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Using Maths Specialists in Primary School

By Sam Southwell 

Within the primary education sector, there are those who believe “We’re teachers of children, not teachers of subjects.” This is a popular justification for having non-specialist teachers in certain shortage subjects and there is interesting research to support this. “King’s College Effective Teachers of Numeracy” project (1997) actually found a negative correlation between the level of Maths qualification (but not Maths specific CPD) and teaching effectiveness in this subject.

With that being said, we would not really want our children to be taught Maths by someone who only has a basic understanding of it. Some may argue that subject knowledge is relatively less important than the skill of building relationships and managing behaviour in the classroom but, ideally, all of these aspects are crucial. We need both knowledge and skills to succeed.

A Maths specialist is...

A Maths specialist would know where a child is most likely to have misconceptions and/or make mistakes. A Maths specialist would also understand what to do about it and how to explain tricky concepts in a more effective and engaging way. Although teaching is a transferable skill (like critical thinking), this is pedagogical content knowledge that a non-specialist is rarely aware of. After all, you can only teach what you know and great teaching requires depth of subject knowledge. A Maths specialist is keenly aware of the skills involved and is better able to take the learners to a desired level of mastery in the subject.


However, it can still be worthwhile for a talented teacher of a certain discipline  to teach new subjects. If they are prepared to immerse themselves in the new topic, they will increase their legitimacy within the classroom. This is how Maths specific CPD can make a positive difference. It’s perfectly possible to change disciplines, although it takes time to reach a depth of knowledge that makes for excellence.

Passion to teach

Maths specialists possess a true passion for their subject, which is a valuable edge over many non-Maths teachers who may dread teaching the topic.  Maths specialists are passionate about their craft and long to share their love of Maths with their pupils. 

There is no doubt that Maths specialist tutors are also more effective than TAs to raise attainment and close the gap in the subject. John Hattie and plenty of evidence have made this very clear, including this very interesting article by Hattie himself. At Third Space Learning, we employ over 150 Maths specialists, who are top graduates and have been specifically trained in one-to-one, Maths online intervention.  They are selected through a rigorous recruitment process, including both an Initial Tutor Training (ITT) and a fortnightly CPD all year round. Their performance is regularly monitored, their additional training needs are identified and personalised CPD sessions are undertaken every other Saturday.

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