Choice Quality Balance

Differentiation – A Dirty Word?

Here at Classroom Secrets, we’ve always differentiated our resources so that you have a choice of varying difficulty to give to your pupils. We know the realities of working in a classroom and how difficult it can be to find resources which are already differentiated but are the same activity! So, Claire set up Classroom Secrets to bring you exactly that. But over the last 6 years, classroom practices have changed (again!) and we’re now back at a point where differentiation is seen as putting a ceiling on children’s learning. So we’ve decided to explain how we think you should use our ‘differentiated’ resources.

When you talk about differentiation, most teachers think it means providing different input to different pupils and following it up with different activities to consolidate their different skills. But as a resource company, we believe that all pupils should be given the same activity at a level of difficulty that suits them.


The expectation is that the majority of pupils will move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace. However, decisions about when to progress should always be based on the security of pupils’ understanding and their readiness to progress to the next stage. Pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through being offered rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content. Those who are not sufficiently fluent with earlier material should consolidate their understanding, including through additional practice, before moving on.

(DfE, 2014 English Primary National Curriculum: Mathematics, Pg. 99)


So – how do we meet the expectations of the National Curriculum (in England)?

Our maths resource packs are designed to ensure that all pupils in the same class are accessing their year group’s curriculum objectives and working on the same activities, but at a level that suits the individual learner. As teachers, we all know that a pupil who has an excellent understanding of place value may actually struggle with properties of shapes. Our resources are not designed to shoe-horn children into ‘Lower Ability’, ‘Middle Ability’ or ‘Higher Ability’; they have been designed to work in such a way that your pupils can (and should) move fluidly between the levels. Their starting point may change on a daily basis depending on the skills and concepts taught in each lesson, and pupils’ own understanding of these skills and concepts.

Whilst we provide resources which are ‘differentiated’ into three levels, we envisage that the majority of pupils will be working at the ‘Expected’ level for their year group. This level is pitched to hit the objective exactly and pupils who are working at ‘Age-Related’ should be able to independently access the work set out in the ‘Expected’ level.

However, we all know that some children may not be confident with the skill being taught and may need more practice to gain confidence. In this instance, these pupils should start on the ‘Developing’ level, which is designed to be more accessible either through pictorial support or more familiar vocabulary and numbers. Teachers can also choose to support these pupils with concrete resources and additional teaching, such as pre-teaching or interventions. Once these pupils have successfully completed the ‘Developing’ level and built their confidence, they should be moved onto the ‘Expected’ level. Now, the children feel able to tackle the work because they have already achieved it at the lower level – the children are not expected to work out what the question is asking for because they have already answered a very similar question. This instantly helps boost their self-esteem and the children are more likely to accomplish the ‘Expected’ level.

We also know that some pupils may already be confident in the skill being taught, so they can immediately work on the ‘Greater Depth’ level. This level pulls together skills from other areas of the maths curriculum as well as the particular skill being taught. This ‘Greater Depth’ level is here for the few pupils who are ready to be challenged in the skill being taught quite early into the lesson, but by building on previous concepts and using prior knowledge to access a deeper element of the skill. They should not be moved onto a new concept (as stated in the quote from the Primary National Curriculum above).

Whilst we provide the varying levels of difficulty, there is still an element of professional judgement needed to decide where pupils in your class should start. You will also need to consider other factors such as EAL children – can they actually read the questions or do they need some adult support? In Year 1, should a child who struggles with reading have their maths learning capped because they can’t access the question? Absolutely not – have an adult support them with their reading and understanding of the question!

The specific resource packs that we create should enable you to resource a full lesson, but in some instances we are aware that some pupils who work below ‘Age-Related’ expectations never actually get to experience reasoning or problem solving style questions! When teachers don’t give opportunities to these children to work on reasoning and problem solving, they are putting a ceiling on their learning. This doesn’t do the pupils any favours in the long run as they all have to sit the same Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 SATs (which include reasoning papers!).


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.
  •  reason mathematically by following a line of enquiry, conjecturing relationships and generalisations, and developing an argument, justification or proof using mathematical language
  •  can solve problems by applying their mathematics to a variety of routine and nonroutine problems with increasing sophistication, including breaking down problems into a series of simpler steps and persevering in seeking solutions.

(DfE, 2014 English Primary National Curriculum: Mathematics, Pg. 99)


We believe that all children should have the opportunity to become fluent in a skill, before moving on to reasoning mathematically and solving problems using these skills. But it isn’t just about giving lower attaining children the opportunities to reason and problem solve; it also includes higher attaining children practising the fluency skills and not just jumping straight into reasoning and problem solving. These children need to be able to make the link between fluency and reasoning/problem solving. For those children who are not as confident in reasoning and problem solving will need more practice before moving on to a new skill. Again, this can be achieved by starting off with the ‘Developing’ level and moving on to the ‘Expected level’, where there is less fear of getting it wrong as they already know what is expected of them!

I can hear you ask, “How do I allow some children to have extra practice at a skill without holding the rest of my class back?” Well, let me introduce our new resources to you – Discussion Problems! These discussion problems are designed to further understanding of a particular skill before moving on – basically, it gives pupils a different way to practice using a particular skill. We have chosen not to differentiate this resource type because we believe a pupil must have a clear understanding of the skill in order to access these ‘independently’. We recommend that no adult support is given (apart from being read to in Year 1 or for EAL children as discussed above), but peer support and discussion is encouraged to promote collaborative learning. You can use these resources in class while those children who need the extra practice with fluency or reasoning and problem solving can move onto the next level of difficulty.

Discussion Problems Example Discussion Problem Example

We’d be really interested in hearing how you use our resources currently. Do you use our resources in a similar way already? Or in a totally different way? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. I use the D/E/GD cards sometimes as a ‘hook’ into the lesson and sometimes as an extension of the lesson whereby children select their own card once they have finished their main task – children love this! Thanks Team for all your hard work.

    Delia Phillips

    March 17, 2019

    • Thank you for sharing Delia! This is a great idea! Claire Riley

      Classroom Secrets

      March 17, 2019

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