Queen Elizabeth’s School in Dorset is a large comprehensive school providing education to around fifteen hundred 13-18 year olds. Students mainly come from feeder schools in the local area of Wimborne. The embedding of Core Maths into the post-16 provision at Queen Elizabeth School has largely been facilitated by the school’s existing strategy which involves the introduction of problem solving skills to students in year 9. Students taking the Core Maths course have consequently adjusted well to the problem solving focus of Core Maths and a teaching strategy which supports and guides them to find solutions to problems independently. Mathematics has a strong and visible branding across the school into which Core Maths has been seamlessly incorporated. It is thanks to the efforts to create such a strong ‘mathematics brand’ that Core Maths has quickly been established as a credible and attractive course, with significant numbers of students already signing up for next year.

Queen Elizabeth's School


In an effort to get students engaged with mathematics across the school the mathematics department has developed a clear branding which has now been extended to include Core Maths. All Core Maths students carry smart white folders, with front covers depicting individual student house colours.

" How do we get them more engaged in maths all over the place? It’s to try and get everything looking like it’s from maths. We’ve actually put effort and time into developing it [the student folder] … the fact that you can open a folder, see that it’s maths, see any of the work, it’s all branded our way … if we’ve spent time creating it, then hopefully the students will appreciate it and spend time working on it.’ Core Maths Teacher A
" They’ve almost made a brand of maths in the school … give them the same folders throughout the year. They get the students at a very young age used to being part of the maths department … they breed familiarity with it. They do everything the same way year on year and build on it year on year.’ Core Maths Lead

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Recruitment for Core Maths was done by targeting those students who would benefit most from the course. Teachers looked at a combination of student GCSE grades, the post-16 courses they had opted for, as well as which students had the flexibility in their timetables to attend the allocated slots for Core Maths. This resulted in a shortlist of potential students for whom the course might be a viable option. Follow-up discussions with individual students to inform them about Core Maths yielded a willing cohort at the start of term of 18 students, with two additional students migrating across later in the term from AS level Maths. For their part, students welcomed this direct approach to recruitment.

‘I was told about it on GCSE results day because I didn’t get a good enough grade to do A-Level Maths so the teacher suggested it to me. I enjoy it now so it was probably the better option’ Core Maths Student

By employing additional resource, the mathematics department has been able to run two classes (uneven in size) each receiving of 4 hour of Core Maths per fortnight. One student, because of timetabling demands does 2 hours over the fortnight. This student heard about the course after it had started and really wanted to do it in spite of losing free study time to participate as in her own words, ‘for the sake of missing two frees it’s quite good to get another AS’

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Future Recruitment Strategy

The response from the current cohort has been very positive and so they have been willing to attend post-16 information open evenings to talk about their experience of studying Core Maths with other students (and their parents) who might be considering it as an option for next year. The feedback from these events suggests that prospective students and their parents found this very helpful and 21 students have already signed up to take Core Maths next year.

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Teaching Core Maths

At Queen Elizabeth’s School, the majority of work in Core Math is activity based, and there is little or no reliance on text books. During a Core Maths lesson, teachers present a problem or challenge to the students together with any key information that they might need to solve it and the lesson is then spent working out how they might combine this information with their mathematical skills in order to solve the problem. Typically teachers find that students refine their thinking about the problem as they progress through the lesson.

Key to the success of this approach is that students accept that they don’t necessarily know how they’re going to solve a problem straight away and that in the end there is likely to be a range of acceptable answers rather than a single ‘right answer’. However, whatever answer they do come up with must have a clear rationale. Discussion at the end of a lesson often focuses on whether there is a better way to get to that answer.

A key thing that we’re doing here in Core Maths is that we’re giving them whatever information that they might need or giving them the freedom to go and find out the information that they might need, but they don’t necessarily know how they’re going to do it straight off. Core Maths Teacher A
It’s about them making decisions and a certain amount of assumptions and it not necessarily leading to some right or wrong answer….. as long as they made reasonable assumptions, then their answer is valid. Core Maths Teacher B

Solving problems often takes students off in a different direction than the teacher planned so sometimes topics last longer than the allocated number of lessons. Consequently the teachers do not work with set lesson plans, but instead allow students the flexibility to work through a problem for as long as they need.

‘You have to have the confidence and freedom to say it’s ok that can go on or you can go away and find that out…..’Core Maths Teacher A

Teachers see huge value in this process as students often get to ‘a different solution or a better solution than we envisaged’. One problem ended up lasting several lessons because the students became so enthused by it

In the process of solving a problem, it can become obvious that there are gaps in student skills, so teachers will stop as necessary to address this. Lessons therefore are very free-flowing.

‘It can’t be the same kind of traditional lesson that you might see more at GCSE because these are grade C and some grade B students, they don’t know everything from GCSE so there’s an awful lot of it that you are needing to cover, so if you just do it the same way as they did it a GCSE, they’re just going to feel like they’re in a GCSE lesson. Its got to be more about how they’re applying it, making decisions about using it, than the maths itself. They need to practise it.’ Core Maths Teacher A

While some students might take a while to adjust to the problem solving focus of Core Maths, this is less of an issue at Queen Elizabeth’s School where the first term of year 9 is spent doing more functional maths and problem solving activities rather than learning new content. Both Core Maths teachers believe that as a result of their experience in year 9, students are not typically waiting for teachers to tell them what to do and to ‘spoon feed’ them. It also means they can cope with not knowing how to solve a problem straight away.

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  • How to estimate mass of a human

    This is a simple task which involves asking students to estimate the mass of a human being with just a measuring tape and some basic information on density. At Queen Elizabeth’s School, it generated lots of discussion about what position the human would need to be in e.g. whether human would be curled up as a ball, standing up straight, or squished into a cuboid and the impact that would have on mass.

  • Journey to the moon

    Students are asked ‘What would cost more building a tower of one pound coins to the moon or building a rocket and launching it? The idea came from a conversation with the Head who noted that the best mathematics lesson he had ever observed had involved the teacher posing this exact question.

    Teachers found that students thought of lots of things that they hadn’t considered, e.g. how many staff would be needed at mission control to launch a rocket, whether it would be cheaper to find an astronaut who was already trained or get trained themselves, or whether it would be cheaper to go by modern day space shuttle or by a rocket designed in the ‘60s.

    Results were presented as a poster outlining the argument for their choice and presenting a conclusion.

  • The Isle of Wight

    The question posed to the students was ‘Can you fit the worlds population on the Isle of Wight?’ Students were given only details of the world’s population and a very simple scaled outline diagram of the Isle of Wight and they had to work out the area of the land.

    Some students came up with an estimated answer that was within a couple of hundred square metres of the actual area of the Isle of Wight. They then worked out how many people could fit in a square metre and whether the Isle of Wight was feasible and if not which cities could accommodate the world’s population. Students had to analyse the land mass of a selection of large towns and cities in the world in order to identify ones that the worlds population would fit on to.

  • Payday loans

    When the new Payday Loan regulations were introduced, the Core Maths teachers used this as an opportunity to explore percentages. 

    Students were asked to investigate how large the debt would get on a loan of £250 borrowed at a 5,000% interest rate if the person who borrowed it subsequently lost their job and couldn’t pay it back for 2-3 years. Students found the total had rocketed up to over 7m by the end of the lending period. 

    The class also looked at the UK national debt in order to work out how long it would take a payday loan of £500 to reach the level of the National Debt. The Core Maths Teachers plan also to build on this session and look at credit card borrowing and mortgage lending.

  • Snowman Challenge

    During a January snowfall, instead of allowing students to go out and build a snowman, the Core Maths teacher invited them to think about how to design a snowman. This started as a task with year 11s and then was also used with a Core Maths class.

    Students had to consider issues such as what shapes would be used to build their snowmen, what volume of snow might be required, the surface area involved, the density of the snow being used. In terms of the latter, the teacher gave students details of different types of snow they could use together with the density. They were given the information in kg per cubic metre, so they had to do some conversion between cubic centimetres and cubic metres.

  • Weights and Measures

    Students are asked if they could lift a solid steel ball that is 6 inches in diameter. 

    They are given a list of materials and their density as well as a set of pictures of items like an oak dining table, 200 high stack of newspapers and a 2m high solid polystyrene cube and asked to rank them in order of which they would most likely be able to lift. Densities of different materials were provided, including that of different types of steel.

  • The Speed of Light

    In order to teach ‘standard form’ which is normally done through looking at the planets, one of the Core Maths teachers sourced a video which filmed light travelling through a coke bottle using a special technique that slows everything down. Students were given details of the speed of light and asked to work out by how many times the video had been slowed down . Teachers found that students took time to work out the length of the coke bottle, then watched and rewatched the video so they could time it and work out by what factor it has been slowed down by. 

    Speed of Light from Nathan Kraft on Vimeo.

    They then explored whether if a bullet was fired from a gun, using the same filming technique, how long would the video have to last to enable filming of the bullet traveling through the bottle. 



To begin with teachers used a lot of CMSP resources but as time progressed, they have become more creative in generating their own resources which link to real life or sometimes even topical news issues. There is also a focus on adapting resources that students will have encountered at KS4 as part of a continued drive to ensure continuity in the teaching of mathematics across the year groups. Students recognize this push for continuity and see it as helpful.

‘You already have background knowledge of stuff rather than learn something completely new which can be quite difficult’

‘You’re not thrown into maths too quickly because you know stuff already, it gradually brings you into maths and then you can get to the heart of stuff, whereas in A Level you are just thrown in’.

‘You’re developing what you already know to a higher level which is useful’

Students also appreciate the real world scenarios that problems are built around which in their eyes makes Core Maths more interesting and engaging than A-Level Maths.

‘Core Maths is not as boring like in A Level [Maths] you get a sheet of boring equations, but [in Core Maths] there’s always a theme to the lessons…… like we were doing stuff with Mokia phones……there’s always stuff in the background to make it a bit more interesting’

‘Some of the maths in A-Level, it’s like when am I ever going to use this again?’

For the Core Maths teachers, often problems they work on in the classroom do not require a great deal of effort to set up, the effort comes in finding the information that will help students, some of which is done ‘live’ in the classroom.

‘doesn’t require a great deal of effort as far as setting it up goes, its just finding that information and it’s just sparked from an idea. … The greatest effort comes from questioning and helping them out at the time and saying ‘ok, what do you mean by that, what are you assuming’ Core Maths Teacher A