The college was established in 1974 on the site of the former Cambridge High School for Girls. It is one of three post-16 colleges in Cambridge. It provides both academic and vocational programmes to around 2000 students, approximately 92 % of whom are studying at Level 3. In February 2014 Ofsted wrote “The vast majority of students complete their courses, achieve their qualifications and progress to university, further education or employment.”
The college has a discrete maths department, offering both A level maths courses and a variety of Level 2 maths courses. The Level 2 provision is taught exclusively by a team of three teachers, led by a Course Team Leader for Level 2. The college believes that a GCSE in maths at Grade C or above is achievable by all its students and offers the following pathways, depending on the entry grade of the student, and concentrating on qualifications that are well known:
- Grade C – resit class for students who need a Grade A or B for entry to HE provision e.g. medicine or science courses (approximately 25 students);
- Grade D – resit classes (approximately 100 students);
- Grade E or below – Level 1 Free-Standing Mathematics Qualifications (FSMQs) in Money Management and Data Handling, as stepping-stone qualifications towards a GCSE (approximately 40 students).
Level 2 mathematics provision
The college offers a GCSE re-sit course at Higher level only for the following reasons:
- To be awarded a Grade C at Foundation level students must work very accurately to achieve a mark of around 75%;
- A Grade C at Higher level can be achieved with a mark of around 30%;
- Grades B and above are a realistic aspiration for students who have only just missed a C in their previous examination;
- It sends out a message to the students that the college believes they can be high achievers in maths.
In the classroom
The college achieves success rates in GCSE maths in the region of 65% Grade C or above.
The initial classroom foci are the twin ones of persuading students that they can achieve at mathematics, and ensuring that they come to class properly equipped with the tools to do so. Teachers draw on the work of Carol Dweck on Fixed and Growth mindsets to help students understand that, if they believe they can learn (Growth mindset) and they work hard, they will learn. Parental support is successfully harnessed to ensure that students bring necessary equipment e.g. calculators, to class.
Five times during the academic year, students complete GCSE past paper assessments under controlled conditions. The results for each class are recorded on a spreadsheet which is used to identify topics which students already know, and therefore don’t need to be taught, and topics which appear annually in the exam, attract high marks, are less secure and therefore need to be revised or taught for the first time. The aim is not to teach the entire Higher level syllabus, but to ensure that students have thoroughly mastered sufficient of it to have the opportunity to achieve a grade A. The focus is on maximizing student learning and not curriculum coverage.
As the students’ primary aim is to do better in the examination, teaching often uses examination questions as the focus for learning, supplemented by resources such as card sorts drawn from a shared departmental resource bank. Frequent formative assessment is a feature of the teaching. Students are asked to evaluate their competence on a scale of 1-5 on the lesson topic at the start, middle and end (SME) of every lesson. This tabular approach (see below) allows both student and teacher to monitor progress during the lesson. Students have the opportunity to indicate if they are having problems, and the teacher can modify the lesson in response to the feedback received. Data is gathered via a show of hands and students appear happy to openly self evaluate.
|1 Can’t do this topic||2||3||4||5 Can do this topic|
|Start of lesson||8||2||0||0||0|
|End of lesson||0||0||5||4||1|
Sample table showing number of students self assessing at each grade during the lesson.
Independent study is expected. The department has found that paper based homeworks are the most successful. Where students identify an individual personal weakness which cannot be addressed during lesson time, they are encouraged to use the Khan Academy videos to master the basics and for individual study. The college registers all students on the website so that teachers can monitor its use by students.
The department does not have interactive whiteboards. They find their most useful electronic aid to be a visualizer, which enables the projection of any piece of text e.g. a textbook page, a piece of student work or a model, on to the screen in the classroom. A webcam could also be used in this way.
Maths is taught solely by the mathematics team with no input from other subject specialists. Past papers are used to illustrate and to contextualize the GCSE learning. FSMQs aim to contextualize the mathematics in everyday situations.
Summary of success factors
- Students are taught by specialist maths teachers who have excellent subject knowledge;
- Promotion of a Growth mindset and a “can do” attitude to maths;
- Student entry at the Higher level enables every student to gain the best grade of which they are capable;
- Focus on deep learning of selected topics rather than teacher “coverage” of the full syllabus;
- Use of visualiser enables easy sharing and discussion of student work;
- Frequent formative assessment of student learning using ‘SME’ boards;
- Regular summative assessment through question by question test analysis and subsequent targeting of individual students and topics.
Chris Lewoski, Course Team Leader for Level 2 Mathematics.