Are we still teaching children mental calculation skills?

The National Numeracy Strategy and the Primary National Strategy (remember them?) had, like many things, some benefits and some flaws. However, one thing that they did do was provide a structured progression to teaching mental calculation. Are we, as a nation, still teaching children the strategies that they need to mentally manipulate numbers successfully?

Under the old National Numeracy Strategy, teachers were given a clear progression throughout the primary phase relating to skills and strategies to support mental calculation. Teachers were guided as and when to introduce strategies such as adding nine by adding ten and taking one away or looking for near doubles and compensating when adding. These strategies were clearly outlined in the expectations at the time as objectives that needed to be taught.The current version of the National Curriculum is not as clear on this area. With a secure understanding of mathematical progression, a teacher can link all of these essential strategies to the appropriate expectations in the National Curriculum.

However, my visits around schools have led me to question whether there is a decline in coverage of mental strategies. Certainly, analysis of KS2 test scripts alongside subject leaders show a large number of pupils who are approaching calculations that are more suited to mental strategies by using formal written methods – calculations like 838 ÷ 1 (as appeared on the 2018 KS2 arithmetic paper).

Where children are able to identify and manipulate known facts, or deploy mental calculation strategies, they are more likely to be able to complete the arithmetic papers.

Exploring this area and agreeing a possible progression for mental calculation would be beneficial in many schoolsTo book a bespoke session with an education adviser with a specialism in the learning and teaching of primary mathematics.

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