How maths is taught in primary schools


carrying out sums

In the olden days (ie when lots of us were children), the emphasis in maths was on learning facts and methods that would give the correct answer, such as 'carrying' and 'borrowing' hundreds, tens and units (HTUs).

And, if you haven't suppressed the painful memories, this usually involved working through pages of sums laboriously. Maths work in class was usually done on an individual basis so children couldn't copy each other's work. 

Very often, children did not understand why these methods worked, only that if they followed the rules they would get the right answer and a tick from the teacher. 

There was also a big emphasis on learning times tables by chanting them out loud and having regular tests.

Gradually, there was a move towards the idea that maths could be made more interesting and relevant through teaching it differently. 

The introduction of the National Curriculum and then the numeracy strategies put the emphasis on the need for children to 'know, understand and do', to be able to talk about their maths through the use of language, symbols and vocabulary, and to be able to explain their methods and offer reasons for their choices.

There was a recognition, too, that learning tables was very helpful in making complicated multiplication and division sums easier to complete quickly.

So nowadays, the maths techniques and methods children are taught in schools are based on giving them an understanding of mathematics and helping them to articulate that through explaining, discussing their work with each other and involving them in solving problems that apply to everyday life.

Children learn different methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

There is, for example, 'chunking' for division, the 'grid' method for multiplication and 'partitioning' for adding HTUs. A number line is used in a variety of different contexts from age four upwards.

For parents, who didn't experience these techniques while they were at school, there's a learning curve to understand how children are being taught maths. Our Maths pages are designed to help you do just that, and to understand how current maths teaching is helping to equip children with numeracy skills that will be essential in helping them to cope effectively with many adult decisions.

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Last updated: 5 months ago