Central Bedfordshire College

Using staff development to build whole college engagement with GCSE English and maths


  • For brevity, this case study considers only maths. Sessions were offered in both English and maths.
  • The case study is a snapshot in February 2015 of work in progress at the college.

About the College

CBCCentral Bedfordshire College, formerly Dunstable College, is a small general further education college with a main site in the town of Dunstable and several satellite sites. There are approximately 1600 full time and 2000 part time students who study on both academic and vocational programmes. The GCSE maths and English teams are small, with a separate functional maths team. Tutors are timetabled to teach for 23 hours per week. Students with Grade D re-take GCSE and the remainder study Functional Skills.

While the college’s most recent inspection in the autumn of 2013 graded them as “good’ overall, Ofsted reported that “The proportion of students who achieve grades A* to C in GCSEs in English and maths is very low”. Students did not recognise the value of studying maths at college. Attendance at both classes and examinations was an issue.

The college has taken a whole college approach to addressing this, with the creation of a new post, in November 2014, of Learning Area Manager whose brief it is to improve levels of achievement in GCSE maths and English.

A programme of mandatory staff development was set up, beginning in December, as part of one of the regular whole college Staff Development Days. Half a day was spent focusing on the sharing of effective practice and promoting the idea that GCSE maths and English are an integral part of the learner’s course, requiring support from both vocational and specialist staff.

Following the session in December, staff attended a 60 minute session about GCSE maths for three consecutive weeks, choosing a time convenient to them from a variety of slots on offer. In total 61 sessions in either maths or English were run over a six week period.

The focus of the first session was on acknowledging and alleviating the fears of some staff about maths. A simplified version of the GCSE maths specification was introduced so that tutors could identify topics which are already in use within their vocational areas. The aim was not to make every tutor a specialist maths teacher, but to familiarise staff with the content of the GCSE course and enable them to get the message across to students that maths is important and relevant to their vocational training.

In the second week, staff were asked to attend having thought of a mathematical topic or concept with which they felt they comfortable. They were given some Higher Level GCSE maths papers. Working individually, they were asked to select one question they felt that they could adapt and use in their vocational teaching. They then speed dated with their colleagues in five minutes slots so that each member of the pair could get some ideas from the other as to how this exam question might be applied to their vocational teaching. They usually managed four different pairings in a session. After this session staff went away to develop their idea.

In the third week staff presented their ideas as a resource for others to use. After this session the ideas were tested out and a resource bank of ideas built for use by vocational staff.

Some outcomes of this staff development

  • It received positive feedback and attendance levels were high.
  • Staff discovered that they are already teaching some maths and are less fearful of it.
  • People are now talking to each other across college departments.
  • IT staff realised that they use algebra in programming and spreadsheets.
  • Public services and sociology staff produced some innovative ways to teach their subjects through the use of statistics.
  • A member of the graphic design staff offered to get his students to design maths posters.
  • Tutors are tracking absence and phoning home to ascertain the reasons for it, facilitated by the college use of a commercial software package which records student data such as grades, marks and timetables and produces reports and individual ILPs. This has enabled tutors to access information on learner progress, and to provide timely interventions which support learner achievement.
  • Some vocational tutors now visit GCSE classes to see how their students are progressing.

Next steps

  • Offer staff the opportunity to develop their personal subject knowledge through sessions in college. Once that is secure, sessions will be offered on subject specific pedagogy.
  • Work towards including ten minutes of maths in each vocational teaching session to ensure that students engage with maths frequently and understand the importance of the subject.
  • Continue to develop collaborative working practices between all teachers of maths in the college. There are already scheduled meetings with the Learning Area Manager to enable staff to keep him up to date with learner progress. Learning walks are undertaken to identify, anonymously, both good practice and areas for development.
  • Structure teaching timetable for next September to enable cover so that maths staff can attend external events.
  • Work on learner mindset to help them to believe that success is achievable.

Success factors

  • There is a dedicated member of staff focusing solely on the improvement of GCSE English and maths achievement.
  • Staff development, although mandatory, was collaborative. It was purposeful and participatory, valuing what staff already knew.
  • The variety of session times provided made it possible for all staff to attend at a time convenient to them.
  • There is a strong ethos on supporting staff innovation and sharing of good practice.
  • The college has a working week which has a sustainable balance of teaching and non teaching hours.

College contact

Danny Faulkner, Learning Area Manager

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