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Mastery and Depth

Mastery and Depth


The National Curriculum, which came into effect from September 2014, is underpinned by the concept of mastery and depth


The Department for Education (DfE) has added weight and focus to a child’s ability to apply their learning – this is called Mastery. Mastery is how a child can apply much of the curriculum as a whole in more complex and in‐depth, cross‐objective, multi‐modal methods. It demonstrates how skilfully a child can apply their learning. Mastery is not just knowing a fact, but it is using that fact in increasingly more complex situations.

A child with better Mastery will score higher in the DfE's new 2016 tests than a child with lower Mastery, even if they know the same content.


What is Mastery and Depth?

We suggest that mastery relates to a skill and we can develop mastery of a skill through modelling, guided practice, continued independent practice and finally application of the skill to solve a problem. 

Depth, on the other hand, is related to knowledge and understanding. We aim to teach for deep knowledge by integrating new learning into existing knowledge. We provide opportunities for depth of understanding by encouraging relational thinking and connections. The more learners see relationships and make connections, the greater their depth of understanding.  


At St. Robert Bellarmine, we believe a pupil who is working at mastery and with depth displays many of the following characteristics:


  • Independence: pupils can use the concept independently.
  • Fluency: pupils can apply the concept with fluency.
  • Application: pupils apply their learning in a range of contexts..
  • Connections: pupils can make connections within their learning and across their learning.
  • Explain: pupils can explain their thinking and connections they make.
  • Resilience: pupils demonstrate resilience in their learning and application.


(based on Focus education Mastery and Depth in the National Curriculum).



Teaching for Mastery and Depth:

This change in the curriculum has led to a change in our practice at St Robert Bellarmine’s. Following training from a leading International Speaker (Lane Clark) we have adapted our practice so that we are able to foster these characteristics of mastery and depth. Not all pupils will achieve depth in their learning all of time but we aim to provide opportunities for this to happen wherever possible.


As well as this, we not only aim to teach pupils the content of the curriculum but also the skills required for any learning, “learning to learn.”


T.Charts and Cross Classification Charts.

To guide the learners’ thinking and develop independence, pupils use organisers such as T.charts, to explore the concepts they are learning about.


  Nursery children are using T.charts to learn about the concepts big and small.



Reception children are using T.charts to compare objects and organise them into big and small.


Some charts are designed for deeper thinking. For instance the inclusion of a wonderings section asks pupils to generate questions about what they have been learning and therefore depth of thinking.



Year 3 and Year 5 pupils used the organisers to record their observations and a wonderings section to develop questions, which could be investigated further.





Another type of organizer is called a Thinkchart, which are also used in lessons to provide opportunities for pupils to achieve depth of understanding.


For example, the behavioural section of the Thinkchart asks the learner to explain why – what is the purpose? What is the function? What are the reasons? Because pupils have to provide explanations, using what they have learnt, they may deepen their understanding of the concepts covered.



Year 1 pupils were asked to explain why they would go to their chosen destination on holiday and why they would need to take their chosen items.



Year 6 pupils were asked to explain why features of the writing were included on their think chart.



Year 5 pupils observed what happened when they separated materials and explain why this scientific process led to the materials being separated.



Often pupils will complete an SWSW, which stands for strengths, weaknesses and so what ideas. SWSW charts are used by pupils to evaluate their own and others’ work. Learners are asked to identify strengths, weaknesses and generate their own ideas which can then be used in their own work.



Reception children completed an SWSW on the Little Red Hen story, the pupils identified the characters’ strengths, weaknesses and ideas for what they should have done and what they have learnt from the story.



Pupils in Year 3 are evaluating strengths and weaknesses in a piece of writing and using them to create ideas for their own writing.



All children at St. Robert Bellarmine’s are given these opportunities to deepen their learning and master concepts. They are encouraged to ‘have a go’ and the appropriate support is provided to enable them to do this. Tasks are carefully planned by teachers so that there is an appropriate level of difficulty, meaning our children are moved on and challenged at the correct point in their learning.

Not all children will master every concept or be able to deepen their learning all of the time but wherever possible they will be encouraged to deepen their thinking and understanding.