What is Mastery?

This is a question that has been occupying relatively large amounts of social media space, not to mention government and local authority thinking, in recent months – ever since the new primary national curriculum was launched.

Mastery is a tricky beast to pin down – having been mentioned in relation to education since at least 1910 (U.S.A. Education approach), and in ‘masterpieces’ for hundreds of years.  There seem to be three broad areas for defining mastery:

  • The pinnacle of skill.  Probably the oldest definition, tied to the idea that a journeyman, artist or craftsman would produce a ‘masterpiece’ to demonstrate they had moved beyond a need for further support and teaching, and were now proficient enough in their area of interest that they could take on students to pass on their skills.
  • The consolidation and application of knowledge.  Not a new definition, although applied in current educational circumstances it broadly translates as ‘having reached a level of unconscious competence’ (i.e. the learner can complete tasks, process and apply skills and knowledge without undue concentration – they are applied more automatically).
  • A grade ‘label’.  Some schemes, and therefore schools, are applying ‘Mastery’ as a level label above ‘Secure’, in individual parts of an overall curriculum area.  The difficulty with this particular approach is that other schools may label exactly the same level of educational proficiency as ‘Secure’, ‘Secure+’, ‘Working Above Expectations’ etc. in line with their particular assessment scheme – the quality of work is the same, the label changes.

We have recently taken a further step on a very exciting journey with a group of academies – culminating in a two-day ‘Mastery’ event in which we explored each of the above definitions… and beyond!

The overall aim of this mini-conference was to agree a common definition, approach and understanding of this elusive educational enigma.  In addition, each academy needed to leave with clear, concrete curriculum ideas of hot to move forwards with the idea of mastery.

I am delighted to say that we were successful on both fronts – through facilitated sessions, consultant-led discussions and high-quality ‘mastery-approach’ delivery methods, we were able to agree a consensus of definition, clear strategic plans for the next twelve months for the group of academies, and subject-specific action plans around each of Early Years, Literacy, Numeracy/maths and Foundation subjects.

Our support will be ongoing, but it is clear that this sort of experience is both very sought-after and very beneficial to schools that engage with us.

Read about our Mastery Across The Curriculum course here >