Leyton College: it's a complex problem, so you can't expect an easy answer

Carried out under the auspices of the ETF’s Centres for Excellence in Maths programme, the Whole College Approach project examined the effectiveness of such an approach in improving maths learning. At Leyton College, careful analysis and solutions specific to the context and existing culture were identified as key to success.

Leyton Sixth Form College had already achieved ‘above average’ progression and pass rates for GCSE maths when they joined the Whole College Approach (WCA) Programme but wanted to go further. Internal observations highlighted that the motivation of GCSE maths students was often limited, and that attendance was poor for a sizeable group of students. Problems like these are not uncommon amongst GCSE resit students but there was a noticeable absence of ‘easy’ answers in the sector. As the college discovered, issues such as these are complex and need careful analysis before developing solutions to suit the specific context and existing culture of a college.

Leyton is a single site sixth form college in east London. In 2021/22 there were 2300 students. Just under half take A level courses and a similar amount follow Level 2 and 3 vocational courses. A centralised team of 12 maths teachers are responsible for teaching A level Maths, A level Further Maths, AS Maths and Core Maths, as well as GCSE resits. Each maths teacher takes at least one GCSE class and there are around 500 GCSE maths students each year.

Early WCA discussions with vocational staff highlighted the need to consider the relationships between maths staff and their students and explore possible inconsistencies in how the college attendance monitoring systems were used. In contrast, the main concern amongst maths staff was the level of support they were getting from vocational areas with student issues such as attendance. These perspectives on what needed to be fixed were different, but equally valuable.

From this starting point a key issue emerged, which was that vocational and maths staff rarely engaged with each other and therefore never got the chance to exchange views. It was important to bring these two groups of staff together to develop a shared understanding of the problem before taking action to address it.

The college decided to commence with one vocational department and spent time using the WCA self-assessment tasks to stimulate purposeful interaction between vocational and maths staff. Byron (CfEM project lead) reflects on the importance of honesty at this stage and explains how “It was useful as the CfEM project lead, that I was seen as fairly neutral towards both the maths and vocational areas and therefore able to have fairly open and honest conversations with a range of staff.” As staff began to talk openly, they were able to develop a better-informed all-round view of the problems and engaged in productive discussion about how these might be tackled.

The WCA team developed an action plan with three linked elements: relationships, common approaches and attendance systems. As staff got to know each other in a series of meetings, they began to work together and introduce some common approaches to support students with their learning across their study programmes (e.g. Growth Zone model, use of representatives). They were also able to examine the attendance system from different perspectives and reach agreement on a flowchart for teams to follow.

The WCA process led to some specific strategies and products at Leyton, but it also established a new way of working for maths and vocational teachers. This approach ensured that the college didn’t just “land on a set of ‘easy’ actions that might not address the real issues” (CfEM project lead). It was by using the views of staff in different positions in the college that Leyton was able to uncover the complex issues that lay under the surface and tackle the real problems.

For further details of the ETF’s Centres for Excellence in Maths programme, please visit the CfEM resources and evidence hub on the ETF website.