If your child is in Y7 of an intervention school in the Realistic Maths Education (RME) trial, you might notice some differences in what kind of work they are doing, and how they talk about their mathematics classes.  We have put together some information that we hope will answer questions that you might have, and how to best support your child. If you have further questions please feel free to contact us on rme@mmu.ac.uk.

What is the trial all about?

At Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), we have a team of mathematics teacher educators who have been designing teaching materials for many years, using a Realistic Maths Education (RME) approach.  RME is established practice in the Netherlands, which has performed consistently well in international tests (well above England) for some years.  We have run a number of trials in England, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Gatsby Foundation, and now the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), who fund trials on the basis of previous evidence of impact.  We at MMU are responsible for designing the materials for students in Year 7 and 8 in this trial, and for working with teachers in the intervention schools in a programme of training days so that they are then equipped to use the materials in their classrooms.   They will be using the materials for roughly one quarter of their lessons.  Read more here.

What is RME exactly?

RME is an approach to mathematics which begins with contexts that students can relate to and builds their understanding through modelling those contexts mathematically.  It focuses on sense-making rather than memorising formulae, and students often become more confident with mathematics and willing to ‘give it a go’.  Students who are strong in mathematics can find new ways to solve problems.  Read more here .

How will the intervention fit with the current curriculum?

RME input will take place in 25% of lessons, meaning that for the rest of the time teachers will follow their normal practice.  Thus pupils will still be accessing the materials and schemes of work that the teachers and their school have been using in the past, ideally benefitting from the more supportive RME approaches. We hope that the deeper understanding and confidence that working with RME can bring would also be an advantage in future mathematics learning.

The RME materials are aligned with the national curriculum and are not introducing new or different mathematical content. Pupils will still learn all the mathematics needed for the GCSEs and hopefully have a better understanding of it and be able to apply it better.

What does an RME classroom look like?

RME classrooms are often different from regular mathematics classrooms.  RME can involve significantly more whole class discussion, and students spend less time working through exercises alone.  Typically, RME involves:

  • A lot of time spent talking about context – a fun run, a shopping trip, and so on. Sometimes discussion can be quite non-mathematical.  This is because RME builds students’ understanding by encouraging them to build their own models of contexts that they can relate to. It’s important that they engage with the context, and the teacher will spend time generating and discussing students’ representations of a context. Although it might appear that students are moving slowly towards formal mathematics, the time spent on groundwork will stand them in good stead later. This not only benefits lower attainers, but also makes space for higher attainers to extend their understanding and make important connections between mathematical ideas.
  • Students talking about their strategies for solving even apparently straightforward questions. RME focuses on building students’ understanding of fundamental ideas, so that they have foundations on which to build solutions to more complex problems.
  • An emphasis on diagrams and drawings rather than formulae. RME builds on students’ informal strategies for solving problems, and encourages them to draw what they know about a context in order to model it mathematically.  Abstract formulae will eventually appear, but students will understand where these come from and will not need to rely on memory.  RME provides students with a connection between rules and algorithms and the original contexts from which they were generated.
  • Teacher questions that are open rather than closed.
  • Plenty of student participation. Students will be invited to go to the board to demonstrate strategies and arguments, and to share, question and explain.

What about assessment and homework?

Because they may be working on fewer exercises during RME classes, you might find that your child writes less than usual in their book, and their homework might involve exploring problems through drawing diagrams or collecting data at home.  Students may be asked to investigate a context during class or for homework, and instead of exercises might write about these in their books, or include photographs of their work.

Your child’s school will organise assessment as it usually does.  However, as part of the evaluation of impact, all students will take a standard test – the GL Progress Test in Mathematics, which will be carried out for the RME evaluation.  Schools will decide if it will replace or sit alongside any other planned tests that they might wish to use – and the evaluators (Sheffield Hallam University) will process the test outcomes across the trial.  They have undertaken to supply all participating schools (intervention and control) with results and an individual school report.  As this is a Randomised Control Trial, reporting of impact will concern impact on the group as a whole, not individual students.

My child is very good at maths/is anxious about maths. Is RME suitable for them?

The RME approaches and materials are very suited to all abilities. They involve context-based problems that students can approach from their own knowledge base. This helps lower attaining children re-engage with ideas they may have previously found difficult to access. Traditional mathematical teaching can create problems for all students, but it especially causes problems for lower attainers or students who have disliked or struggled with mathematics in the past, or who might struggle with memorising how to do calculations etc. Our RME team has a fair amount of experience working with such students. We have worked with students who have failed GCSE maths multiple times and supported them to get through. RME shifts them from relying solely on memory to making sense of what they are doing.  It also means that for many students they start enjoying mathematics lessons.  For stronger students, RME provides an opportunity to expand their understanding and make new connections across mathematics – an ideal preparation for the new GCSE.

Supporting your child

Since RME anchors mathematics in accessible and everyday contexts, you might find more opportunities than usual for discussing mathematics with your child and making sense of it together. RME can be challenging because it asks students to explain their thinking. Please support your child in developing this skill, and give them time to explore this new way to approach mathematics.

Many thanks for your support in this trial.