Northampton Academy is a large modern secondary school with over 1400 pupils. Delivery of Core Maths is now in its second year. Staffing challenges within the maths department – four members of staff were lost over the last twelve months – have added to the difficulty of delivering the new course. However, the maths team at Northampton have been resourceful, and have recruited a mathematically confident PE teacher to join their team. 

Student Recruitment and Retention

When the course was first run in September 2014, 18 out of a cohort of 80 eligible students were recruited to the course. The majority of these students had achieved a B at GCSE.

Only a small number of students have remained on the course in year 13. This has been due largely to the demands of students’ other courses rather than any dissatisfaction with the course. In some cases students (7 in total) have had to repeat AS level exams and left the course so they can concentrate on their resits. Five of the students also left the school at the end of year 12. There are now a total of 9 students taking Core Maths in year 13, three of whom are new to the course. There are also ten Core Maths students in year 12.

One of the key selling points that the mathematics department focus on when promoting Core Maths throughout the school, has to do with how it can prepare a student for the mathematical component of a range of university degrees. Core Maths students at the school recognise this as well as how the course can help with the mathematical skills required in other subjects they are studying.

The Head of Maths notes that students spend two years studying A Levels. If they aren’t taking A level maths, then they obviously will have done little or no maths in that time. They risk arriving at university and depending on their degree, finding themselves having to do things like standard deviation which they haven’t done since GCSE. The fact that Core Maths can help students prepare for the maths they might cover in their degree, is according to the Head of Maths, something that makes it very attractive[1].

This sentiment is echoed by students too. One student noted:

I would recommend it to year 11s……. after I finished my GCSEs and after the summer break, when I came back to do Core Maths, I found myself forgetting a lot of stuff from GCSE. So if I’d forgotten about it after 2 or 3 months, imagine what it would be like after two years. I think it’s a good idea that people do Core Maths because it reinforces the skills they will need for university.

[1] See ‘Mathematical Transitions’ (2014) from HEA

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Working with Universities

The Core Maths teacher knows of at least one case of a year 13 student, who has had their preferred university agree to accept Core Maths rather than make them resit GCSE maths. The Head of Maths believes this sends out a strong message to other students in support of Core Maths. Core Maths is therefore a possible progression route for students without a GCSE grade C+.

The Head of Maths also believes that universities throughout the country need to value Core Maths and communicate this to prospective students. He is keen to develop links with Northampton University to promote Core Maths and explore how the course can support their need for students with better maths skills. He is aware that universities are putting on extra classes to try and boost students’ skills in this area, but believes that Core Maths offers a good alternative.

‘Core Maths was created because employers and universities were saying that students coming from school have forgotten their maths……If it’s true that universities around the country are having to lay on extra maths lessons to get students up to scratch, why aren’t they saying this is what we’re delivering and asking for it to be in Core Maths? 

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Student Response

By and large the response from students to Core Maths has been positive. One student of the five interviewed, was less keen on the ‘open-ended’ approach to problems, preferring there to be a definite right or wrong answer. For this student getting an answer which could be considered right as long a rationale could be provided was not something they particularly liked. However, as in other centres, overall students appreciate the applied nature of Core Maths.

I like how it’s not complex like GCSE maths. It’s more like everyday maths applied to different situations.

While students are not necessarily applying their learning in the outside world just yet, they could see the potential for this after they leave school, particularly in relation to banking, taxation or starting their own business. For now though, some students are already applying the learning from Core Maths in their other subjects.

I do geography and we do some statistical analysis in our field work. I found myself using graphs and I knew what to do because we’d already done it in Core Maths.

I find it helps me to carry out and understand calculations in my Applied Business course.

The current cohort of students is keen to point out to those considering taking Core Maths that it is not a repetition of GCSE maths. The course requires them to apply their skills and knowledge in a very different way.

Come to it knowing you’re going to have to work just as hard in it as you do in your other subjects.

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Barclaycard Project

In 2014, the Core Maths teacher approached Barclaycard about the possibility of them providing ‘real’ data for Core Maths. By the summer term of 2015, Barclaycard had put together a significant amount of anonymised personal finance data which included details of income, mortgage payments and monthly expenditure.

During a half-day workshop, led by a team from Barclaycard, they presented the data to students and showed them how to manipulate it using Excel to demonstrate different calculations. The data was used to introduce basic spreadsheets skills, in addition to using the formulae buttons to do calculations. Student feedback about the session was very positive, in particular students were excited about the opportunity to work with ‘real’ data. One student for example noted:

It was interesting to find out how what we do in lessons can be applied and to see how they use it in Barclaycard.

The Head of Maths is now looking for ways to build on and enhance delivery for next year, as student feedback indicated that they would welcome the opportunity to engage directly with the data.

Next time they come in, I would prefer they gave us a task and we all worked together to solve it.

When the workshop is run again, rather than presenting all the data in one extended session, the intention is to chunk it up and to gradually expand the range of data available to students over a number of sessions. Students will be set certain tasks to complete each session which will enable them to develop their skills in relation to the use of Excel spreadsheets.

Delivery this time will be led by the Core Maths teacher with Barclaycard responsible for providing the data and supervising students’ use of it. The Head of Maths anticipates that the module would end with students having to complete a project to demonstrate their learning. This appears to be something that students would respond positively to.

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Recommendations for other Centres

The Head of Maths at Northampton Academy would recommend keeping the same teachers on the Core Maths course for the two years of delivery. This consistency would obviously benefit students and allow teachers to fully engage with content and material.

Having seen a number of students drop out at the end of year 12 because of other demands on their time, the Head of Maths also recommends creating a culture where students are expected to commit to the course for the full two years. This, together with having a protected timetabled slot for Core Maths, should make retention easier.

Currently there are no formal links between Core Maths and other subjects either during delivery or in the development of resources. The Head of Core Maths notes the potential benefit in opening up a dialogue with other subject teachers such as Sociology, Biology, Geography and Physics early on. This would be with a view to exploring how Core Maths could support them and ensuring appropriate cross-referencing in the Core Maths classroom.

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