Engaging vocational teams in integrating maths and English skills in their programmes

In a series of five experience-sharing interviews with managers, ETF’s Bob Read explores their approaches to tackling some of the many challenges in the management of Functional Skills and GCSE Resit programmes in the post 16 sector. In this first interview Bob talks with Trisha Franklin, Curriculum Manager for Maths and English at Peterborough Regional College, about her approach to engaging vocational teams in integrating maths and English skills development within their programmes.

Bob: How have you approached the challenge of supporting vocational staff in integrating maths and English in their teaching?

Trisha: Like colleges everywhere, raising the profile of maths and English across the college continues to be an ongoing challenge, but I feel we are now seeing the real benefits of a consistent whole organisation approach that we’ve been developing for about six for seven years now. Maths and English achievement rates in our intake schools here in Peterborough are roughly 10% below national levels but this year our GCSE resit pass rates are probably going to be about 10% higher than average which, I think, is in many ways a reflection of the way we engage staff across the college in supporting with maths and English.

Bob: Do you base your specialist teachers out in vocational areas, or do you have a centralised model?

Trisha: We used to base our teachers in vocational areas in a ‘dispersed’ model and it was successful up to a point, but only in a few areas and those pockets of good practice didn’t seem to spread. We found that our specialist teachers were really keen to be with their colleagues so that they could share ideas and offer each other support on a day-to-day basis, so over the last six years we have moved to a much more centralised approach. We have a ‘quad’ of four corridors with classrooms and an office and resource base for teachers. Students know where to go in the college for maths and English support – as do vocational staff – and it’s made a big difference.

Bob: How do your specialist teachers liaise with their vocational colleagues?

Trisha: In June we bring maths and English teams together with vocational colleagues to share their schemes of learning so that they can work together to identify when topics are being covered in the vocational course, and how they might provide an opportunity to explore some underpinning skills in maths and skills. The aim is to try to plan for a co-ordination of coverage of key topics. Our maths and English teachers have set up some Google sites containing a constantly updated range of contextualised resources that vocational staff can use. These have been very popular. Vocational staff can also access our Google classrooms so that they see the resources we use and how we teach.

Bob: How do you encourage the sharing of contextualised resources?

Trisha: Every five or six weeks we have team meetings for our specialist teachers, one for maths and one for English, and every teacher has 10 mins to share a resource or a teaching strategy that they feel has worked well. Teachers regularly use it as an opportunity to share examples of contextualised resources that they have explored with their vocational learners. We have also just introduced an ‘open door’ policy which means that teachers leave their classroom doors open so that other colleagues, including vocational staff, can call in to visit a class or ask for help. It’s just one part of our approach that encourages sharing of good practice and an open-minded attitude towards asking for support if you feel you need it.

Bob: What other examples of collaborative working have been successful?

Trisha: During lockdown our GCSE English teachers worked with vocational staff to develop a five week portfolio project for each of 16 key vocational areas based on sets of five contextualised GCSE assignments, each one focusing on a different assessment objective. The aim was partly to generate evidence for the TAG process and engage vocational teachers in seeing how they could use work-related topics to consolidate the English skills we cover on GCSE programmes. The assignments were really well received by vocational staff who went on to develop their own resources using similar question formats. Their response exceeded our expectations, so we are developing more of these assignments this year.

Bob: Have you made any small changes that have a made a big difference?

Trisha: All vocational areas classrooms now have a permanent, small whiteboard next to the main one and it is labelled maths and English. Teachers use it to capture any technical vocabulary, abbreviations, calculation strategy, units of measurement, etc that arise naturally or are planned to be covered in a session. It’s a simple idea really but it helps raise the profile of maths and English for both vocational teachers and students and helps to standardise practice across the college.

Bob: Is there one feature of your approach that you would single out as a key factor in your success?

Trisha: A key factor for me is the support I have from senior management in promoting a whole organisation approach. Each week I attend a meeting with the key faculty managers and have a regular slot when I share up-to-date data on student attendance, examples of effective practice, etc, so that maths and English remains a priority at all levels.

Bob: Are there any new approaches that you are piloting this year?

Trisha: Our latest initiative involves setting up a maths room that uses augmented reality software, headsets and 3D printers to create virtual environments in which students explore real world and workplace maths challenges. We decided to combine some Maths Premium funding with support from our Centre for Excellence in Maths at New College Stamford, to invest in a state-of-the-art high tech resource centre which can give students an experience of using maths in work-related scenarios that is so different from a school-based curriculum. I think that is so important especially for GCSE resit learners.

If you would like to contact Trisha to find out more about their whole organisation approach to maths and English, please email her at trisha.franklin@peterborough.ac.uk.

Visit the ETF website for further details of the support it provides for maths and English.

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