Cambridge Regional College is located in the north of the city, next to the Cambridge Science Park. It has approximately 3,000 full time learners and approximately 5,000 part time learners. The majority of study programmes on offer are vocational. The college serves a wide catchment area which includes both prosperous areas within the city and rural communities with poor public transport and declining industry.
The position of mathematics within the college
Teaching slots of three hours duration were found to be unsatisfactory. GCSE maths is now taught in two 90 minute lessons per week. More learning is taking place in the two shorter sessions and individual absences have less impact.
The college aims to make GCSE maths an integral part of the students’ timetable. Vocational courses are asked to request convenient teaching slots from the mathematics department and the department does its best to meet as many of these requests as it can.
The mathematics department
The college has a discrete maths team of 14 teachers, seven of whom teach GCSE. They have a variety of personal educational backgrounds and are led by a Sector Leader who is a maths graduate. Until recently, maths teachers were based in vocational areas around the college to facilitate contact with vocational staff. Since 2012 they have been located in one staff room which they prefer, as it makes mutual support and sharing of effective practice much easier.
The majority of the post-16 provision in Cambridge and the surrounding area is provided by two sixth form colleges and Cambridge Regional College. Nearly all the GCSE resit students arrive at college having studied the Foundation curriculum and with little desire to achieve in maths beyond a GCSE Grade C. Many lack interest and motivation, as they may have failed to achieve a GCSE grade C several times already.
The college approach
All students are screened on entry using a Functional Mathematics screening test which indicates whether they are currently working at Level 1 or Level 2. If students arrive at college with a Grade D in GCSE maths; this information is used to decide whether they are likely to succeed if they resit GCSE or whether they should study Functional Maths first.
All students undertaking a GCSE resit course are assumed to be entering for the November examination at Foundation level. Initial examination entries are made at the end of Week 4 of the academic year, finalised in Week 7 and the examination is taken just after half term in Week 8. In the academic year 2013-2014 there were 220 GCSE mathematics learners. 100 took the November 2013 re-sit examination and 39 achieved a Grade C. 181 sat the examination in June 2014 and 95 achieved a Grade C. This is a Grade C achievement rate for the year 2013-2104 of 61%. In the November 2014 examination 49 learners achieved a Grade C.
Students are well supported in their studies. They are given a textbook, a revision book and a revision workbook, paid for by the college. Classes are small, around 12-15 students, and tend to contain students from the same vocational area although not necessarily the same course. This makes for easier communication between pastoral vocational tutors and the maths teacher.
The course scheme of work is novel. The first six weeks are referred to informally as a maths bootcamp. Students are expected to work extremely hard, in and out of class, on past papers, with the aim of identifying personal areas of weakness and addressing them. To help them to do this they are given one of four ILPs in each of the first four weeks.
Each ILP requires them to self assess their competence on a selection of topics. It also tells them on which page in each of their books they will find support with that topic. After the November examination the scheme of work concentrates on more conventional teaching of the GCSE topics which these students find the most challenging.
Staff attitude is seen to be vital in motivating these students. There is a focus on students taking responsibility for their learning, and earning an exam entry through their commitment. Students are expected to bring their books to class, to attend every lesson, to work hard and to come fully equipped to lessons. On the whole they do.
Staff make use of a document written by a previous member of staff on using coaching approaches with these learners to improve their engagement and study skills. Staff aim to enable their students to:
- Build confidence, motivation and self belief;
- Cope with failure, take risks and “have a go”;
- Become resilient, determined, hard working and persistent.
Students are not overtly coached. Coaching informs classroom dialogue. For example, students are asked what stopped them succeeding last time and what they might do differently this time. The suggestion is made that if they adopt new behaviours their achievement is likely to improve. Staff are, in their own words, “relentlessly positive”.
All classroom materials are stored on a VLE for students to access if they wish. Most choose not to but staff find the bank of common resources very helpful when preparing lessons.
Summary of success factors
- Students are taught by maths teachers who have good subject knowledge.
- Locating all teachers in the same staff room enables easy mutual support and sharing of effective teaching approaches and resources.
- There is effective collaborative working between managerial staff and teaching staff. Suggestions for improving practice are welcomed by managerial staff. Teaching staff are given the professional freedom to try out new ways of working.
- Offering all students the opportunity to be considered for November examination entry is motivational. Students must demonstrate commitment and work hard. Good study habits are developed early in the course.
- There is a relentless focus, through promotion of a Growth Mindset (first 15 minutes), on building students’ belief that they can achieve a grade C in GCSE mathematics.
- Students are helped to take responsibility for their own learning, rather than blaming people or events in the past for their lack of success to date.
- Constructive use is made of examination questions to inform teaching and to show students where marks can be gained rather than lost.
- Student entry at Foundation level is seen as the right one to meet the aspirations of students at the college.
Rachel Gent, Sector Leader Mathematics