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 Weston College, the focus was on learners in Construction and the Creative Arts.
For Weston College, the start of the Whole College Approach (WCA) programme coincided with the launch of a new college-wide Maths and English Strategy and allowed the college to test out some key assumptions. The college decided to focus on two vocational areas with the lowest historical levels of attendance and achievement in maths: Construction and Creative Arts. The vision was to develop a more collaborative culture in which maths became everyone’s business.
Several constraints and challenges became apparent through the initial Discovery and Planning Phases of the WCA programme. There were variations in the attitudes, behaviours and confidence of different student groups and staff to be considered, and the issue of finding time for co-planning and shared development work. It was agreed that creating opportunities to build rapport and develop collaboration between vocational and maths teachers was a key action for a sustained improvement in student attendance and attainment for maths.
Growing such a community of practice where open and honest discussion could take place involved bottom-up small changes as much as top-down big moves. It was about maths teachers having desk space in vocational work rooms; team teaching of maths skills within vocational spaces; and short but regular sharing opportunities over coffee. As Dave (Deputy Principal) explained “we put coffee and biscuits on the table early in the morning so that they’ve got some warm place to go, and to actually pour their hearts out if they needed to…or complain…and then all of a sudden it turned into something more productive.”
As a result of the WCA project, attendance improved in both these faculties when compared to the same points in the previous academic year. The proportion of learners who had weak attendance in maths but high attendance for their main qualification also reduced when compared to the previous year. Importantly, these two faculties were the only ones where this change happened.
Despite having this improvement in common, the collaborative cultures in these two areas were co-created differently. The college learned that ‘one size does not fit all’ and that although there is value in having common themes for improvement, the approaches need to be appropriate for each curriculum area: “similar threads but completely different activities” (Deputy Principal). Senior leaders noted how good qualitative information from a collaborative community can be invaluable to enrich thinking and aid understanding of key processes underpinning change. They needed to permit a culture to grow where there was unforced collaboration though. Nurturing such communities is an important step towards an effective Whole College Approach where maths becomes everyone’s business.
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.