Mathematical fluency across the curriculum

by | Nov 4, 2021 | Curriculum

Mathematical fluency across the curriculum

OFSTED make it very clear in their latest handbook for school inspections that they are looking for specific evidence that all pupils can access a range of key concepts across the curriculum and apply them in a range of contexts. Mathematics provides the key to understanding across many subjects. Applying their learning in the context of other subjects will enhance a deep understanding of where learning in a Maths lesson is applied in many contexts elsewhere.

Pupils … need to develop fluency and unconsciously apply their knowledge as skills. This must not be reduced to, or confused with, simply memorising facts.

See the quote below from OFSTED that is included in the list of indicators that were used to inform their own rationale for what constitutes a high quality education linked to excellence in curriculum design and delivery (intent) and (implementation), mathematical fluency is clearly highlighted.

Mathematical fluency and confidence in numeracy are regarded as preconditions for success across the national curriculum.

OFSTED 2018 Intent indicator 2d

This September 2021 the Department for Education have published a guidance paper in conjunction with the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM)  focusing on Maths in key stage 3.  This follows a similar publication that looks at Mathematics in the Primary School published in July 2021. Both of these focus on the sequencing of the content of the Maths curriculum from year to year and key stage to key stage. Neither focus on the absolute importance of sharing mathematical concepts and using mathematical skills across other foundation subjects.

Mathematical fluency across the curriculum
Making connections through collaborative CPD.

However, both papers create a powerful CPD opportunity for those with responsibility for ensuring depth and breadth and positive interleaving of curriculum subjects to ensure that all learners can make connections and develop fluency in Mathematics as is clear in the quote above.

Ask subject leaders and their teams where some of the concepts that are included as part of the narrative of these distinctly Maths focused documents apply in the context of other subjects.

Cross Curricular Mathematics – moving towards maths fluency

Maths is integral to many subjects across the curriculum. Map reading in Geography requires skills in interpretation of scale, measuring distance, working with contour lines that represent the steepness of a slope and measuring weather patterns demands intricate maths skills. Design Technology requires pupils to work with measurements, shapes and 3D as well as mathematical modelling. The opportunities in Science to use maths learning in a real world context are everywhere. Pupils are required to test predictions, record and measure, apply mathematical concepts, calculate results, use and interpret data appropriately, create tables and graphs to name a few of the many examples from The Science Programmes of Study at key stage 2 and 3.

Using words to figure out the reasons why…

The guidance discussed above talks about the need to focus on literacy and language as an essential element of teaching Maths. Opportunities abound to build for pupils a much greater understanding of the Maths concepts they are learning about in Maths lessons if they are able to share their findings from experiments using group work discussions or where they can use percentages to build a pie chart linked say to pupils’ preferences in relation to a study of food and health and then to discuss their findings.

Writing up experiments that involve the interpretation of data, describing the weather patterns over say the past ten years to back up an argument on the evidence of climate change or putting together a presentation to sell a design for a product or model in a design lesson. All the examples given provide a rich vein of opportunity to put Maths in its context and create for pupils a deeper understanding of the reasons they need to have a sound grasp of the concepts that underpin Mathematics.

Creating opportunities for cross-curricular conversations to aid maths fluency

Whilst there is within the current debate about the curriculum a focus on subject specific knowledge it is essential that pupils from across the education spectrum can see the connections across the different subjects. Subject specific curriculum planning in isolation misses many opportunities to see where the learning in Maths lessons can be enhanced by seeing where it is applied in a variety of other subjects. Creating opportunities for inter-departmental conversations to take place will reveal just how much the Maths taught is also an essential element of learning elsewhere.

Where departments can work together to share the National Curriculum programmes of study and see first-hand where the connections exist conversation begin about methods, depth of knowledge, how to assess, ways of teaching, emphasis in relation to context and so on. Where these connections are made explicit for the learner there are real advantages to how the retention of mathematical knowledge is more easily translated from the working memory into the long-term memory.

Developing a deeper understanding of cross curricular maths to aid fluency

Another highly successful way of creating opportunities for cross-curricular teams to work together in a focused look at Maths in context is to gather together exam papers for subjects such as geography, design technology, physics and chemistry and simply look at how many of the questions include a core theme linked to Mathematics.

Cognitive science and mathematical fluency

Deep understanding of learning and memory will help to create mathematical fluency.

Learning Maths theory without a context will inevitably lead to cognitive overload where some pupils can’t take any more knowledge into their short term memory. Research into learning and memory confirms the absolute importance of creating opportunities for pupils to understand how concepts translate across different aspects of learning. There needs to be many opportunities for learning to be reinforced, revisited and retrieved over time. In this way the learning sticks and will be retained for longer.

It therefore makes a great deal of sense that teachers from across the subject spectrum can work in tandem with their Maths colleagues to share where the Mathematical concepts overlap and provide for the learner an opportunity to see the connections and for many a chance to understand why learning the Maths theory is so important to their ability to make sense of the world and how it works.

The role of the maths or numeracy co-ordinator in a primary or secondary school is an important one. Creating a culture where numeracy and Maths are seen as an integral part of learning across the subject spectrum really does have a significant impact on pupils’ motivation, understanding and ultimately their achievement in both Maths and other subjects.  Join us at our highly praised curriculum event:-

Enhancing the Role of the Numeracy Coordinator – Maths concepts into context across the curriculum and beyond

How to Plan a Whole School Sequenced Primary Numeracy Strategy

You may also want to send a colleague to one of two similar event focusing in detail on literacy across the curriculum, both have the power to change perception and build high quality outcomes for all pupils and the teachers who teach them.

Enhancing the Role of the Literacy Coordinator – weaving literacy through the curriculum

How to Plan a Whole School Sequenced Primary Literacy Strategy

New Books


The book ‘Primary Curriculum Design and Delivery by Glynis Frater‘ has now been published.

Find Out More

Other Articles You May Like

My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.