# Intersections: Mathematics and the primary school SENCO

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- Intersections: Mathematics and the primary school SENCO

## Intersections: Mathematics and the primary school SENCO

Anna is a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) at a mainstream primary school in London. She trained as a primary school teacher in London and has experience of teaching across the primary age range, with a focus on the early years. She is interested in inclusion.

**How would you characterise your current work?**

My occupation is a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) in a mainstream primary school, and teacher. My role involves leading provision for children with Special Educational Needs, so a lot of this is working with families and other agencies, as well as supporting teachers to make sure that appropriate plans and provision are in place for children. I would say a lot of my role is about communication and linking people up, offering support and advice to make sure the required adaptations are there.

**How do you feel about maths? **

As a teacher, I’ve had to teach maths. As a child I wouldn’t say it was a subject I naturally gravitated towards, but I always managed to spend the time and made sure I worked hard on it and did well at school. But it did not come naturally and that’s continued really – I don’t avoid it, but as a teacher, I am much more at home with English than with maths. I have worked at being keen to find ways to teach maths creatively and in engaging ways, making real-life connections for children, and using concrete resources.

**What is it about your work that is mathematical?**

So, as I say, teaching the maths curriculum is one thing. Some of the things I deal with that are mathematical include data and percentages (e.g. working out the proportions of children who are meeting, exceeding, or not meeting age-related expectations). It can be quite useful to quantify things like the number of children within a certain category that are achieving certain goals or not, have access to certain things or not (for instance, laptop access). So, a lot of my work involves basic numbers, frequencies, percentages.

**How do you use maths, calculation or numeracy in your work? What tools do you use to help you?**

Following on from the above question, we have tracking databases and tracking systems to track pupil progress and attainment. Sometimes we use Excel spreadsheets to handle scores of things. Sometimes I look at standardised assessments with certain scores (e.g. a diagnostic reading assessment). The main tools I use are calculators and Excel. In terms of teaching, I might use resources produced by different organisations to support my planning and to ensure appropriate steps towards progression within a learning sequence – this would of course also be informed by assessments of children in the classroom context. Consulting with teaching textbooks like Haylock and Cockburn’s *Understanding Mathematics for Young Children* and Griffiths, Gifford and Back’s *Making Numbers: Using Manipulatives to Teach Arithmetic* for early years maths increases my understanding of how best to support children to understand number concepts and helps me to understand the breakdown of early number work myself.

**Do you think maths is creative? If so, how?**

Do I think maths is creative? Yes, I think it definitely can be. I guess there’s the higher-level kind of thinking, challenges and problem-solving things that take thinking outside the box. I find those kinds of problems quite hard myself! To think outside the box, you have to have a solid understanding of a concept, such as the number system, as well. I think we can use maths in creative contexts and be playful with it, and sometimes you need creative ways of solving problems. So, I guess that’s a couple of ways it can be creative.

**Do you use or rely on any maths that you learnt in school?**

I think we take for granted that we have a sense of number, but we don’t develop that sense of number without the education we have had. I can see as a teacher how this forms across the early years and primary age range. So definitely, yes. I am currently studying a Master’s in Psychology, so there are certain things (like the equation for a straight line, for example) that I am sure I was taught at secondary school that I can’t remember, but I’m sure that if I hadn’t been taught it and was coming across it now, it would be a lot harder than it is. All understanding of concepts for major calculations and the number system in general is all from school.

**How would you change the school curriculum, if you had the chance? Why?**

I am part of a group which is involved in early years pedagogy, and advocates for the early years pedagogy to remain central to the way that maths is taught. This includes number rhymes, stories and in the context of children’s play, as opposed to bits of rote learning, for example, that are creeping in. For me, adequate training and the ability to reflect on your practice could help in adapting the curriculum to make it more age-appropriate. I think the curriculum itself needs to be more specifically focused on being developmentally appropriate and should give opportunities to explore learning outdoors. Rather than stopping this at the end of the early years, it may be beneficial to create meaningful contexts for learning. Children think about real life links all the way through the primary age range. So, I think for me, there are three things that are key: professional development, developmental appropriateness, and the things that research highlights as important to children’s mathematical development. For example, spatial reasoning should have a prominent place in the early years curriculum.

Some people are arguing that ordinality needs to be taught properly with a clear idea of progression, but all of these things (subitising, cardinality, ordinality) are not things that teachers necessarily have a strong understanding of. Professional development opportunities are not necessarily consistent. So, for me, professional development is a big part of a successful curriculum, with strong pedagogical understanding and strong subject knowledge, which are key. The things that are backed by research should be really brought into the fore and not rushed ahead with. The demands on four- and five-year-olds, for example, are not always in line with where children are developmentally. Obviously, they need that time to experience number in a very concrete way, with lots of high-quality modelling from adults about the basic skills like counting – we line numbers up, we judge them one at a time, the last number in the sequence tells us how many are in the set. These kinds of skills are not always broken down or understood in a way that they need to be. Making sure the links between what’s child-appropriate and effective pedagogy at a given age should be in tandem with the maths and how it’s taught.

**References:**

- Griffiths, R., Gifford, S., & Back, J. (2016).
*Making numbers: Using manipulatives to teach arithmetic*. Oxford University Press. - Haylock, D., & Cockburn, A. D. (2017).
*Understanding mathematics for young children: A guide for teachers of children 3-7*(5th ed.). SAGE.

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