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The importance of Teaching Mathematics with Dil Dias Rss

Posted on: January 31st 2020

This week, we caught up with Teaching for Mastery Lead and Maths Consultant, Dil Dias about the importance of teaching mathematics at primary level. As a passionate mathematician, we talk about the role of the teacher in nurturing mathematical ability, the state of primary mathematics now and his own journey in the Fed!  

Dil Dias

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Dil Dias and I am the Teaching for Mastery lead for London Thames Maths Hub. Before I tell you about my role, I’ll explain what a Maths Hub is. The Maths Hub Programme, which was established in 2014, is part of the wider development of school-led system leadership in England. In total, there are 37 Hubs nationally, and each Hub is locally led by an outstanding school or college, with London Thames Maths Hub being led by the Harris Federation. Essentially, we seek to develop partnerships between local schools, colleges and universities that brings mathematics education professionals together in order to develop and spread excellent practice. To sum up, we offer professional development opportunities for anyone involved in the teaching of maths, from Early Years to Post-16, with the aim of driving school-wide change. What essentially sets the Maths Hub apart from traditional PD is that all our programmes use the Work Group model – PD that is sustained over time (this could be over one, two or three terms) with an emphasis on collaborative evidence-based professional development and classroom-based research.

As the Teaching for Mastery Lead for London Thames, my role sees me working with our team of Mastery Specialists to support schools in further developing a mastery approach. Since 2015 we have a helped over thirty teachers train as Mastery Specialists, who have then gone on to support over 150 London schools to develop their approaches to teaching maths.

What’s your relationship to maths and where did it all start?

It definitely stemmed from childhood, I was always fascinated with patterns and puzzles, so maths in school was something that I looked forward to from an early age. In sixth form I developed an interest in teaching, particularly at a primary level, so decided to pursue it as a career and went to university to study Primary Education. I graduated in 2005 and began my career with an amazing year 1 class, maths definitely wasn’t the focus at that point, learning the ropes and the basics was really what occupied most of my time. In my second year I was lucky enough to be supported by an inspirational colleague who helped me learn how to use models, tools and manipulatives effectively to better support my class, that year really piqued my interest in maths from a teaching perspective and as a result a few years later on I invested some time in gaining a Maths Specialist Teacher Programme (MaST) qualification.

Over the next few years I taught across KS1 and KS2, and in 2012 I moved schools and secured a Maths Leadership role. Within a year of starting, the school transitioned to a Harris Primary Academy, becoming Harris Primary Academy Kenley.

During my time at the school, I collaborated with Federation staff on turning things around. During the school’s transition, there were a lot of changes that needed to be made, including improving the standard of maths across the school. One of the Primary Consultants assigned to the school came in and worked with me as the Maths Lead - it was the first time that anyone had invested their time to guide me to become a more effective subject leader. It was great to work with her on this transition because the complexity of this schoolwide problem was removed, and I was able to confidently try out practices and plans we had discussed. This also happened to be my first introduction to Harris, prior to the transition I did not know much about the Federation. I was very lucky to be able to witness the transition into a Harris Federation academy from within, as it allowed me to work with key specialists and practitioners on the future of the school.

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Tell us more about your time in the Federation?

Well, from that point, it was a constant stream of opportunity. That is to say that I was exposed to opportunities within the wider Harris Federation as opposed to just primarily inside the school. One of the first I attended being, Building Learning Power. Stepping into that programme which was headed by Professor Guy Claxton, it revolved around the question, ‘How can we support children to become better learners.’ As teachers, we were made to ask ourselves, ‘what is it we need to be aware of in order to support them? Each primary academy nominated someone for this collaborative project and to lead on its development in their academy. This was only a couple months into the transition of becoming a Harris academy, and that was a brand-new experience, working with other academies so closely and collaborating on a project like that.

A year later, I became Assistant Principal at Harris Academy Kenley, and a year after that I took on a role within the Maths Hub – splitting my week between the academy and the Hub. In fact, it was the Executive Principal of the academy who put me forward for the Maths Hub position after I expressed an interest in career development - she told me about the role and asked if I would be interested. I’ve had this role for 5 years and it has now become my main focus. In between that time, I left Harris Kenley to become a Primary Tutor for Harris Initial Teacher Education, again splitting my time between the Maths Hub and ITE. I didn’t particularly have a planned agenda for my Harris career journey, however I have been driven in my passions for teaching and the development of teaching maths.

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Why Harris?

It is interesting because I originally lived in Kent when I began working for the Federation, and now I live in Eastbourne and have longer journey into work, but I cannot see myself working anywhere else. The commute is worth the work that I do every day. We continue to grow and learn together and that is really key here. Despite the fact that my role takes me both across the Federation and externally working within other schools, I can still recognise how our academies have built a network of dedicated teachers, support staff and leadership. From this, we pull together and help each other.

There are two things that make Harris brilliant, it’s the collaboration between our academies but also the geography. Our academies are able to come together and work from pre-existing relationships of collaboration due to how close they are in their areas. You can see the difference that it brings to the development of those individual academies, where the relationships of collaboration already exists and they want to develop something together, as opposed to schools in isolation.

Whenever I meet with any of the Federation’s subject consultants, I am in awe of how each of them has gone about leading change in their respective roles. I think it’s fantastic that the Federation has created roles within education that allow you to lead and inspire change in a way which play to your strengths. It means that whenever any of us enter an academy, we are bringing the best of ourselves to that environment and work together to innovate, develop and support schools.   

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Why is Teaching Maths at Primary important?

There are lots of different answers I can give. Essentially, understanding the fundamental key concepts of mathematics at primary pretty much guarantees a student with a good qualification at the end of KS4 which will make a difference to their life chances. Mathematics is essential for students to engage with the sciences, technology and engineering and almost every student has the potential to grasp these fundamentals and reach the national expected standard at the end of KS2. The only difference as to whether they make it or not is in the standard of teaching – so really the question should be “Why is teaching maths well at Primary important?”.

Maths is a language that allows us to understand and make sense of the world. Every child has the right to be able to understand and use that language as well as appreciate the complexity and see the beauty of mathematics. If we can get primary maths right, then students will have a far better chance of enjoying learning mathematics in KS3 and beyond.

It becomes particularly important when considering how we as teachers, are communicating maths in a way where we are being heard and understood by all pupils and not just receiving performative reflections of our teachings. We have to be sure that all primary students feel confident in their ability to tackle maths. If we were to think about it with consideration to a paper I read by Paul Ernest at Exeter[1], he talks about a cycle that students can fall into when it comes to being taught maths. Students that have a lack of confidence in their own mathematical abilities are privy to a self-fulfilling prophecy, a sort of failure cycle. Repeated failure at mathematical tasks and tests and repeat lack of success in mathematics leads to poor self confidence in mathematics and possible maths anxiety which then leads to a reduced persistence and mathematics avoidance. It exists, and it existed when I was at school. I read a statistic which said that around 5% of the UK population meet diagnostic criteria for dyscalculia. Teaching maths primarily puts you within a space and experience where you are able to identify students with difficulties such as dyscalculia or minor struggles with maths and being able to understand, identify and engage with that comes from good teaching, collaborating on best practice and training teachers how to better recognise this and deliver maths with these considerations in mind. This is to ensure that all students have the foundations for self-assured confidence in their ability to carry out and conduct maths in later life.

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What do you think is become more of a difficulty in the delivery of excellent maths teaching?

Teaching knowledge that is adaptive and flexible.

The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) has really put this at the forefront of the Maths Hub Programme in the form of the Teaching for Mastery Work Groups. Some of our academies who have been involved in the Teaching for Mastery Work Groups early on are really leading the change in maths and have developed skilful practitioners. It’s an absolute joy to watch some of these lessons that you can see have been meticulously crafted.

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Why do we need to invest in teaching maths and invest in the development of primary teachers? 

As I mentioned earlier, children with a solid foundation and a good understanding of the key concepts of maths at primary will be in the best position to succeed at secondary, but also a good mathematics education at primary is fundamental for everyday life – and this will always come down to good quality teaching. The OECD sum it up well by saying that a good standard of numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, poor health and poor pay.* (Andreas Schleicher, OECD, 2013).

How should we be moving forward?

At primary, I don’t think we spend enough time developing teachers’ knowledge of maths. In the past a large proportion of our time has been spent on developing teachers’ knowledge on how to teach maths and yet the knowledge of maths has to underpin how we teach it. Also, I believe that in primary, we tend to fall back on how we were taught and we reduce ideas that are incredibly complex down to simple algorithms just because it appears to make the learning process easier for the student. But mathematics is an interconnected discipline and students need to make connections across mathematical ideas so we have to always start from what the student knows and teach for understanding of mathematics as a whole subject instead providing quick fixes that rely solely on memorisation.

Constant networking and collaboration with other schools, seeing what other schools are doing well and sharing your good practice is the way forward.  Engaging in Work Groups with the Maths Hub is a great way to achieve this. The Work Group model allows for schools to develop how they teach – it’s about collaboration, it’s about committing to innovating maths and pushing for best practice always.

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[1] Ernest, Paul. (2015). The social outcomes of school mathematics: Standard, Unintended or Visionary?. International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology. 3. 10.18404/ijemst.29471.

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