The Importance of Arithmetic in the Primary School Curriculum

Written by Dan

Last updated

When most people think of the importance of mathematics, they think of algebra or trigonometry. However, one of the most important aspects of mathematics is arithmetic.

Arithmetic is the foundation upon which more complex mathematical concepts are built. That is why it is so essential for students to master arithmetic in the primary school curriculum.

In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of arithmetic and how it can help students prepare for future math courses.

Related: For more, check out our article on the importance of place value  here.

Why Arithmetic Is So Important in Primary School?

Arithmetic, or basic maths skills, are essential for all children to work on during primary school. These skills provide the foundations for more advanced knowledge later on in maths-based subjects such as algebra.

Excelling at basic arithmetic is also beneficial in helping children understand problem-solving and logical thinking. Key Stage 2 SAT tests provide a great opportunity for children to build and refine these skills, requiring them to demonstrate day-to-day use of mental calculation techniques, including addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Furthermore, being aware and familiar with the conventions involved with dividing decimals, fractions, integers and other topics soon become second nature when paired with mindful practice daily.

A firm grasp of arithmetic is key in helping your child get the most out of their studies both now and down the line.

Here are 8 reasons I think that we need to work on our class’s arithmetic skills regularly.

Arithmetic Skills Are A Foundation

If you can think of any area within Math, it’s likely that to solve problems more fluently in that domain, you’ll need confidence and skill with arithmetic.

This is the case for topics such as fractions, percentages, ratio measures and statistics–all areas where our Fluent in Five resources can be used at the beginning of a maths lesson to help put students into the right frame of mind so they’re able to develop their skills.

Arithmetic Is Used in Everyday Life

Arithmetic skills aren’t just used by students taking their Sats! In fact, we use them every day in our lives. For instance, this morning you probably performed some mental arithmetic without even realizing it

Think about it: when you woke up and glanced at the clock, did you calculate how much time you had before your needed to leave for work or school? As you drive to your destination, maybe look down at the speedometer and estimate how much mph you need to reduce or increase your speed.

And then once arrived there – say a teacher calculated how many kids were absent from his/her class that day.

Without even realizing it, we constantly rely on arithmetic skills in our everyday lives. That is why it is essential to develop those abilities early on.

Developing a Conceptual Understanding Of Arithmetic Saves Time On Calculations

Developing a conceptual understanding of arithmetic is hugely important. After all, for pupils to confidently carry out calculations, they need to understand why calculations work, not just the steps to a successful answer.

This is why rote learning activities such as times tables chants must be combined with the teaching of mathematical concepts. We want to encourage pupils to see that maths is an interconnected subject, rather than just a set of facts to learn.

When pupils have a conceptual understanding of their arithmetic skills, they are more likely to be able to work out questions mentally, saving all-important time.

Free resources like our Fluent in Five weekly packs can be used to help pupils make quick decisions about when to use the mental method and save time in exam situations.

Flexibility in Maths

Having both mastery of the concept and confidence in calculations gives students the ability to approach problems from different angles.

For instance, if you ask students to double 36 in their heads and then explain the process to their partner, many different approaches will be used.

Some may double 30 and then 6, while others might double 40 before subtracting 8. Some might even calculate 35 first and add 2 last.

Although there is no one definitive way to learn Math, understanding the connections between different concepts and being able to fluently perform arithmetic will help children be better equipped to approach and solve any problem.

The SATs

The Year 6 Arithmetic test is one of the key aspects of a child’s Key Stage 2 Maths SATs, accounting for 36% of the overall raw score. In 2018, for example, only 55.4% was required to meet the expected standard and gain a scaled score of 100.

When schools analyse their SATs results breakdown they often find that children who scored well in the Arithmetic Paper are more likely to also do well in their Reasoning Papers and therefore achieve the expected standard.

KS2 Reasoning Papers

A lot of the content in KS2 Reasoning papers focuses on arithmetic, and a good portion of SATs questions assess reasoning abilities through the use of arithmetic.

This doesn’t even account for those questions which primarily focus on another area (e.g. percentages, measures, number properties) but have an element of arithmetic to them as well.

Written/Mental Maths Strategies

The test paper is designed to include squared working areas after each question, so pupils often spend time doing mental math instead of writing out their answers.

This can prevent them from finishing the exam, even though they may be fully capable of answering the final questions!

Students must understand arithmetic inside and out so they can do well on tests that require both mental Math as well as written methods.

Regular Practice

Pupils must use their arithmetic skills daily to keep up their confidence and fluency for exams.

How Can We Improve Arithmetic Skills

Students who cannot comprehend the reasoning behind foundational math concepts will have difficulty progressing to more sophisticated arithmetic skills. The CPA method is essential for this improvement.

Using correct maths terminology in the classroom is vital.

In the world of mathematics, there are a lot of complicated words that sound similar. If students get confused, they might get jumbled and eventually give a wrong answer.

Maths Teaching Techniques

Mix up the lesson plans if you want your students to remember what they learn in class! Some students might need a bar model for better understanding, while others will benefit from more scaffolding. Whatever method you choose, as long as it works for the student, their grades are sure to improve.

If you have any great ideas or examples of lessons and techniques that work well when teaching arithmetic, we would love to hear about them on Twitter!

One way to improve your arithmetic skills is to practice them in everyday situations.

It’s great that students learn maths in the classroom, but it will be much more relevant to them if they can apply it to real life.

This way, they won’t be scared of mathematics in the outside world, from calculating how much money is in their savings account to work out how many chocolate bars they can buy with their pocket money! Why not make this the focus of your maths clubs next year?

Avoid tricks 

Some so-called clever math tricks might provide a quick answer to an arithmetic question, but be careful how you use them. We advise our tutors and teachers to avoid these maths tricks as they don’t help with understanding and could just lead to misconceptions.

Arithmetic is an important part of the Primary School Curriculum and it provides students with a strong foundation in mathematics. They must understand the fundamentals and can apply them to everyday situations.

To improve their arithmetic skills, teachers should always use correct maths terminology in the classroom, utilise different teaching techniques and encourage students to practice in real-life scenarios.

With the right approach and guidance, pupils will be able to master arithmetic and excel in maths exams. Arithmetic is a key part of the Primary School Curriculum that should not be overlooked as its importance cannot be overstated. It also provides a solid foundation for further studies in mathematics. Thanks for reading!


What are the basic topics in arithmetic?

The basic topics in arithmetic include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions.

How can I improve my student’s arithmetic skills?

You can improve your students’ arithmetic skills by making sure they understand the basic concepts, using correct terms in the classroom, utilising different teaching techniques and encouraging students to practice in real-life scenarios.

What is arithmetic in primary schools?

Arithmetic in primary schools is the study of basic mathematical concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions. It also includes problem-solving skills which are essential for pupils to be able to apply arithmetic knowledge to real-life situations.

Why is arithmetic important?

Arithmetic is important because it helps students gain a better understanding of mathematical concepts and provides them with a strong foundation for further studies in mathematics. Arithmetic also helps students develop problem-solving skills which can be applied to real-life scenarios

What is the CPA method?

The CPA method stands for ‘Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract’ and it is an approach to teaching arithmetic that allows students to make connections between abstract symbols and real-life situations.

The CPA method encourages students to use concrete materials such as blocks or counters, draw pictorial representations of calculations, and move on to working with abstract numbers. This method helps pupils understand how the different components of maths are related and provides them with a better understanding of the subject.

It is important to use different teaching techniques and approaches such as the CPA method to ensure that students are engaged in their learning and understand the fundamentals of arithmetic. With the right guidance and support, students can achieve great results in mathematics exams.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.

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