Writing a new Scheme of Work – Part 3: Advice

You can view all the posts in the epic “Writing a Maths Scheme of Work” series on this page. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones, only with slightly less nudity and dragons.

Writing a new Scheme of Work is undoubtedly a huge task. So before starting I like to get as much advice from people as possible. I find the teaching profession both wonderful and unique in this sense – there are always people willing to give up their time and expertise to help you, with no other motive than helping out a colleague to promote good practise.

There is an excellent blog post on this by the wonderful Bruno Reddy, that I would highly recommend anyone interested in writing schemes of work to read.

I will return to this post when I talk about the Content of the Scheme of Learning, but for now let me share with you Bruno’s 6 tips for writing a good scheme of learning, each one followed by my thoughts:

1) Don’t be afraid to go back to basics for 12 weeks in year 7 – more place value, more number bonds and single digit addition, more explicit teaching of mental arithmetic, more times tables, more written algorithms.

This goes back to the fluency aim that I talked about in my previous post. I certainty agree with Bruno that number skills need to be hammered in Year 7. I do, however, think there is a danger in putting students off mathematics with too much number work, and I like them to see as early as possible that mathematics is a lot more than just sums. But there is no disputing the fact that without a strong sense of number, you are fighting a losing battle from the start.

2) Don’t be afraid to do *lots* of practice no matter what the discovery brigade tell you.

Again, I agree that practise is key. I love a rich task, puzzle and an investigation as much as anyone (indeed, much to my fiancée’s despair, I often find myself on NRICH on a Friday night #geek). But the joy and discovery of rich tasks simply cannot be accessed without the fundamentals being in place.

3) Separate minimally different concepts so that things like mean, median and mode are not taught at the same time.

This is an interesting one. Bruno’s argument might be something along the lines of students get confused between two similar concepts, such as mean and median, if they are taught together, so separate them t avoid confusion. I have always assumed that it is better to teach the topic of averages (and range) together so students see the bigger picture, but there is little doubt that a significant number of students each year get the concepts muddled up. Perhaps there is something in this.

4) Keep skills ticking along by dropping things from earlier in the year into starters, homework, flash tests and end of term exams.

Definitely. I couldn’t agree more. I will be addressing this specifically when I talk about the structure of our Scheme of Work, and the homeworks in particular. Students need regular practise to aid retention and understanding.

5) Don’t teach things until the pupils are ready to learn them, so, for example, don’t teach fractions until they can find factors and multiples, don’t teach factors and multiples (at the same time, ever) until they know the times tables.

Again, this is something I certainly agree with, and it is why the order that things are taught needs to be very carefully thought through. If students don’t know inequalities, then can they really understand cumulative frequency diagrams or any grouped data? If students don’t have a solid grasp of negative numbers, then are they really ready for linear equations?

6) Spend more time teaching fewer things. For example, algebra can wait until the end of year 7, ratio can wait until year 8, probability and transformations can until KS4.

Hear, hear!

When you think about it, there isn’t actually that much maths content to fit into the 5 years of secondary school. When was the last time you taught your Year 11s something new? There is no point rushing through content, only to have to repeat it again as understanding is not deep enough.

In fact, I would go one step further than this and discourage (I have been known to use the phrase “make it illegal”) students from being taught something too early. For example, what is the point in introducing a bright Year 8 class to something like trigonometry? There is plenty of time for that later on. Let them study topics like angles, constructions, use of calculator, and properties of shapes in greater depth. Then, when they come to trigonometry, they will be ready and waiting!

And here is a snap-shot of the Scheme of Learning at Bruno’ school:


So, plenty of food for thought there before designing any maths scheme of work.

Incidentally, I was fortunate enough to hear Bruno share his philosophies about the teaching and learning of maths recently, and his slides from that presentation are available here.


6 thoughts on “Writing a new Scheme of Work – Part 3: Advice

  1. Hi Craig,
    Just reading through your epic series on writing a new scheme. I’ve spent the last few summers worth (about 10 years I think) writing and rewriting schemes, starting with 7 and working through to 13. I get the feeling that you started with similar views and a similar approach.
    I completely agree that it’s important to incorporate both rich tasks and opportunities for large amounts of practice. They needn’t be mutually exclusive however – some risk tasks are wonderful precisely because some students will use their insights to reason their way to a solution, whilst others (with less understanding) will use an ‘exhaustive’ approach and try out lots o possibilities – I’m sure you know what I mean, but I’ll send you some resources to share through which ever forum you think appropriate.

  2. I am delighted to stumble across your blog!!
    I’m an English and geography teacher by training and inclination, but this year I’ve been drafted in to teach Y9 (English Y8) maths and I’ve been demented for the past month!! I’ve been struggling to follow units of work and remember everything I’ve forgotten ever since I last stepped into a maths classroom.
    One thing I find interesting is the idea of teaching slightly different concepts separately; I do this as a matter of course in English with homophones- kids get very confused with them and I find it much more effective to keep the ideas apart.
    Many thanks for such an entertaining and informative blog- it’s going to be bedtime reading for the next while 🙂

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