Craig Barton’s interview with Jane Jones HMI – Ben Gordon’s summary notes @mathsmrgordon

I have now listened to all of Craig Barton’s podcasts with various guests – some of them two or three times over (yes, they are that good!) I have listened carefully to this Craig Barton Podcast interview with Jane Jones lead HMI for mathematics, which was broadcast in January 2018. I have tried my best to summarise the key points under different headings that are related to mathematics education, but loads of the points made a relevant for all teachers and leaders! It is important to note that I have paraphrased this information and that Jane continually referred to Ofsted as having “no preferred style or method” – this has been known to be damaging to schools who change their policies based on an Ofsted recommendation (for example, when Ofsted reported in some inspections that triple marking was seen as a strength, other schools took this to mean they should change their feedback policy to require all staff to carry out triple marking.) I also have included some comments from Craig that I agreed with but do not necessarily provide the view of Ofsted. I have marked these types of statements with an*. I do hope you find this as useful as I did. The interview is around 3 hours long and I realise that we don’t have time to listen for this period of time so I have tried to do the ground work for you.  The idea is to share best practice and insights into what the inspectorate consider. I have put this into my own words in many places in order to best summarise key points. Craig is an inspiration for many maths teachers and the work he has done on reflecting on his own practice and sharing his podcast with others will be etched in maths education for the rest of time. His book, which I have pre-ordered, “How I Wish I’d Taught Maths” is available here.

Teaching and Learning of Mathematics

  • A focus on primary teacher knowledge key – more challenge and more confidence from teachers.
  • Differentiation is more about depth than breadth – maths is infinitely extendable in each area and lots of links can be made
  • Knowledge has to come before problem solving – you can’t think critically without background knowledge*
  • A good set of questions to ask pupils in lesson is “how does this link to what you already know… how is it the same… how is it different to the examples shown?” – Use of examples and non-examples when introducing topics a good way to make ideas more concrete.
  • The lessons should be pitched at a desirably difficult level – just above the student’s capabilities but not too difficult so that the student loses motivation – formative assessment key*.
  • Carrying out exam practice in class with teacher support? Don’t start the exam from the beginning – start it at the staples if you are allowed to help them – teacher time is valuable and must be used when children are in the class room
  • Jane thinks showing students worked examples and model solutions can be effective.
  • It’s a mistake to choose an activity to “engage” learners – choose questions carefully from a worksheet – which ones are going to help students identify and overcome misconceptions;
  • Ofsted would like to see students unphased by failure – celebrating it and showing perseverance
  • Silence in the class room is not a sound track to disengagement*
  • Jane, as an inspector in an observation, will ask students with their hand up, “Can I help?” – at this point she will ask them to talk about things they are or have been stuck with recently, what support has been given and to explain the example just shown and why it works
  • Physical and ICT interactive manipulatives seen as useful ways to help conceptualise mathematics.
  • If someone has finished she uses that time to go and have a look through their book and ask them, “What have you found easy/difficult? How does today link with prior learning? What problems have you solved recently?”
  • More focus on teaching over time and gaining a more holistic view through triangulation of dialogue, work scrutiny, assessments, observations, policies and schemes of work

Jane said a possible good idea might be to create a short statement for the department that summarised what you can expect to see in terms of “this is how we do things here.”

Ofsted Myth Busting

Question Answer
Is there a time limit on teacher talk? No
Does Ofsted have a preferred teaching style No
Do maths problems need to be set in a real life context Absolutely no
Is there a need to see group work/co-operative learning? No
Pupils talking to each other Good for pupils to reason and show they can articulate but not required
Do written lesson objectives and learning outcomes need to be shared? No
Do classrooms need to be arranged in a certain way? No
What is your take on class room displays? Must be up to date

Good to celebrate pupil work/achievements

Work Scrutiny – What does Jane look for?

  • Will look at schemes of work and medium term plans and compare these to quality of teaching and how lessons and content are linked together
  • Jane prefers to look through books with a leader present
  • Jane is aware that not everything that happens is in books
  • Problem solving is a focus that they look for in maths book looks
  • Looking to see if the teaching approach is consistent in the department – teaching the hows and the whys
  • Ofsted have an expected standards criteria that they will use for key stage 2, 3 and 4.
  • Do books match up with the depth of the maths curriculum that the school claim to offer?


  • Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency of marking
  • NCETM produced guidance on marking in maths for key stage 2, 3 and 4 and this guidance was vetted by Ofsted

  • Are you following the school’s marking policy? That is what they are interested in. No matter how much workload it creates – if it has been decided by the school you must mark your books every lesson then they will be looking to see if that is being practiced. Schools are therefore the ones who are empowered to reduce the workload with sensible, considered, subject specific policies.
  • Marking books should serve the purpose of telling the teacher how learning is happening and informing the teacher of the next steps
  • Poor marking would be classed as “tick and flick” and nothing else or books not being marked for a long period of time
  • It is perfectly acceptable for some pages of the book not to be marked at all – this is realistic
  • Pupils could be encouraged/trained to mark their own work to help, particularly in key stage 4
  • Careful choice of questions will be looked at – 3 well selected maths questions could be better than 20 that have just been downloaded from a website

My latest blog on question variation can be found here.

  • She stated that it is “not possible to mark all work”
  • “Ridiculous how long teachers are spending marking work”


  • No triple marking expected
  • If policy says it is – they will check it’s being done
  • Setting 3 questions on misconceptions the day after marking may be a good idea
  • Feedback has to make students think
  • The more detailed the feedback, the less they have to think
  • No recording of verbal feedback required

My blog on symbol marking in maths can be found here.

“Where does this pressure and workload come from in your opinion Jane?”

  • The feeling of the need to prove (evidence)
  • There is now more of a shift to a professional dialogue – she thinks this is better for the school now;
  • In the past, Ofsted’s praise of triple marking at some schools in the reports will have been picked up and created an epidemic
  • Interesting that Jane feels that the nature of being an outstanding school means that you may be “out of the inspection loop” – still labelled as outstanding with possibly out-dated practice
  • Advises all staff to read the Ofsted myth busting documentation


Does being observed by a non-maths specialist inspector make a difference?

  • Non specialists can observe generic teacher qualities
  • Currently being trained by Jane on looking for proficiency in learners and looking for “teaching for understanding” in maths
  • Being trained to look for question variation and how one question on a worksheet may have been designed to link with another

Again, this is where having a short department description of typical maths teaching would come in handy. Staff can of course choose themselves to write a short context of the lesson or big picture description for the inspector to read.


Maths leadership

  • Effective management would show a well run department who are consistent in their approach, share ideas and well organised
  • Effective leadership is more about having a current, well informed insight
  • If you have a well experienced department then there should be lots of sharing of ideas and autonomy
  • If you have lots of non-specialists then consider banding your year groups and using parallel classes to pair a non-specialist with a specialist – coaching model, joint planning, resource sharing, topic approach sharing, pupil misconceptions prepared for



  • Jane defined her understanding of the word meaning the objectives spelled out by specifications and the National Curriculum
  • Scheme of work is defined by Jane as how the school implements the maths curriculum
  • Schemes of work should not just be the “what” but should describe the how – departments should have a shared, clear idea on how a certain topic/method is going to be delivered
  • There may be links to resources and other topics that relate to the one in question
  • A clear idea of how this topic will be used in future topics and why consistency is key should be clear among the department
  • Common misconceptions should be addressed
  • If this is all done by experienced staff in isolation from the department, then it may not be a shared approach and staff do not gain experience in sequencing content and developing these important curriculum development skills
  • Curriculum is now a big focus for Ofsted – Amanda Spielman has asked inspectors to carry out a curriculum survey this year – a rich curriculum is a large hinge in effective practice
  • There is a statuary requirement to complete certain areas of the curriculum during a particular key stage but not in a particular year group.
  • A strategy she uses with maths leaders is she role plays the role of a substitute teacher and asks the head of department how she can use the scheme of work to teach year 8 set 3 tomorrow – is there detail enough for this to happen?
  • Jane does not want ridiculous amounts of time altering schemes of work from these comments but wants people to know they should serve a wider purpose than just the “what and when” of teaching topics
  • Linked resources should enrich the content and should not be chosen unless they do so

What is Ofsted’s view on mastery in maths?

  • Jane believes mastery is highly misunderstood
  • The word when associated with chess (grand master) or a master class implies it is only for the “elite” – mastery in maths is for all, not just the elite.
  • Jane’s definition was for all students to achieve sufficient mastery in order to progress onto a higher level of maths – the linking of prior concepts to future learning (this is a loose definition reworded by me)
  • Mixed ability setting – if Jane was subject leader again she would probably move towards this gradually by first using banding and a parallel set system – this would create a wider ability range in the sets to begin with
  • Mastery approaches to teaching mean that there is less differentiation in the lesson and staff are able to “hold classes together more for conceptual understanding”
  • Ofsted’s views are highly aligned with the NCETM, who produced 6 booklets for years to 1 to 6 –
  • Secondary materials also available –
  • 4 strands of mastery – mastery approach, mastery curriculum, mastery teaching and what does it mean to master?
  • Inspectors are currently being trained to understand what effective mastery looks like due to its increasing presence in primary and secondary
  • Common at key stage 2 and 3, not so much at key stage 4
  • Not something you can just “dip into” – you have to fully commit to the mastery approach due to its fluidity and its reliance on prior mastery of topics to progress
  • As time goes by, pupils should be more masterful at key stage 3 due to increased quality of teaching and consistency at key stage 2 using these approaches
  • We must consider that developing a mastery approach part way through a key stage means that those students haven’t gained the experience of mastery from the early age needed for optimum success

What does more able and less able mean when Ofsted refer to them?

  • This is a historic term used which Jane thinks is damaging;
  • More able and less able do not fit the mastery model, which challenges the idea that maths ability is innate
  • Important that considerations are made for how we can develop a growth mind set in students in maths
  • Labels of more able and less able can be dangerous – Jane prefers to think of these only in terms of prior attainment – higher prior attainers and lower prior attainers – that way a label is not attached to their ability to improve but only to what they have achieved in the past.

Transition – has Jane seen any models of excellent academic transition in maths?

  • Last year Ofsted visited primaries in summer term and then the related secondary in the Autumn term – the focus was on mathematical academic transition, although she does realise that pastoral care is a big part of transition too
  • Good points to focus on are:

– For primaries – how well do you know each individual in terms of their skills?

– Jane noticed that primary staff, in the schools visited, were less knowledgeable about their student’s problem solving and reasoning skills but had lots of information on proficiency in different maths skills

– Secondary schools only seemed to receive raw data and nothing else

Jane’s 2 areas for developments for transition would be:

  1. How ready is the pupil for the next stage mathematically? How do you know? Is there information on their reasoning and problem solving abilities?
  2. Does the receiving school’s maths department have enough knowledge from primaries to adjust their scheme of work, starting points, early interventions? Communication and quality of data shared vital.
  • There are apparently QLAs available from key stage 2 assessments that allow staff to see how well each question was answered. While QLAs are not useful for making judgements on a pupil’s ability in one topic based on one exam question, they do provide an excellent picture of a more holistic view of a group of student’s ability in a certain topic – i.e. 75% of pupils got the question on fractions of amounts incorrect – this needs to be a focus in half term 1 at secondary school.
  • Some secondary schools had examples of excellent student work and stuck this into maths and science books to show the types of problems these students could solve. Students best piece of extended writing was copied and stuck into all secondary books to show the level of work that should be expected in subjects that require extended writing
  • Jane does not recommend re-testing at the start of year 7 – use the key stage 2 assessments
  • If you do choose to re-assess – consider comparing these results to ks2/standardised scores
  • Jane made an interesting point about disadvantaged students possibly being the most affected by re-assessing at the start of year 7 as they are most likely to drop down in score. This means that they may be arranged into sets incorrectly compared to their peers and there is a suggestion that this may increase the achievement gap from the offset.

I repeat, Ofsted does not advocate any particular style of teaching, feedback policy or scheme of work but the previous information provides an insight into Jane’s vast insight into maths education. Treat it like an artist would treat a paint palette – pick what you think is useful, adapt it and add it to your practice. I really hope that the summary is informative and thank you again to Craig and Jane for the excellent podcast.

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