Huddersfield New College, is a sixth form college located on the edge of the Pennines, and is the only college in West Yorkshire which gives students the option to study a mix of both A Level and BTEC qualifications. The Core Maths teacher there is overwhelmingly positive about the Core Maths course and sees it as a valuable route to enable students, who might otherwise not have done so, to continue with mathematics after GCSE.

In this first year of running the programme, a strong partnership with the Science Department has been established which has greatly facilitated not only the recruitment of students to the programme but also high retention rates. In time it is hoped that this collaboration will lead to the development of Core Maths resources that have a specific Science focus. A proactive strategy by both the mathematics and science department of following up on student absence has led to very low-level drop out rates from the Core Maths course.

Huddersfield New College operates a ‘Y Scheme’ which facilitates the movement of year 12 students across a range of AS Mathematics courses. It is anticipated that Core Maths will become part of the wider mathematics offer at the college, and be welcomed as an acceptable alternative to those students who wish to take mathematics beyond GCSE.

Recruitment and Retention

Recruitment involved targeting students from particular courses, for whom studying Core Maths would have an obvious benefit. The majority of the 21 students on this year’s course are from the Science department, which is the result of a strong partnership approach across the two teams, to the recruitment and retention of Core Maths students. The Science department has strongly encouraged students to commit to Core Maths emphasising the wider benefits of the course both to their science studies and to their future career plans. This has also been followed up with an information letter to all parents.

The Core Maths teacher is well aware, from previous experience, of the challenges involved in getting students to commit to extra maths lessons in the long term, even when the advantages of studying mathematics after GCSE are made very clear. Students already have full timetables and while they can start a course like Core Maths with good intentions, attendance often gets squeezed by the demands of their AS and A Level courses. For this reason a lot of time has been invested in maximizing retention rates on the Core Maths course. At the start of the year, student absence was consistently followed up by the Core Maths teacher with emails to tutors and senior management as well as phonecalls to students and parents. The Science department has also worked with the Core Maths tutor to follow-up on any non-attenders. The strategy has worked such that attendance rates are regularly at 100% which the course leaders see as a significant achievement given the college does not have a history of high levels of participation in level 3 mathematics.

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Future Recruitment Strategy

In order to raise the profile of the course at Huddersfield New College, the Core Maths teacher has promoted it amongst other course leaders, who in turn have been asked to promote it to their students.

Next year, the intention is to extend the Core Maths provision. Core Maths will feature in the range of mathematics course options presented on open evenings. In addition, there be targeted promotion once more to Science students as well as ICT students who will be told that as a condition of signing up to either a Science or ICT course, they will be required to study Core Maths.

The college also runs an Aspire programme for more able students planning on applying to Russell Group Universities. Traditionally this group of students often do not continue with mathematics in any form after GCSE even though they may end up in jobs which require mathematical skills. This makes them ideal candidates for Core Maths.

Student feedback from the current cohort indicates that they see it as a positive that they now have the option to study mathematics after GCSE, without necessarily having to chose AS Level or A Level mathematics.

‘I definitely think it’s a better option as it’s more about the application of Maths to real life scenarios rather than just working out of a textbook’ Core Maths Student

As with other centres, for the students at Huddersfield New College, it is the practicality of the Core Maths course and its real life application that is most appealing.

‘Different techniques and skills that you learn do have a wide variety of usage. For me that’s quite interesting. That adds a definite amount of intrigue to it’. Core Maths Student

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Y route to curriculum planning

A defining feature of Huddersfield New College is the ‘Y’ scheme approach it has adopted for subjects where there are two options following GCSE. Within mathematics for example, the options up to now have been either ‘Traditional Maths’ (which the majority of students take) or the ‘Use of Maths’ programme.

The ‘Y’ scheme involves students doing a common set of maths topics across the two programmes (as far as the individual programmes will allow) for about six weeks, during which they are assessed using a combination of formal and informal assessments, as well as homework tasks. The assessments then provide evidence for which of the two branches of the ‘Y’ students should be assigned to.

Core Maths will in future offer an alternative route for those students who perhaps do not want to study ‘Use of Maths’ or who are struggling on the ‘Traditional Maths’ course. As such, it is likely to have some role to play in future applications of the ‘Y’ route scheme.

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Use of Mock Exams

At the start of the term, mindful that many of the students in the current cohort obtained a C at GCSE, the Core Maths teacher opted to use resources that were more appropriate to level 2. The first topic ended with an assessment, which was intended to act as a motivator to students showing them that they were ready to move on to level 3 work. Although the teacher considered it a gamble, all the students passed the exam and progressed on to the next topic.

"‘It was a rite of passage really showing that you could do well on this topic which admittedly is GCSE but high level GCSE and you answer the questions successfully in the exam …….I wanted that to signal that now we can dip our toes into something that’s level 3.’ Core Maths Teacher

Subsequently the students studied Critical Path Analysis, using materials that were developed by the mathematics department originally for the A-Level ‘Use of Maths’ course. On this occasion, the exam paper was set at Level 3. All students did really well in the paper and were very motivated by the experience of getting good marks on a level 3 task.

The opportunity to recap on GCSE mathematics has not gone unnoticed by students who see Core Maths as an opportunity both to refresh and build on existing knowledge and skills. This is in contrast to traditional A Level mathematics courses which are perceived to be about starting to learn new skills right from the beginning.

‘This has got the constant usage of what you already know, so its keeping up your previous skills as well which I find really useful… it is building and adding skills’. Core Maths Student

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Collaborative Working

There have been two defining stages to the collaborative partnership established between the science and maths department. The first obviously focused on the recruitment and retention of students, while the second stage has been more about ensuring that the skills developed by students in Core Maths complement those required to study Science.

To this end, it is less that the particular topics covered are science related and more that within the teaching of those topics, links to science are being highlighted. The Core Maths teacher communicates regularly with the Head of Science about the general areas where students are perhaps weak (rather than focusing on individual student needs) e.g. rounding numbers, data analysis. There is an awareness of what the students are covering in science and what skills they should have. The Core Maths teacher can then focus on supporting students to develop these skills in the context of mathematics topics that may actually have little or no relation to science.

‘I can teach these broader skills in bits of maths that don’t necessarily seem to be linked to science so there is the possibility of addressing the concerns of the scientists even when teaching subject content that doesn’t seem to be directly linked.’ Core Maths Teacher
‘If the students even just became more numerate then the scientists would be happier. I think it doesn’t always need to be particularly high powered. Just getting students to be aware of number, aware of the magnitude of numbers……appropriate degrees of accuracy…… being able to plot points accurately, a whole range of basic skills really that scientists are often quite horrified that the students just don’t seem to have learned from GCSE’. Core Maths Teacher

When studying Critical Path Analysis for example, the Core Maths teacher has tried to make a connection to science by talking about how CPA could be used in the context of any project, including science projects (such as the development of a new drug). This enables students to make a connection between the skills they are learning in Core Maths and the ones scientists would be expected to have.

Ultimately the aim is to work towards establishing a greater connection or link between the content or resources used in Core Maths and the topics covered in science. One of the key reasons that resources have not been developed in partnership with the science department up until now, is that the first six months have essentially been a ‘bedding in’ phase for the Core Maths course. Now that students are settled, the intention is to develop some resources that link to science whether that be through group work or project based activities although this will come with its own particular challenges.

‘It’s quite difficult to make the subject content directly relevant to either scientists or ICT people.’ Core Maths Teacher

The Core Maths teacher recognizes the need to manage the expectations of other course leaders so that the skills that are taught in Core Maths are predominantly syllabus driven rather than by the needs of other subject areas.Additionally, once the course expands and more students from different faculties join, having resources that explicitly link to all those subjects may not be possible or at least will be more challenging.

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The Core Maths at Huddersfield New College teacher notes the importance of having a clear recruitment strategy, especially if there are not many students in a centre who are likely to be keen on doing enrichment options.

Promoting the course amongst other staff is also seen to be of particular importance, especially to course leaders from subject areas where the majority of students would be ideal recruits for the course. Recruitment with their support is undoubtedly a much easier process.

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