One Way To Improve Maths Sats Results – Better Teaching

In 2009 Barton Hill Primary Bristol invited Richard Dunne to help improve maths teaching for year 6. Dispatches Kids Don’t Count recorded the results.

Kids Don’t Count was aired in 2 parts in February 2010.  Here is part 2.

The School Realised They Had  Problem And Asked For Help

The year before Richard came nearly 1/2 of year 6 failed to get the expected level 4 in maths KS2 sats.

Worse 20% only got a level 2.

It would be easy to just criticise the school for poor maths teaching but they definitely deserve credit for asking for help.

Richard’s Achievement In A Nutshell.

All of the year 6 which Richard taught got at least a level 3 in KS2 sats.  Remember the previous year 20% only got a level 2.  Some of the pupils got level 4 or 5, even those who had been heading for level 2 at start of the year.

Richard did not have a full year with the children

  • A school year is 39 weeks
  • There were 8 weeks after sats
  • 11 weeks were spent practising sats

So I reckon Richard only had about 20 weeks before sats.

How much better would the results have been if the children had been taught by Richard (or someone like him) from year1.  Say 215 weeks instead of 20  ( 5 x 39 + 20= 215).

Richard’s Approach

Richard was confident, lively and enthusiastic.  He involved and motivated the whole class.  He talked about things they could understand (the number of paper cups on a table), and introduced them to how maths is written.

You act the real story
I’ll write the maths story

A large part of learning maths (if not all of it) is learning what the symbols mean and how to manipulate them.

The program pointed out you could become a primary school teacher with only a grade C at GCSE.  How can someone who does not properly understand maths confidently teach it.

Richard spent almost all his time involving the class.  The other teachers spent a lot of time talking to the class, about what they were about to do or what they had just done.  Many of the children looked bored.

When Richard taught the class the children looked, involved, happy and enthusiastic.
So I guess they weren’t stressed then.

Sats and National Curriculum

If sats are so important how come Wales and Northern Ireland have given them up and Scotland never had them?

Maths is a subject which builds on what has come before.  So if you don’t understand what has come before it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to move on.  The National Curriculum seems to be based on children learning certain things at certain times during their schooling.  This might be fine if all children were the same, but they are not.

If children don’t understand a piece of maths it would seem to make more sense to repeat until they do.  At Barton Hill this lack of understanding was clearly due to the teaching as children started to understand maths, and improve rapidly once Richard arrived.

In addition one teacher, Carol White, went back over material the children should have already learned rather than teaching new material and (surprise surprise) the children’s maths improved.

Dispatches asked 155 primary school teachers from schools across the country to take a test of primary school maths

Only one teacher got all answers right.

The Times reported that only

20 per cent of the teachers correctly calculated that 4 + 2 x 5 is 14

a third of the teachers solved the calculation 1.4 divided by 0.1.

Finally what an earth is the point of spending 11 weeks, nearly 1/3 of school year, practising taking an exam rather than learning how to answer the questions in the exam!

Final Thoughts

Comparing Richard’s approach to teaching with that described by
Pat Harrison from Bolton College and Michel Thomas – the Language Master

  • Experienced teachers who are completely familiar with their subject


  • Talk in terms which makes sense to the learner


  • Go at the pace of the learner

Personally I think learning (or cramming) to pass an exam is of no use compared to learning something so well you can use it for the rest of your life.

After all isn’t the point of school learning that you can use it outside school?




Links to  Richard Dunne  and  Maths Makes Sense – Richard’s method of teaching maths.

Some articles about Richard Dunne at Barton Hill


Bristol Post

Barton Hill Primary Bristol



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