Harlow College

Innovation in GCSE English

About the college

Harlow logoHarlow College boasts success rates in the top 1% in the country, along with strong value added, and was rated ‘good’ with ‘outstanding’ capacity to improve by Ofsted in October 2010.

The college currently offers 16-19 Study Programmes to in the region of 2,700 learners across a range of vocational and academic disciplines. In the current academic year, approximately 1,800 young people need to up-skill in terms of English and/or maths to meet the requirements of the Study Programme. Of this 1,800, over 650 need GCSE English and 365 require GCSE Mathematics. This is a significant strategic issue in terms of both learner need and staff capacity and capability to meet the challenge.

The context

The college has successfully trained 42 vocational staff to deliver GCSE English and another 25 to deliver GCSE Maths through national English and mathematics Enhancement Programmes. It has also supported in excess of 175 staff to embed and deliver functional skills in their curriculum areas. The college has used its innovative approach to learning and teaching alongside the flexibilities within the Study Programme to embed English and maths within delivery teams in each vocational area rather than have discrete delivery of English and maths from a centrally resourced team. A small team of ‘expert’ English and maths teachers provide support and professional development for the embedded teams.

This academic year, the college won a bid for DfE funding for ‘Sharing Innovative Approaches and Overcoming Barriers in Delivering 16-19 Study Programmes’. This funding has, in part, allowed them to develop an online tool, called ‘GEM’ (General England and Maths) for use by these English and maths tutors and students.

The approach

Gayle Peachey, the Implementation Manager for English and maths, is keenly aware of the need for students to improve their underpinning skills. She was particularly keen to develop a tool which would encourage students to read texts from the world around them whilst helping them to develop their technical writing skills. From this aim, GEM was born.

Harlow 1GEM is devised to provide English and maths starter activities which are available through a website. The website uses news feeds to source its English material, thus encouraging students to get involved in, and read about, the world around them. From these news feeds, students are directed to perform activities which help them to practise their underpinning skills. At present, the skill areas offered are:



In English –

  • Capital letters
  • Homophones
  • Apostrophes
  • Plurals

In maths –

  • Bidmas
  • Multiples
  • Factors
  • Currency
  • Graphs
  • Averages

When English students choose the skill area they want to work on, they will also be given a choice of the topic area they want to work within.

Harlow 2Prior to a student completing an activity, a ‘hints and tips’ page will be available for guidance. Once the student completes the activity the score of the attempted tasks will be displayed and recorded. A score of 10 will be displayed alongside a star. A score between 6 and 9 will be displayed alongside a ‘thumbs up’ sign. When a student achieves a mark between 0 and 5, only the score will be displayed.

Harlow 3GEM will work through a responsive website which can adjust to various interfaces: ipad, PC, mobile phone. It is also a dynamic website, meaning it is updated with new material (headlines and news feeds for the English activities) every two hours. This is self-generating and does not rely on any manpower to input the material. All the English material is taken from sources readily available within the public domain and free of charge. In this sense, GEM has the potential to provide interesting sound bites to spark early student interest and interaction in lessons. Similarly, it could also be used by tutors as a resource for up to date reading materials as well as a resource for self-supported study by students. Furthermore, the college envisage that students could be directed to different activities within GEM according to their personal targets and IEPs.

Harlow 4


The site has the capacity to give access to 525 colleges across the UK. Each tutor will be able to create a class group which allows them to monitor their learners’ progress and set individual targets via a report system. This will be password protected so that tutors from other colleges cannot view the work done by groups outside their own organisation.


Impact and success factors

The project, and GEM itself, is still under development. Harlow College will shortly begin an in-house trial across three GCSE and Functional skills groups which will involve approximately 60 students. Once the trial is completed, and lessons learnt, the aim is to open up the site to colleges across the UK.

With further funding, GEM obviously has the potential to be developed further, to cover more skill areas in both English and maths.

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