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#389 Raising Attainment in Maths Through Improved Problem Solving Skills – Trimley St Mary Primary School

Phil Murray

What did we do?

Over the course of the year I have been working with teachers in Key Stage 2. I have been focussing on reasoning and problem solving skills as I had identified these as a development area from both observations and test results. I began working on bar modelling, working with staff and pupils. As the term progressed I moved on to a variety of problems, looking at estimating, being systematic and looking for patterns.

All through I modelled teaching and helped teachers to begin to create their own questions targeting areas that needed developing.

“The children began the year lacking the confidence and resilience to tackle word problems. By taking it back to basics and having problems to work with and then modelled both staff and pupils now have developed resilience alongside increased confidence. Also I have seen different ways to approach problems which has given me more confidence to teach problem solving. ”

“Both myself and the children have seen how to approach many different problems, we have all seen lots of ways to work systematically and how to apply different strands of mathematical knowledge to problems such as magic squares and questions with multiple solutions.”

Feedback from teachers.

Summary of impact

One of the main benefits of the weekly sessions has been the chance to work with both teachers and pupils on a regular basis. This has helped to develop teacher’s knowledge of how to solve questions, showing different approaches that can help different children. This has led to teachers becoming more confident in teaching reasoning and problem solving meaning they can also push children on further. Children have been enjoying the challenge of the questions being set and over the year have become more confident and more resilient.

As a result of the project teachers are much more confident about finding and creating appropriate challenging questions and children are much happier attempting the questions.

Steps taken

I started with observations of lessons and question level analysis. Both of these showed that reasoning and solving word problems was an area that needed working on. To make it manageable I worked with four classes including my own, the other three were in years3,4 and 5 respectively with my own in year 6. Following this, I gave each class a couple of word problems, I presented them “cold” so that I could see how children would approach the problem. These questions could both be solved with children using bar modelling however only a couple of children approached the questions in this way.

As I began to work with the children on using bar modelling it was apparent that teachers weren’t completely confident teaching bar modelling hence I also worked with teachers on how to use it in lessons.  As I continued with the project I was able to identify strengths and weaknesses for both pupils and staff. It became clear that teachers were happy to try anything new but sometimes needed the additional support to feel confident how to explain how to solve problems.

For some of the less able pupils I also worked with them on using manipulatives to give them a concrete approach to solving questions. To further aid this, I arranged for a maths consultant to work with children and staff in years 3 and 4 who are now implementing ideas from the training. As a school we will be carrying out tests to see how children are solving and approaching problems in late June, to see how many are now at expected and at greater depth.

What would we do differently

While I feel it was the correct decision to focus on KS2 (the whole school would have been too much) I do think it would have been beneficial to have had the maths consultant in earlier. Although I am an experienced teacher, I was still able to glean many ideas to use and would have had longer to implement them.


  • £550 maths consultant.
  • £1000 manipulatives such as numicon.

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Trimley Sy Mary Primary School

Phil Murray