In the third of a series of experience-sharing interviews with managers of maths and English programmes in the post-16 sector, ETF’s Bob Read talks to Darren Coogan, who has just completed his first year as Teaching and Learning Quality Manager for Maths at Cambridge Regional College. Darren reflects on his approach to improving the delivery of GCSE Maths resit programmes, especially in light of the current uncertainty about whether students will be assessed this year by an external exam or by a Teacher Assessed Grade procedure.
Bob: Last November your new cohort of 16–18 students came in with a Teacher Assessed Grade (TAG) from school. How has that affected the way you teach your GCSE maths resit programmes?
Darren: We feel we implemented a really rigorous TAG procedure ourselves, but anticipated that students arriving from school with a grade 3 TAG would probably have skills at a lower level than our students who were ‘Tagged’ at grade 3. And that proved to be the case, because when we analysed the results in the November resit exam, our own grade 3 ‘returner’ students did much better than those straight from school. We also found that after the periods of lockdown and remote learning at home, new students needed more time to adjust to being back in the classroom.
Bob: So, have you modified the way you teach this year’s GCSE resit students?
Darren: As a teacher myself I have always tried to ensure that my maths lessons are a sequence of short activities as this helps in motivating students and managing behaviour in the classroom. This has been especially important for our new student intake as they have needed help to settle back into the routines of working together in a classroom. We offer students three one-hour classes a week, as this helps teachers to plan lessons that are focused, lively and well-paced. I also think that our good standards of attendance and behaviour reflect, to some extent, our decision to base our maths teachers in vocational departments, as this means they can quickly and easily share any concerns with their vocational colleagues in the shared staff room.
Bob: Following the periods of lockdown do you use digital technology more in your teaching?
Darren: I used Mentimeter in the early lessons of the term to get feedback from students about their attitudes towards maths topics they find difficult and also as a way to gauge information about their future career and academic goals. It is a great tool for your planning and for your group profiles, amongst many other things.
Often, we use phone-based activities like Kahoot and Quizziz at the end of a lesson. This has also been our first year of using the Century platform for blended learning, which teachers are finding really useful in signposting students to revision material after our regular half termly skills check and then tracking their progress. Teachers have really embraced Century as a valuable element in a blended learning approach. However, I am still a firm believer in pen and paper, because, at the end of the day, we are preparing students for a paper-based exam, so we need to ensure they get plenty of practice in setting out written calculations.
Bob: I believe your half termly skills checks are a key feature of any TAG process you might be asked to implement again this year, aren’t they?
Darren: Yes, we aim to gather between three to six pieces of evidence for all maths students which could include their initial assessment, a November GCSE resit grade, a mock exam in February and three half termly skills checks. We feel that these are all ‘high integrity’ pieces of evidence as the skills checks are based on material from AQA’s Exampro. Our assessment schedule is the same for every resit student on all of our various campus sites, so we feel we have a very robust and standardised approach. We will, of course, update our skills checks in light of the revised exam content that was issued recently.
Bob: How do you design your scheme of work?
Darren: We continue to use a ‘condensed’ scheme of work that targets the range of topics in the GCSE syllabus that we feel are accessible to resit students and which should still enable them to gain 55% marks in the exam and so stand a chance of achieving a grade 4. Our approach is very similar to the Focused 15 scheme of work developed by Emma Bell at Grimsby Institute. Another factor in our success so far this year was our decision to move from covering a fixed set of topics in a week to covering them more flexibly over a term. This more flexible approach means that teachers can adapt their teaching to respond to the needs of their students by spending more time on a topic if necessary. Working with a group of Level 3 Engineering students is very different from working with a Level 1 Catering group, and so you need to be able to adapt to their needs.
Bob: What was your approach to entering students for the November resit exam?
Darren: In a normal year we would probably use a cut-off point based on our initial assessment result and probably only enter 10 or 15 % of students, but last November we entered a larger number than usual. Offering the November resit exam to a large cohort is of course an expensive undertaking for any college but we felt it was worthwhile for a number of reasons. It provided valuable exam experience for those students who hadn’t sat a public exam before and it was also a way to gather solid benchmark data for any TAG process we might implement. And even for those students who don’t get a grade 4, but move up from a 2 to a 3, it can be a motivating result and provides us with valuable progression data. And finally, of course, it means that our resit classes for the rest of the year are smaller and easier to manage.
Bob: How did your students get on?
Darren: This year I decided to introduce a really focused, short scheme of work that was specifically designed only for our students preparing for the November resit exam and it paid dividends as our high grade results were very good – 150% better than last year and six per cent higher than the national average for a centre of our kind.
If you would like to contact Darren at Cambridge Regional College to find out more about their approach to managing GCSE Maths resit programmes, please email him at DCoogan@camre.ac.uk.
For details of the ETF’s full support for maths and English, please visit the dedicated area of our website.