DELIVERING CORE MATHS TO THE MAJORITY

Many centres around the country have been able to achieve the delivery of Core Maths ‘at scale’ quite early on. Delivering the course at scale means that fifty percent or more of the eligible cohort of students (all those who have a GCSE Grade C or above) are studying Core Maths in the year group.  So how have centres achieved this? The experiences of a selection of centres where the majority of eligible students are expected to study Core Maths are outlined in the following case study.  

Leigh University Technical College

Leigh UTCLeigh UTC

The Leigh University Technical College, based in Dartford, opened in September 2014. It caters for students aged 14-18, and specialises in Engineering and Computer Science. The College provides courses for up to 600 students and has strong links with local businesses and Greenwich University.

Delivery of Core Maths began in September 2015. All students at the College are required to study mathematics at level 3. This is partly in preparation for university and future employment, but also to support learning within their specialisms. The teachers and senior leaders acknowledge that the importance of studying mathematics at level 3, in order to excel in their specialisms, quickly becomes obvious to students when they start the course. For those students taking the Technical Bacclaureate, Core Maths counts as the mathematics component of the programme. Prior to the arrival of Core Maths, students were required to complete the algebraic methods unit of the ‘Use of Maths’ course in addition to the maths unit of their engineering course. Core Maths has also provided a good alternative to those students who could not meet the demands of the A-level maths course.

All year 12s and 13s have enrolled on the Core maths course this year (2015/2016). The majority of Year 12s will complete the course in two years, while the 30 year 13 students will complete it in one. Students, who are typically on a mix of academic and vocational programmes, are currently split into five teaching groups. For year 13 students there are three classes that run consecutively with a two 2-hour lessons and one 1-hour lesson. There are also two intervention lessons (small group sessions for students who are struggling with a particular topic) on Wednesdays, when post-16 students are not usually in. In year 12 Core Maths is timetabled in two different option blocks.

Five hours per week have been allocated in the timetable for Core Maths. Although this is a significant amount of time, a proportion of it is spent completing set work linking to the mathematics within student specialisms.

Students have responded better to Core Maths this year. This was largely because teachers were more selective about which topics they taught first. Last year students struggled initially to see the relevance of Core Maths, but they have done so much more quickly this year.

The lead Core Maths teacher notes that this is largely because the course is strongly linked to students’ main specialisms and real life maths.  She notes that the course has increased student confidence in their mathematical skills. Teachers have even found that students completing A-level maths are intrigued by what fellow students are learning in Core Maths.

Teachers at UTC have begun to share their experience of teaching Core Maths with other centres that are either considering delivering the course or who have already begun to. Staff at the UTC have been rejuvenated by the fresh approach to mathematics that comes with teaching Core Maths. This in turn has impacted positively on their teaching of other courses.

Staff are committed to ensuring that students are making the best use of technology to support their learning. All students either purchase or sign up to a lending scheme for graphing calculators. This has increased levels of engagement and allows students to focus on critical analysis rather than just completing calculations.

For other centres who are intending to deliver Core Maths, staff at Leigh UTC recommend allocating sufficient time for the course in the timetable and that planning for it begins well in advance. They also advise making Core Maths compulsory for particular groups of students in order to avoid the risk of low retention rates into the second year of the course as students when students may prioritise their main subjects. Finally, according to staff at Leigh UTC, highlighting the relevant mathematical links to the other courses that students are studying very early on is key to enabling students to see the value of taking Core Maths. 

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Malmesbury School

Malmesbury School

Malmesbury School is a large, outstanding comprehensive set in a small picturesque market town in Wiltshire. At Malmesbury School, Core Maths is being delivered to all eligible students (those with a GCSE Grade C and above, who are not studying either A or AS level mathematics). This was a strategic choice made by the Senior Lead Team who considers it a very useful qualification.

Malmesbury already has a history of offering alternative options to students who are not doing A-Level or AS Level mathematics. The options themselves have varied over the years, as has the level of mathematics they involve.  To date they have included general studies, financial capability, and the extended project (EPQ).  This is the first time there has been a full mathematics based course offered to this group of students.

In 2014, there were fifty year 12 students studying Core Maths (i.e. all the students not taking AS or A level mathematics), all of whom progressed to the second year of the course. They were taught in five classes although this has been reduced to four in Year 13. One small class of three students merged with another larger class at the start of the year, thus freeing up one teacher for year 12, which has 57 students. There are five option blocks for year 12 students with Core Maths offered in every tutor group block.  Five different teachers cover the nine classes across Year 12 and 13 with some teachers having more than one Core Maths group.

Delivering Core Maths continues to be manageable at Malmesbury, even though there are now two cohorts taking the course. Teachers at Malmesbury recognise that this is largely down to the continued support of senior management.  The Senior Lead Team at the school acknowledge the importance of encouraging students to study maths up to age 18 and see it as important preparation for students’ future studies and careers. They are fully committed to timetabling the course and ensuring there is sufficient capacity and resource within the mathematics department to deliver it.

Senior management believe that one of reasons Core Maths is proving to be more successful than previous alternative options for students not taking AS or A level mathematics, is because there is a designated coordinator within the Maths department to oversee the course. This is in addition to the specialist Maths teachers delivering the course. Core Maths is delivered in a very collaborative way with regular team meetings and sharing of feedback on lessons and resources. As a model it has been more effective than spreading the teaching across several subject areas without a leader to act as coordinator for the team.

The Core Maths lead teacher at Malmesbury recommends that centres new to Core Maths, engage their senior leaders as much as possible if planning to deliver Core Maths to the majority of eligible students.  Although, if the centre’s policy is to make Core Maths compulsory there is a risk that some students may not respond positively.

When Core Maths was first introduced as a compulsory option in 2014, not all students at Malmesbury responded positively. ‘Word of mouth’ has played an important part in the change in attitudes, with year 13 now often recommending the course to students in the years below.  At Malmesbury, having strong, capable teachers who are committed and enthusiastic has also helped to engage students. One Core Maths teacher notes, ‘Our students can then see that this is something we clearly care about and are more engaged as a result.’

Teachers have also found that emphasising the cross-curricular benefits of Core Maths has also enhanced student interest in the course. Core Maths teachers have worked closely with teachers from other subject areas to incorporate content from their subjects into the Core Maths scheme of work. In fact one of the Core Maths teachers notes:

In the cluster schools that I support as a Core Maths lead the most successful models for recruitment onto the course have involved gaining the support from other subject areas in promoting Core Maths. Head of sixth form/Teachers in other subjects are actively encouraging students who take geography, biology etc. to also study core maths alongside it.

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IKB Studio School

IKB Studio School

The IKB Studio School opened in 2015 and is part of the Wellsway Multi-Academy Trust. It delivers both academic and vocational qualifications for students entering in years 10 and 12. The IKB studio school is a specialist STEM school. For this reason, all post 16 students study mathematics.

As with other centres, students achieving GCSE mathematics A*to B take A level mathematics, those who obtained a B or C do AS mathematics over two years and C/D students take Core Maths. Core Maths is therefore compulsory for any student not taking A or AS Level mathematics. Core Maths is currently timetabled for four periods a fortnight in the same block as other mathematics options.

At IKB, Core Maths is delivered over two years. There are eight students in the class this year.  Given the numbers are small, there is currently just one teacher delivering the course. As such, her experience has overall been positive, although challenging on rare occasions where the topic (e.g. Financial Maths) was not overly familiar. However, resources available on CMSP and other websites have been very helpful.

The students on the Core Maths course are mostly studying Construction BTEC. Next year the school is considering integrating the maths component of the Construction BTEC and Core Maths to strengthen the provision in both subject areas. When the topics covered in Core Maths are more aligned to the Construction BTEC, this will benefit the students and enable them to see more value and relevance in taking Core Maths.

Students at the studio school have had a mixed response to the course this year. Some students are planning to move into higher apprenticeships rather than going to University, so gaining additional UCAS points is not an attraction for them. Being the first cohort to take Core Maths, some students have been concerned about how much employers will value the qualification. The Core Maths teacher believes that in time, as the course becomes more established, students at IKB will have a greater understanding of the benefits of studying Core Maths. The teacher has also found that students tend to enjoy lessons that cover key skills from GCSE. They are less keen on lessons which require them to solve problems. However this is gradually changing as students become more confident in their problem-solving skills.

In terms of lessons learned at IKB this year, the Core Maths teacher believes it is important to make the connections with other subject explicit and to emphasise how Core Maths can support these subjects.  Introducing new content early on in the course can also ensure students feel they are progressing on from GCSE mathematics. 

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Bristol Technology and Engineering Academy (BTEA)

Bristol Technology and Engineering Academy

Bristol Technology and Engineering Academy is a new University Technical College for 14-19 year olds, located in Stoke Gifford, just north of Bristol. The College opened in September 2013 and is a Centre of Excellence for teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

Core Maths is offered to current year 13 students over one year and to years 12s as a two-year course. At the moment it’s a requirement for all engineering students to study mathematics. Those students who have an A or A* do A Level mathematics, with most B students taking AS level, although there is some flexibility for them to take A Level mathematics.  All eligible students are studying Core Maths as all GCSE Grade C students take the course.  Teachers have managed to use existing resources to make this happen. Currently there are two classes of students in each year, with 33 students in year 13 and 37 in year 12.

Core Maths is timetabled in a separate block for five hours a fortnight rather than the ten hours that other subjects have.  This makes it accessible to a large number of students. In fact teachers at BTEA would like to expand delivery so that all students can study Core Maths if they want, not just those who obtained GCSE Grade C. They believe that the skills needed for Core Maths are different compared to A Level mathematics and that all students should have a chance to develop them.

Students at the academy obviously didn’t know much about Core Maths before the course began. Teachers enthusiastically promoted it as an exciting new opportunity and while students were a bit wary at first they now very much enjoy the course. Feedback from both students and parents has been extremely positive. Teachers report that students like having an option other than A or AS level mathematics to do. Typically the students taking Core Maths are doing double or triple engineering. When they leave the College most are planning to do an apprenticeship. As a result they can definitely see the benefit of Core Maths for their future careers.

‘Lots of students who got a C are not as academic as those who got A and A*. So I think they see this as really useful because its more directly applicable to the sorts of jobs they’re likely to get compared to the jobs the A and A* grade students go for’.

In terms of course content, it’s taken a little bit of time for students to get used to the different approach taken in Core Maths compared to GCSE mathematics. Teachers found this to be particularly the case when students sat the mock exam at Christmas.  Some students were surprised that the problems presented did not have the same level of detail and information that they do for GCSE.

‘In their head they might have been thinking the lessons were going to be different to the exam and more like GCSE, whereas in fact the exam is similar to the lessons’.

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