging with schools generally, perhaps because of their own experiences, and have their guard up. Speaking to parents, they don’t feel like there’s a lot of guidance for them in supporting their children with maths at home because a large majority of resources accessible to them are online, meaning there’s no opportunity to ask questions when they lack clarity. When we invite parents into schools and say we’re going to learn maths together, it removes this barrier. They are able to meet other parents that feel the same way and so understand that they are not on their own when they feel that they are struggling to support their children at home. It becomes clear very quickly that everybody, regardless of their background, has been taught maths differently to how their children are being taught today. I think that’s so reassuring for parents.

I knew that creating a programme which provided parents the opportunity to develop their own subject knowledge of maths whilst acquiring skills to effectively support their children in their learning at home was a good idea, but I also knew that it was going to be difficult to get parents to commit to attending a series of sessions, so I asked them what it would take to get them to buy in’. They suggested that they would like their own kit’ to take away and so I decided to put together a pack of manipulatives I felt essential in supporting the teaching of number. Parents could be shown how these manipulatives were being used in the classroom and in turn, use them in the same way with their children at home. They added that they would like recognition for their efforts in engaging with the programme and so I worked with Dave Benson from the University of Derby who agreed to the University endorsing a certificate on completion of the programme. If parents feel like they are benefiting personally from their involvement, I think that this really motivates them and drives them to succeed. My hope is that as a result of engaging with the programme, their attitudes to maths will change and that this will be modelled to their children.

I think one of the most important elements in developing the programme was taking the time to really understand our parents’ anxieties and considering how best to overcome these. After speaking to many parents, I created sessions that would explore the progression of number from Foundation Stage to Year 6 so that parents were aware of the pre-existing knowledge and understanding their children should have as well as knowing where their children were needing to get to. The sessions would show parents what their child might face in the classroom and importantly, describe the way in which things are taught. When doing this, I knew it was important to offer many practical examples and with it, time for parents to plan activities they could try with their children at home. This would also allow parents to stress the connections between what their child was experiencing in the classroom and what they were experiencing with their parents at home so that children would not see their work at home as something new and alien.

We delivered our maths masterclasses to 25 parents last year and received some incredible feedback. We had a 95% retention rate amongst parents throughout the programme and saw a complete transformation in attitudes. Because parents attend the masterclasses together, there’s a sense of collective ownership. I think parents supporting parents along the way was a key part of the success of the programme.

We encouraged parents to complete confidence scales around their subject knowledge and their ability to effectively support their children at home, both at the start and end of the programme, and 100% of our parents displayed improvements in both areas. The amount of work that our parents completed at home with their children was incredible and was evidenced in their very own professional learning log. One parent wrote, During the course, I could see my confidence growing and I was able to repeat most of the exercises carried out in class at home with my son… If a parent learns how to identify the role of maths in every moment of their lives, they can use it to support their kid’s knowledge and boost their confidence in the subject!’ Moreover, many of our students from more disadvantaged backgrounds, whose parents engaged with the programme, began to develop a more positive attitude towards maths and their sudden improvement in confidence in the classroom was noted by their teachers. When collecting the voice of a focus group of children, 80% attributed their improvements in confidence in mathematics to the fact that they were now doing maths with their parents at home. This would suggest that if children see their parents excelling at maths and feeling very positive about the subject, this will have a very positive impact on them.

I applied for Bridging the Gap funding from SHINE because after speaking to colleagues from other schools, I felt this programme was something other schools would benefit from running with their parents. It’s so important that parents and children are engaged from the earliest stage so that children are given the best possible chance to succeed in maths and build the foundations that will allow them to flourish throughout their journey in education.”

Scaling the Programme Up

With support from SHINE, Nicol scaled up her programme to be delivered in more than 30 primary and secondary schools across Derby. Furthermore, this is now part of a national roll out with the support of Maths Hubs and Research Schools across the UK. This is an exciting development for 2020.

As part of the Derby Opportunity Area, Wyndham Primary Academy was made one of the 22 Research Schools in the country, so we now have the resources and capacity to be able to develop and trial innovative programmes like our maths masterclasses for parents. I was also fortunate to have the backing of the NCETM in developing the materials used in sessions so we could be sure that the materials used by teachers and seen by parents were of a very high quality. With the support of SHINE, I looked to roll the programme out, training the trainers’ so that teachers in primary schools, who may not be maths specialists, could receive the subject knowledge development to deliver the masterclasses to a high standard themselves. We kept our approach flexible whilst within a framework, so that all schools were allowed the opportunity to adjust the programme to suit the needs of their teachers, parents and students. We are also currently working with a number of secondaries to develop the programme for KS3.

We initially advertised this programme to schools throughout Derbyshire thinking we were going to struggle for numbers but had to close the sign up within days because the demand was too high! Everyone’s crying out for help to engage parents and people want to know what we’ve done. Year-on-year I think our programme is only going to get bigger and we’re already planning roll out in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. When I created this programme, it was with the intention of helping children not just in Derbyshire but all over the country.”

Why Nicol wants to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children

Unfortunately, disadvantaged’ is a term we use to describe the many not the few in our school as we serve an area of high social and economic challenge in inner city Derby. It is our duty to ensure that we allow every child at our school the chance to reach their full potential in life regardless of their current position. As a Teaching for Mastery Specialist and an SLE, I have spent much of my time focusing on raising the standards of teaching and learning in maths within my own school and within schools across Derby City and beyond, and have seen first-hand the impact it has had on the attitudes and attainment of some of our most disadvantaged students. I just know that there is so much more that we can do beyond this to make sure that we are impacting our students in the most hard-to-reach families.

The difference SHINE’s support will make to her education programme

Together with its partners, SHINE have worked very closely with me this year to help me develop, monitor and continually evaluate my programme. As mentioned, with their support, I have been able to roll out my programme in more than 30 schools across Derbyshire, supplying materials for delivery, coaching sessions to help develop the programme for their own school and approximately 700 parent packs of manipulatives to share amongst the schools, all at no cost to them. This has meant that schools who would have not been able to afford to run a programme like this are now able to do so.

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