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Maths: what are children expected to know before secondary school?

Kate Middleton comically scores her homeschooling maths skills

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Some love numbers, while others find maths more challenging, but at the end of Year 6 they should all understand topics like geometry, percentages, ratios and algebra. It’s important that children have at least a basic knowledge of all these topics to prepare them for high school maths.

We spoke to Charlotte, 26, a Year 6 primary school teacher from Northampton, who said: “When teaching primary school children, we cover aspects such as place value, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, time, fractions, shape and geometry.

“When a child is in Year 6, they will also cover percentages more so along with ratio and algebra.”

Primary school children are challenged with real-life situations and multi-step problems to solve. 

Schools also use arithmetic-based focus lessons which apply maths reasoning/mastery to further challenge pupils.

Charlotte said: “We try and use a lot of concrete resources to support children who struggle to grasp ideas, but also use it for those more able children to reason and support their understanding.

“So things like place value counters, base ten, making connections between different strands of maths is a key area as well.”

The UK National Curriculum splits education into seven levels, with the most able children able to attain a level eight at the end of Key Stage 3. 

Key Stage 1 covers Year 1 to Year 2, with the average seven-year-old expected to attain a level two in both maths and writing. 

Key Stage 2 covers children in Year 3 to Year 6, with the average 11-year-old achieving a level four in maths, English and science. 

The start of high school marks Key Stage 3 including Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9. Topics covered in mathematics include symmetry, sequences and Pythagoras theorem. 

In Primary school, pupils are most likely to be taught in mixed ability classes, but when they reach secondary school they will be grouped into sets or streams based on their academic ability. 

Sets group pupils by ability in specific subjects but streaming assesses general academic performance and classes are formed in accordance with results. 

With sets, a child can be in a class of different classes based on their ability for each subject. For example, a child can be in the top set for English but middle for maths. 

Whereas with streaming a class stays together for all subjects with testing at the beginning of Year 7 to determine such streams.

Charlotte said: “Some schools do mixed ability table groups or set by ability, we mix ours so we have a higher attaining with perhaps a lower attaining.

“However, every school is different, but we use partner work in maths which helps a lot with supporting.”

Maths as a whole is more popular among the children, says Charlotte. 

“We try and move from concrete to pictorial to abstract and that process shows progression and hopefully understanding.

“Primary school maths is such a huge aspect within the curriculum, but if aspects of the maths are not regularly reviewed then the learning is easily lost. An example of this is multiplication, it needs frequent review in order for children to fluently and accurately know their times tables.

“They then need to look at the pattern and the relationship with how their times tables link to related calculations, such as 50 x 3 or 300 divided by 5.”

However, if pupils are lacking understanding from primary school, it does make it harder to fill the gaps later on. 

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