One of the main tenets of following a mastery approach to teaching is the principle of keeping the class together, all children working in the same mathematics area in any one lesson. But is this possible in a mixed-age class, something that is by no means rare across England?

Lucy Westley, one of four teachers from schools in the Enigma Maths Hub area on the Mastery Specialists programme, has had to grapple with this issue in her own school in Northamptonshire, and is resoundingly positive about how it is working.

She teaches the older of two classes at Tiffield CE Primary School, which has just 42 pupils on roll. Her class consists of children in Y2 up to Y6.

The first organisational change she made, in order to enable a mastery approach to work, was to split her class in two – a higher age group and a lower age group – and, based on the individual pupils in those groups, chose to ‘aim’ the Year 5 maths curriculum at the higher group, and the Year 2 curriculum at the lower group. That split enables her to organise most mornings at school along the lines of the table.

Time Y2/3 Group Y4/5/6 Group
9.00 - 9.30 Times tables practice Times tables practice
9.30 - 10am Handwriting/grammar with TA Maths teaching from Lucy (Year 5 objectives)
10am - 10.30 Maths teaching from Lucy (Year 2 objectives) Handwriting/grammar with TA
11.00 - 11.30 Individual maths practice on content taught Lucy teaching literacy
11.30 - 12.00 Lucy teaching literacy Individual maths practice on content taught
LUNCH Lucy marks maths work Lucy marks maths work
1.15 - 1.45 Individual pupils or small groups picked up for maths intervention by Lucy and/or TA, or silent reading. Individual pupils or small groups picked up for maths intervention by Lucy and/or TA, or silent reading.

At lunchtime, Lucy marks all the maths books and any children struggling are picked up for instant intervention after lunch. This time is also an opportunity to pick up any bits of the curriculum outside Years 2 and 5 that Lucy thinks necessary for the children not in those year groups. She made the decision to split the class as she did, and follow the Y2 and Y5 objectives respectively, based on the individuals in the class this year, and their specific needs. She recognises that this judgement will be different every year, but feels that small schools have the flexibility to be responsive to individual needs of their pupils.Aside from the organisational changes, Lucy has been deploying several teaching for mastery approaches.

  • First of all, she has slowed the pace down enormously, breaking all the learning into small manageable chunks. ‘You could see all these lightbulbs going on in the kids’ eyes because you took these small manageable steps,’ she says.
  • Lucy is also a firm believer in using variation theory, something evident on the day of the Bespoke visit when she was teaching younger children about fractions, and in particular, quarters. With paper cut into various shapes, Lucy asked them to fold the paper into quarters, giving them paper circles, then squares and finally rectangles. This variation in representation caused all the children to challenge and deepen their understanding of what it meant to divide a shape into quarters.
  • Lucy is a big advocate of the CPA (Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract) approach to learning. For example, in teaching the older half of her class to divide numbers to give fractional answers, she provided apples to cut, and  made whiteboards available for children to draw on. Having experienced both concrete and pictorial, those that felt confident were encouraged to move to abstract methods.

Read a longer, more detailed account of Lucy’s approach on the NCETM website, at