Maths Memos

Maths Hubs and professional development for all teachers of mathematics


This month government announced the creation of over 30 Maths Hubs across the country. This new initiative is designed to enable schools to support each other to share and develop good practice in mathematics learning and teaching across all schools in their locality. Each Maths Hub is co-ordinated by a lead school. To be selected this school had to go through a highly competitive process and, amongst other things, demonstrate outstanding practice and strong networks in their region.

Many congratulations to those schools that have been chosen as lead schools. It is an awesome task, as they set about devising a model for their hub that best suits their circumstances and locality. What principles and guidelines will be useful to them as they set about this task? What advice would you offer?

This set me thinking about ACME's 2013 report, 'Empowering teachers: success for learners.' I think there are two elements from this report that could be immediately useful to the Maths Hubs.

Firstly, ACME has a vision for professional development:

'All students are taught by well-qualified teachers who are themselves professional learners. Schools and colleges are vibrant learning communities in which students thrive because teachers are actively collaborating in professional learning networks, inquiry groups and with experts. Teacher development is both an entitlement and a responsibility and is framed by common national guidelines. Institutional commitment and local infrastructure support the career-long professional development of all teachers. Activities are purposeful, engaging and high-quality, occurring formally and informally in a variety of ways.'

This ACME vision could help each hub to establish their own vision for the professional development for all teachers of mathematics. In my opinion, a collective vision under which all the activity sits is essential to the effective functioning of the hubs as a group of up to 600 schools in a geographical locality united around a common purpose.

Secondly, ACME sets out aims, principles and activities in this report that underpin the vision and could support the vision to become a reality. These could be useful to the Maths Hubs as they design their own professional development opportunities. The design of professional development opportunities needs to be based on clear, research-informed principles. I wonder what these principles are for each Maths Hub. What would you recommend? What do you think is central to designing effective professional development opportunities?

The ACME principles for professional development that improves mathematics teaching and learning are that it:

  • is relevant to the needs of teachers and institutions
  • is mathematics-specific and appropriate to career stage and education phase
  • promotes deep subject knowledge and enhances pedagogical skills
  • is both an entitlement and a professional responsibility
  • is sustained and transformative
  • is valued and supported by colleagues, managers and governors
  • is enhanced in professional learning communities and networks
  • is facilitated by experienced and well-qualified experts
  • is informed by research and stimulated by collaborative enquiry groups
  • is planned thoroughly, well-resourced and carefully evaluated
  • encourages reflection and promotes teacher inquiry.

Which of these is the most challenging to achieve in the Maths Hubs context? Will that vary from hub to hub? Amongst other things, these ACME principles could be useful to the Maths Hubs as they audit what is available in their locality. They could provide guidelines against which to assess each professional development opportunity that is currently on offer.

ACME proposes that the aim of professional development for all teachers should be to enhance the learning of each and every student. For this to happen, ACME believes that teachers need to:

  • develop deeper mathematical subject knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and other professional learning, including the use of digital technologies
  • engage with mathematics and its uses
  • consider the implications and implementation of policy changes where appropriate, for example new curricula and assessment.

These ACME aims for professional development could support the hubs in deciding their professional development focus for the next year. Professional development provision could be distributed across all the aims or focus on one high-priority aim that is central to all schools' development at this time, such as the implications and implementation of new curricula.

The Maths Hubs will want to provide and broker a range of activities. What could this range include? In preparing its report, ACME harnessed the expertise of the mathematics education community, schools, research, subject associations and the research literature to produce a list of activities that provide high-quality professional development. ACME proposes that activities that support professional development include (in no particular order):

  • critical reflection on, evaluation of, and experimentation in classrooms
  • one-off events, such as training days, INSET, workshops and conferences
  • sustained development opportunities
  • on-line self study and other forms of e-learning
  • active engagement in professional development communities and collaborative enquiry networks
  • non-award bearing in-service events run by HEIs
  • active membership of a subject association
  • courses that develop subject knowledge or focus on classroom practice
  • postgraduate study such as diploma, Masters or doctoral research.

I wonder how useful this is to Maths Hubs as they embark on their journey. Which of these will be most prominent in their locality? Which will be most useful to teachers of mathematics at this time? If you are a teacher, what would you find valuable to further develop your classroom practice?

So, here's wishing each Maths Hub well as they set up their structure and provision of professional development in their locality. Hopefully, the ACME vision, aims, principles and activities will provoke discussion and contribute to the effectiveness of each Hub in developing the highest-quality mathematics experiences for all students. That has to be the central goal.

Jennie Pennant is an ACME member and Primary PD LEAD at  NRICH and Director of GrowLearning

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