Maths in Newham – the community is the college

Zia-Ur Rahman, Head of Maths, Newham College London

In August 2021, Kabir Ahammad went on to achieve a grade 8 in GCSE Maths at Newham College. Nothing sensational until you delve deeper into his background, Kabir joined Newham College in 2017 as an Entry Level 1 ESOL student.

This is not an anomaly – to know learners like Kabir, is to appreciate the background of typical learners at Newham College. According to MiDES data, approximately 33% of learners who undertook a GCSE Maths resit exam in 20/21 have never actually sat GCSE Maths, compared to a national average of 9% – indeed one wonders if the name resit is appropriate at all!

There is recognition that Newham College enrols a high proportion of learners of all ages with little or no recognised qualification on entry – often from overseas backgrounds. The largest provision at Newham by a long way is ESOL (35% of all enrolments) including a large 16-18 ESOL programme as well as significant adult and community-based provision. And yet amongst the top 10 FE colleges in the UK, Newham performs consistently well.

How does Newham College perform consistently well in GCSE maths?

Within the college vision and ethos, the Maths team work hard behind the scenes and takes an active interest in shaping the local and academic agenda through collaboration at all levels.

From a common-sense point of view – recruitment to maths courses for learners from all backgrounds include dedicated use of initial assessment and diagnostic English skills to inform appropriately. There are clear milestones and pathways that help learners map their mathematical journey alongside their own aspirations.

Alongside whole college actions, we have also taken an evidence-based approach. One powerful example, through Newham CfEM action research, in 2020/21 allowed maths teachers with experience of ESOL and EAL learners to work with an ESOL specialist to guide the maths action research team.

In this action research we developed a pedagogy – an adapted Frayer model – to specifically assist with language teaching in GCSE Maths. The result of our endeavours included a statistically significant improvement in results for both ESOL and non-ESOL learners when clear language-centred teaching was used as part of the lesson. In tabloid terms – we measured somewhere between 2 – 10% improvement on GCSE assessment scores per learner when the words were explained.

Ultimately, in the words of another Newham College learner – and long may it continue…

“It helped me understand the difference between English meaning and maths meaning”

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