Meeting individuals needs and coordinating the inclusive teaching of maths

Thanks to John Dabell for this post which discusses how to meet individual needs and practise inclusive teaching. John is a teacher with over 20 years teaching experience across all key stages. He has worked as a national in-service provider and is a trained OfSTED inspector.

Teaching has always been a tough gig because the ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t apply. Teaching operates on an equity principle which means high expectations and strong support for all pupils where reasonable and appropriate accommodations are made to promote access and challenge.
Learning needs are individual and so diverse but that doesn’t mean that lessons have to be differentiated 30 ways for needs to be met. The needs of some individuals and certain groups do require specialist guidance and distinct approaches but this should always be manageable and part and parcel of an inclusive high quality teaching plan. Mostly, you will adapt your existing plans and develop effective methods of support. Some of the general strategies you may already employ include:

  • Give immediate feedback, clarify instructions, ask for questions, repeat or give additional examples

  • Relate new concepts to already learned concepts or real-life examples

  • Go from concrete to abstract

  • Use peer mentoring, group discussions, and collaborative learning situations

  • Make content personal

Teachers are required to know and how to differentiate appropriately, to have an understanding of the factors that can obstruct pupils’ ability to learn and to show an awareness of the physical, social, intellectual development of children. 

Natalie Packer (2017) in her book The Teacher’s Guide to SEN identifies nine jigsaw pieces to a good quality, inclusive lesson and that “If one or more of these pieces are missing, the lesson is likely to be incomplete.”

The nine elements are:

  • High expectations
  • Developing relationships and knowing pupils well
  • Inclusive learning environment
  • Quality feedback
  • Focused planning
  • Engagement and challenge
  • Effective questioning and modelling
  • Scaffolding learning
  • Developing independence 

Being a reflective maths practitioner, it is useful to take time to think about how you effectively implement each of these jigsaw pieces. All the pieces are important but the bottom-line is getting to know each child and having a clear understanding of their needs. 

To think about how you approach inclusive high quality teaching then it is essential you audit your provision and do this as a whole school. Self-audit tools are excellent ways to stimulate thinking and help shape a whole-school approach to inclusive maths provision. For example, take a look at the following training toolkit

To make maths lessons inclusive, we need to foresee any hurdles to taking part and consider ways of minimising or reducing those barriers so that all pupils can fully take part and learn.

In some activities, pupils with SEN and in SEM (special educational needs in mathematics) will be able to take part in the same way as their peers but in others, some modifications will need to be made to include everyone. This could mean providing a ‘parallel’ activity so pupils can work towards the same lesson objectives as their peers, but in a different way. For example, rather than use visual information, pupils could use tactile equipment for work relating to shape.

In line with your school’s ‘Inclusion Policy’ each child will have equal entitlement to all aspects of the maths curriculum and to experience the full range of maths activities. This means that in delivering maths, great care has to be taken to ensure that a variety or learning styles are accessed and teaching methods adopted. Typically, intervention groups will take place both within maths lessons and outside.

Maths Mastery

The movement towards maths mastery in recent years supports inclusive maths teaching because it prizes the class as a community of learners and keeps everyone together until specific concepts or skills are mastered.  Inclusive high quality teaching is achieved through dialogic teaching, assessment for learning questions and promoting learning conversations where understanding is seen as a corporate effort. The mastery approach is about being responsive, competent and able to explain the maths in many different ways in a climate of trust and openness.

The mastery approach does not mean that all children are doing precisely the same content, which will always leave some behind and not challenge others. It involves effective use of models and images to support understanding and represent the maths and carefully planned problems and challenges. The whole class discuss how to reach answers, what to do and why and different ways of approaching maths are used through visual, concrete and abstract examples.  In maths, children benefit from having a variety of ways to understand a given concept. Where possible we should aim therefore to present concepts using different strategies and approaches to connect the learning.  

Checking a child’s understanding through conceptual variation is simple, effective and inclusive. Instead of varying the problem, inclusive teaching involves keeping the problem the same but varying the representation of the problem through models or images.

Derek Haylock and Anne Cockburn have suggested that effective learning takes place when the learner makes cognitive connections and that mathematical understanding depends on four different elements: symbols, language, images and concrete examples.

Give a starting point for a problem, for example 5 + 7 = __ 
Provide children with :
• some cubes and counters
• a number line
• paper and a pencil
• a calculator

All children can model this problem and show the answer using the number line, the cubes, on a calculator and through writing a word problem. This connective learning model involves everyone and contributes to maths mastery.

The mastery approach is an empowering one because it based on interaction, sharing thinking, listening and co-agency. Using an ‘explore-clarify-practice-extend-review’ model over several lessons, the inclusion of all children in whole class teaching is based on the belief that children will learn from one another as much as they do from the teacher.

When the whole class are kept together and kept on task collaboratively, this allows every child to engage with learning. Being taught together provides richer opportunities to communicate and explore ideas far more than flitting between individuals and groups where input and attention is very often fleeting.  

And finally….

Placing children in a wide range of differentiated groups means children working at many different levels may look like inclusion but it is limiting. Whole class teaching of maths is more powerful because teachers spend more time interacting directly with everyone and that is at the heart of inclusive practice.

Did you know Rising Stars has Mastering Maths programme? Written specifically for the new curriculum, Mastering Maths identifies common misconceptions amongst children and provides intelligent practice to ensure children are secure in their understanding. You can find out more about the resource here.


Haylock, D. and Cockburn, A. (1989), Understanding Early Years Mathematics. London: Paul Chapman Publishing
Packer, N. (2017) The Teacher’s Guide to SEN. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing


mastery, Maths, SEN

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