Parliament Hill is an all girls school located beside Hampstead Heath in North London. The school is one of four members of the LaSWAP consortium. Together members of the consortium provide a unique sixth form experience for students, offering as they do a choice of 40 A-Level and 15 vocational courses. Students attend classes in one of the four closely located ‘campuses’. Currently Parliament Hill is one of the three campuses to offer Core Maths.
‘‘Core Maths is proving popular with our students. We’ve put on an extra group this year to meet demand’
Georgina Atkinson, Director - LaSWAP Sixth Form Centre.
There are approximately 50 students taking Core Maths across the LaSWAP consortium. Core Maths is not compulsory. Students who have a GCSE Grade B are given an algebra test at the start of the year. Those passing it take A Level maths and all other students are directed to take Core Maths. All grade C students, are required to do three AS level subjects and one additional subject such as GCSE English or Maths resit, or a Level 3 Extended Project Qualification. Core Maths is now one of the options that they can take. Each has the same teaching time allocation of five hours per fortnight. The current balance of Grade C to Grade B students in the Core Maths groups is 60:40.
For the first year of the course, one teacher has been leading on the planning and delivery of Core Maths across the three schools. Of the 6 lessons taught across the consortium per fortnight, the course leader teaches three of them, one in each of the centres. There is then a different teacher delivering the remaining lessons with whom the course leader collaborates closely. Typically each of these teachers has assumed responsibility for teaching what could be considered to be GCSE revision content with some elements of problem solving, while the course leader focuses more on delivering new material and developing students’ critical thinking skills. Given the distinctive focus of Core Maths on problem solving, teachers recognise the need to support students to develop related skills.
Many of them would respond well to quite a procedural style of teaching….. but it wouldn’t necessarily be what they need to do well on this course….. obviously we want students to feel comfortable and to feel safe but they need to be challenged. It’s very difficult to strike that balance.
Core Maths Teacher
From September, all members of the consortium teaching team for Core Maths will meet on a fortnightly basis to review lessons and share resources – to date this has been done less formally on a one to one basis.
A Core Maths website has been set up on the consortium intranet, initially to facilitate delivery across the three schools. Currently, it’s used mostly by the course leader who uploads lesson schemes and resources onto the site. The other three teachers then use these to plan their lessons. The long-term plan is to encourage all teachers to use the website as a vehicle for sharing tools and resources for the delivery of Core Maths. As it expands and develops, the Core Maths intranet will have a key part to play in supporting the collaborative delivery of the course across the three schools.
In the meantime the website has become a useful repository for students, providing them with details of lessons they may have missed and resources they may find useful for revision purposes. Summaries of individual lessons are provided with links to any resources used in class. The functionality of the site allows teachers to set topic specific questions which can be used by students as a means of self-assessment. While the teaching team have not done this to date, there are plans to set students online end of topic questions or assessments during the second year of the course.
The intention is also to sign-post content on the website for each topic according to the basic skills required and as well as the more advanced cognitive or problem solving skills that students need to demonstrate in order to ensure a higher grade.
I want to be quite explicit about the different ways in which students need to think about topics.…..I want to split topics up so it shows them these are the [basic] things you need to be able to do. But if you’re looking to get the highest grades, you need to be able to think more deeply about them.
Core Maths Teacher
In terms of usage of the Core Maths website, currently students are more likely to access it in class. Outside of the classroom usage has been variable across the year with some students going on more regularly than other. It is envisaged that usage will go up once the site becomes a more intrinsic part of the course delivery.
The course leader notes that the challenge this year has been twofold. Firstly, how to engage students early on with Core Maths in a way that ensures they see it as something new and different to GCSE mathematics. This was particularly important given that, as in other centres, B grade students were often disappointed that they weren’t doing AS or A level maths and C grade students were not always happy that they were being encouraged to continue with maths.
This year the course began with a statistics task, which the course leader acknowledges resulted in some students become initially disillusioned with the course, perceiving it to be an extension of GCSE mathematics.
‘They looked at it and thought we’re just calculating the mean from group data again. It was very hard to get them to latch on to the extra thinking that we were asking them to do. So it was a pragmatic decision to go for some of the stuff that they would definitely not have seen before like Critical Path Analysis. Procedurally its quite straight forward but does have room to go a little bit further’.
Core Maths Teacher
By switching track and focusing on Critical Path Analysis which was new for students but also potentially had a link to their other subjects (particularly Business Studies) teachers were able to quickly win back students’ interest. Teachers found that students enjoyed the topic and did not find it patronising.
The course leader is keen to ensure that students engage more quickly with the course when it runs again. The intention is to introduce ‘quick wins’ earlier next year. Key to success will be choosing topics early on that give students a sense of having been taught something unfamiliar and got to grips with something.
'For next years year 12s, the sequencing of topics will very much be about making them feel like something is new but not asking too much of them in terms of problem solving. It’s about making it clearer that we are looking at similar content but these are the new ways you need to think about it.'
Core Maths Teacher
The second and ongoing challenge, is how best to combine procedural with problem-solving approaches for students. When the course started in September, the plan was to use very open-ended problem solving resources to teach. Teachers quickly found that this was too big a jump for students, even those who had achieved a GCSE Grade B, who were not used to open ended problem solving This year, there has been more of a procedural approach to Core Maths than originally intended with carefully planned and managed development into problems that require higher level thinking. This has laid the foundation for the second year of the course where there will be more emphasis on the further development of problem solving skills and critical analysis.
Students taking Core Maths noted that they were unsure what to expect of the course at first. Some students thought Core Maths would be like AS level maths but spread over two years. As they have progressed through the course, students have begun to enjoy the course more, particularly the real world and applied focus.
For example after a session on financial maths, they now are familiar with how to work out interest rates on loans. The students interviewed had also had a positive experience of using what they have learned in Core Maths in their other subject areas.
I found it kind of helpful for some of my Biology and Science A Levels because its good for analysing graphs and numbers and data.
Core Maths Student
They also noted that it will potentially help them with their university courses in the future, particularly students who are looking to study business related subjects.
Core Maths is something that you can use long term. It’s not like you use it once, pass the test and then move on.
Core Maths Student
The Core Maths course leader at the LaSWAP consortium notes the importance of choosing content for lessons delivered at the start of the course that will give students a positive experience of Core Maths. Students who feel early on that they are just repeating GCSE maths will quickly become disengaged. Key to successful delivery in the first few weeks of the course is finding content that is as new as possible while being as accessible as possible.
Notably at Parliament Hill School and indeed all the LaSWAP schools, Core Maths is called Mathematical Studies because of some identified negative connotations students have with the word ‘core’. For some students they hear the word core and think of ‘Core Science’ or Foundation subjects and presume it to be an easier option.
Finally the course leader notes the importance of teaching problem solving skills in a way that fosters student engagement. He also notes the importance of not asking too much of students too soon.
So for us next year we’ll be kicking off with Maths for Personal Finance as something that’s very obviously applicable to them. It isn’t too demanding although it can be taken quite a long way.
Core Maths Teacher