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What to Look for in a Prospective Primary School’s Maths Provision

I am part way through visiting perspective  primary schools for my daughter. The choice of schools for our children is a very personal and individual process, the perfect school for one child would be the completely wrong one for another. For my daughter I believe that she would be best suited to a very nurturing school with play based learning in the younger years. As well as the ethos I have also been look at the teaching and learning at each school. I have sought out advice from secondary and primary colleagues on what I should be looking for in variety of subjects and areas, so I thought I would share my advice when looking at a primary school’s maths provision.


Manipulatives are objects that children can use to help them develop a deeper understanding of a mathematical concept. Common manipulatives used in schools included: Numicon, link cubes, Dienes, Cuisenaire Rods, counters and any group of objects.

I am looking for a variety of manipulatives to be used, and for the teachers to have purposely chosen the manipulatives that will lead to the greatest understanding of the topic. Through the teacher’s questioning and the learning activities the children should use the manipulatives to develop a sound understanding of the topic so that they can move on to solving problems without using objects.

Manipulatives are fabulous for teaching so many areas of maths, including:  fractions, division, algebra, so I would expect to see them in use throughout the school.

Problem Solving

The whole point of learning maths is to be able to solve problems. As adults we may not need to use Pythagoras’ Theorem, but we are required to solve problems. To become successful problem solvers children need to be frequently given opportunities to tackle unfamiliar problems and they also need to be explicitly taught problem solving strategies. Some schools have fabulous displays highlighting the different strategies pupils can use when they are finding a question or task challenging.


I want to hear that all members of staff believe that all children can be successful in maths and develop a strong number sense and problem solving skills. I want the children’s work to be displayed and celebrated. I love it when I see schools that have planned some STEM events for the children, to really fire up their passion for the Sciences and maths.

I haven’t mentioned Key Stage 2 results, of course these are important, however, schools can turn round quickly. A new head is appointed and within a couple of years the whole ethos and identity of the school have been transformed. If the Key Stage 2 results of a school are concerning to you, but you love what you see in the classroom, I would ask the school how they plan to improve. A big red flag for me would be if they became defensive, if they have a plan to improve and it resonates with your beliefs then I would be very encouraged.

Good luck finding the perfect school for your child.

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