Ready to Progress

On December 3rd, London Thames Maths Hub hosted a webinar designed to support primary colleagues in making best use of the DfE/NCETM non-statutory curriculum guidance that was published in June 2020. This blog aims to distil the content to make it available to a wider audience.

The DfE (2019) advocates a teaching for mastery approach which aims to support children to develop a deep, conceptual, sustainable network of mathematical understanding (NCETM, no date). This evokes a tension with the National Curriculum (DfE, 2013) which values memorisation and recall over understanding and enquiry (CBI, 2012) and forces a counter-productive pace due to ill-considered age-appropriateness of content (NUT, 2013). In June 2020, new guidance was jointly published by the DfE and NCETM which aims to reduce this by helping ‘teachers and schools make effective use of the National Curriculum to develop primary school pupils’ mastery of mathematics’ (DfE, 2020:4). The guidance does this in three main ways which are now explored.

Prioritising key content

Five strands are identified to structure the guidance.

(DfE, 2020:8)

Within each strand, the ‘most important conceptual knowledge and understanding that pupils need’ (DfE, 2020:5) are identified and written as end of year statements. These are termed ‘ready to progress criteria’ (RPC). This aims to enable teachers to focus on teaching the essential elements of a network of mathematical understanding to depth.

Connecting content

Alongside prioritising curriculum content, the guidance aims to elicit connections between mathematical topics. Generating and strengthening links between mathematical understanding is fundamental to progress (Boaler, no date). This is done in a number of ways.

Firstly, arrows between year groups indicate where ready-to-progress criteria directly lead from one to the next:

DfE, 2020:8

Secondly, throughout the guidance, Marking Connections boxes highlight links between RPC within a year group. For example, in Year 1, the first RPC for Number and Place Value is linked to two other RPC:

DfE, 2020:9

Thirdly, at the end of each year group chapter, a section on ‘calculation and fluency’ draws together all the relevant RPCs.


Alongside supporting teachers to plan coherently by connecting learning outcomes as shown in the previous section, the guidance aims to support coherence regarding representations and language.


Mathematics is an abstract subject and representations have the potential to provide access through exposing and highlighting the underlying structure of the mathematics. They can help develop understanding if they ‘constitute joint activity with children’ (Askew, 2012). The guidance hones in on a small number of representations which are used to explore understanding from Y1 to Y6. Tens frames and number lines, for example are used in every year group at an age-appropriate level. Such repeated touch points means that familiarity with the representation develops, increasing their potential to help children develop a deep mathematical understanding.


Mathematical talk is essential to deepen understanding, and suggested sentence structures are provided to support pupils to use to capture, connect and apply important mathematical ideas (DfE, 2020). By using a consistent structure and altering the details as shown here, a coherent approach can be built across the primary years:

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5


There is no denying that the guidance is dense, and it can be overwhelming, but it’s here to stay so there’s time to make sense of it and implement it. Pick one place to start. What one element can you choose to make a difference to the practice in your school?

Look out on this blog for future posts which will delve into aspects of the guidance in greater detail.

See below for useful links too:

Mathematics Guidance – KS1 and KS2 – DfE and NCETM

NCETM support with the guidance


Askew, M (2012) Transforming Primary Teaching, Oxon, Routledge

Boaler, J (no date) Tour of Mathematical Connections, accessed 7/11/20

CBI (2012) ‘First Steps – A New Approach for Our Schools’ accessed 7/11/20

DfE (2013) National Curriculum, accessed 7/11/20

DfE (2019) Join the maths Teaching for Mastery programme, accessed 7/11/20

NCETM (no date) Information for school leaders about free professional development, accessed 7/11/20

NUT (2013) The NUT’s response to the National Curriculum Consultation, accessed 7/11/20

Ready to progress - Dr Gemma Parker
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