Fluency in Maths

What is fluency in maths?

Fluency in maths is working out complex maths problems easily and effortlessly. This is a goal set out for all children in the national curriculum throughout all the Key Stages, from primary school to ‘A’ level. 

This is from The Department of Education, last updated, Jan 2021.

The national curriculum for mathematics aims to ensure that all pupils…become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics, including through varied and frequent practice with increasingly complex problems over time, so that pupils develop conceptual understanding and the ability to recall and apply knowledge rapidly and accurately…”

When educators talk about fluency in maths, they mean 2 main things. Being good at remembering maths facts, for example times table facts and really understanding maths ideas to work out complex problems.

The national curriculum goes on to explain what teachers should teach and how. Because of these recommendations, you might have noticed that the way maths is taught now is different to how you were taught. This can make it hard to help your child when they are stuck on their homework.

How is fluency in maths taught?

Your child will be taught number facts such as number bonds, times-tables facts and division facts. They will practice these a lot at school as a class group and have their own individual goals to learn these, at their own pace. Homework in the first few years of primary school, will also focus on learning these number skills. 

Educators believe that practising number facts often, will help your child remember these facts without thinking, so that they will be able to work quickly and make less mistakes in their work. This is important for the first part of achieving fluency in maths. 

Why is my child being taught lots of different ways to do the same sum in maths?

The second part of fluency in maths is to help your child really understand maths ideas. It is thought that by exploring different ways to approach a problem will help them to do this. Educators believe that this will help children be more confident to figure out hard maths sums by themselves. So, instead of just one way of multiplying numbers, your child will learn how to multiply numbers in at least 4 different ways by the time they finish primary school. This is why your child will talk about chunking, partitioning and grouping to multiply numbers, methods that you may not have heard of. 

It is important to remember that there is no correct way to work out a sum. There might be a better way for a particular type of sum, because it is quicker or more accurate but having the choice allows your child to work within their ability. Some children are more comfortable working out sums in their head and others prefer to use a pen and paper and traditional ways of working out sums.  Both ways are ok. Once they have confidence with the method that they have chosen, it will be possible to teach them a new way because they can use the known method to check their understanding. 

The other advantage of teaching different ways of working out a sum are because maths problems in real life are not all the same. For example, you need a mental maths method of working out how much change you need to get in the shop or what 25% off in a sale actually means. Whereas you need a different method to calculate your monthly outgoings or how much money a holiday will cost. 

How do I support my child with maths if they teach it differently at school?

You can still help your child with maths in lots of ways and it is really important to do so if you are able to.

Here are at least 3 ways that you can support your child achieve fluency in maths and more. 

Help them with number skills

Your child will need a lot of practice to remember number facts. The skill is being able to remember them without thinking. Click here for resources on practising. Even once they have learnt the number facts, you can help them be prepared for the new school term, especially the autumn term after the long summer break, because most children will forget the facts if not practised regularly. 

Help your child by letting them teach you

If your child has learnt an unfamiliar way of working out a sum and is getting stuck, try asking them to explain to you how much they know (it is likely to be more than you!) Children like the feeling of knowing something and enjoy being the teacher and you being their student. They are often less embarrassed to make mistakes in front of you and when they are stuck you can work out the problem together. It is a really important skill for your child to see how you approach a problem and how you use different resources to figure it out. This is called metacognition. Metacognition simply put is thinking about thinking. Click here to understand how important this skill is for your child.

Help your child with maths in the ways that you know how

If you find that your child is struggling with a way to work out a sum, it is best to find a different way to do it rather than pushing them to understand a particular method. As we learn in different ways not every method make sense to us all. Something that doesn’t work, is at best a waste of time and at worse can completely put your child off maths. In this situation you can really help by teaching your child how you do the sum they are stuck on, as long as you are able to explain it to your child and they are able to follow you.

Will I confuse my child, if I teach them a different way to do a sum?

It is important to know that you will not be holding your child back or confusing them if you teach them a way to do a sum that they do understand. If they are then taught a new or different way to approach a sum, they will be increasing their fluency, which is the aim of the curriculum.

We have put together Helping with homework – A guide for more tips on how to work together with your child.  

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