CfEM action research reports 2020-2021

In 2020/21, the 21 Centres for Excellence in Maths undertook 36 Action Research projects, focussing on particular aspects of four themes: mastery, engagement and motivation, technology and/or contextualisation. On this page you will find summaries of all the projects, and you can also access the full reports.


Improving the motivation and engagement of maths GCSE re-sit students in further education colleges by using maths specialist tutors as mentors

Authors: Tumay Gunduz (Christ the King Sixth Form Colleges), Elaine Gates (East Surrey College), Joyce Elemson (Lewisham College), James Clayden (Shooters Hill College) and Sam Amin (St Charles Catholic Sixth Form College)

Summary: The purpose of this Action Research project was to tackle the attitudes and mind-set of re-sit GCSE maths leaners within the post-16 sector using maths specialist mentors. This study revealed that by offering one-to-one or small group mentoring outside of the classroom (with the emphasis of growth mind-set language and support), the self-confidence of learners re-sitting the GCSE math qualification increased significantly, and attainment of these learners was significantly better than those not being mentored.

View/download the full report


Increasing and deepening learners’ conceptual mathematical understanding by using sequences of concrete, pictorial and abstract representations delivered online through virtual manipulatives

Authors: Tumay Gunduz (Christ the King Sixth Form Colleges), Catherine Sillem (Christ the King Sixth Form College Emmanuel), Sreekeerthy Bhat (Christ the King Sixth Form College St Mary’s), Judith Mortimer (Learning Enterprise College Bexley) and Sonia McKenzie (Shooters Hill College)

Summary: This Action Research project investigated how a CPA (Concrete, Pictorial and Abstract) approach to teaching and learning can be used with virtual manipulatives, using learnings and experiences from their physical counterparts, as a way to support teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. A mobile phone app was developed to deliver the goal of deepening conceptual understanding in a particular branch of the resit GCSE math curriculum. Findings from the project indicated that learners responded reasonably well to the intervention by demonstrating improvements in their self-declared confidence and academic self-concept in the areas taught with the virtual manipulative.

View/download the full report


Improving the motivation and engagement of maths Level 2 and GCSE re-sit students in further education colleges by developing maths learning outside the traditional learning environment, including outdoors and wider campus setting  

Authors: Katie Fremlin and Ben Ozanne; City College Plymouth  

Summary: This piece of Action Research work examined the effects of learning outside the traditional classroom setting on the motivation and engagement of post-16 maths learners. Findings from this work indicated the positive impact of alternative practical maths activities on learners, with 94% of students involved reporting having enjoyed the alternative practical maths lessons, 90% reporting that they felt that other students in their cohort joined in more than usual for the alternative session, and 69% of students agreeing that the activity supported the development of their maths skills.  

View/download the full report


Improving the motivation and engagement of maths GCSE re-sit students in further education colleges by providing additional maths coaching sessions personalised to their diagnosed gaps and to support with building confidence 

Authors: Ben Ozanne, Katie Fremlin, Carol Springett and Noreen Martins; City College Plymouth 

Summary: This piece of Action Research work examined the effects of one-to-one coaching sessions on the motivation, engagement and learning of post-16 maths learners, with a focus on building maths confidence. Findings from this work highlighted the positive impact of personalised coaching sessions on students’ confidence levels, with learners reporting an increase in maths confidence of 127% across a period of 6 coaching sessions.  

View/download the full report


Online: On point or off-kilter?

Authors: Anna Lister, Sandy Harrison and Fiona Dixon; Lakes College

Summary: This Action Research project explored how technology can support learners to experience maths in new ways, through the implementation of three interventions exploring: collaboration supporting learner interaction; independent work and formative feedback; using evidence-based strategies in an online setting. Findings from this research highlight that the role of the teacher is vital in building online relationships, but also reveals that the ‘teacher’ role in a digital environment is often misunderstood or displaced in favour of facilitating technological applications and software.

View/download the full report


Why do learners choose to engage or not engage with online maths resources?  

Authors: Mamta Arvind, Jessica Margiotta and Jonathan Diamond; Leeds City College  

Summary: This Action Research project investigated how well learners engage with a variety of online maths resources, with the aim of uncovering the reasons behind the engagement levels. Findings from this research indicated greatest levels of engagement with the HegartyMaths online resource, as well as an overall improvement of students’ attitudes toward using online resources, with a preference for live sessions over pre-recorded sessions. 

View/download the full report


How can a set curriculum increase the motivation, engagement and achievement of GCSE maths re-sit learners in further education colleges?

Authors: Mamta Arvind, Jessica Margiotta and Jonathan Diamond; Leeds City College

Summary: The aim of this Action Research project was to raise the motivation and engagement levels of GCSE maths re-sit learners by implementing the ‘Focus 4’ online resources from the website MathsBox, which are targeted materials for those working to achieve a Grade 4. Findings from student and teacher surveys and interviews demonstrated positive attitudes toward the resources and highlighted the importance of contextualisation upon motivation and engagement in maths.

View/download the full report


What impact does the introduction of flipped learning have on learners’ experience of the GCSE maths re-sit course?

Authors: Georgina Ramsden, Gayle Gothard, Kate Griffiths and Vikki Wilson; Nelson and Colne College Group, Runshaw College

Summary: This Action Research project implemented an online flipped learning classroom model, requiring learners to complete low-level, low-stakes tasks outside of the classroom and allowing class work to focus on higher-level, extension-style tasks. Findings from student and tutor surveys and focus groups showed that students’ confidence levels were higher when learners completed flipped learning prior to lessons, and those teachers that bought into the concept, and chased students to complete the work, showed higher levels of engagement.

View/download the full report


What impact do interventions based on the VESPA mindset model have on GCSE maths re-sit students?

Authors: Kate Griffiths, Vikki Wilson, Georgina Ramsden and Gayle Gothard; Runshaw College, Nelson and Colne College Group, Runshaw College

Summary: This piece of Action Research work explored the impact of the VESPA model intervention tools and one-to-one coaching sessions on students’ mindset, looking particularly at their scores for each of the VESPA characteristics: Vision, Effort, Systems, Practice and Attitude. Findings from this study demonstrated that the interventions had a positive influence on all aspects of student mindset as measured by the VESPA model when questionnaire scores were compared to those of a control group.

View/download the full report


Improving the motivation and engagement of maths re-sit students in further education colleges by using social media-based platforms

Authors: Xen Cottam and Tom Longhorn (Weston College), Esther Tombs (Hartpury College), Helen Fuggle (Wiltshire College), Sam Crossman and Shaun Costello (Bridgewater & Taunton College), Javier Gomez Suarez (City of Bristol College) and Aurore Jones (South Gloucestershire and Stroud College)

Summary: The purpose of this Action Research work was to investigate how social media-based platforms could potentially be used to engage and motivate students who have not yet achieved a grade 4 GCSE and are looking to improve their maths grade. While initial feedback showed that students prefer for college-related work not to appear on their usual social media feeds, students demonstrated favourable attitudes toward the use of GIF images via Microsoft Teams to show and share information and mathematical methods.

View/download the full report


Using contextualisation and the ratio table to enhance the teaching and learning experience

Authors: Katheryn Cockerton, Rebecca Ito, Amanda Abbott, Elaine Fletcher, Rebecca Morris, Julie Tench, Tom Pearce and Vicky Evans; Weston College

Summary: This piece of Action Research work explored the potential of ratio tables and the Realistic Mathematics Education (RMW) approach to bring about significant changes in the way students approach a proportional reasoning problem in the post-16 learning environment. Results from this study showed that all of the students who participated in the research liked the use of context; most students said the ratio table helped them understand the maths problems; and all teachers would continue to use these methods in the future.

View/download the full report


Reducing maths anxiety in GCSE maths re-sit students by empowering teachers to investigate and tackle maths resilience

Author: Debbie Trueman; Warwickshire College

Summary: This Action Research project developed a collaborative CPD program aimed at empowering teachers to tackle maths anxiety and build maths resilience, and provided a Take Away Toolkit of Strategies for students to improve their maths learning. All maths teachers at Warwickshire College were invited to participate and most attended the 3 CPD sessions and provided favourable feedback. The interventions will be delivered to all GCSE maths re-sit students in September 2021, and their impact will be assessed then.

View/download the full report


Using double number lines and bar modelling to teach the GCSE maths curriculum based on the mastery approach

Authors: Misbah Abbas, Jane Barnett, Jayon Charles and Byron Sheffield; Leyton Sixth Form College

Summary: The aim of this Action Research project was to improve students’ conceptual understanding and retention in key topic areas such as ratio, proportion, speed and solving equations through using bar models and double number line diagrams as part of a mastery approach. Findings showed that students who did not have a method or who struggled with traditional methods were more likely to attempt to solve a problem if they had learned how to picture the information on a diagram.

View/download the full report


How can blended learning be used to engage students in the learning experience?

Authors: Zoe Lethbridge, Dean Lubin, Elizabeth Rayner and Byron Sheffield; Leyton Sixth Form College

Summary: This Action Research project explored students’ experiences of using the online learning platform Desmos and their engagement in the learning process. Results from this study were mixed with some students having enjoyed greater independence in their learning, while others struggling with technical issues and the lack of face-to-face teacher support and interaction with peers.

View/download the full report


Can a coaching approach improve achievement and progression for students re-sitting GCSE maths?

Author: Rosie Sharp; Fareham College

Summary: This Action Research project explored the impact of additional coaching for further education students who felt they suffered with maths anxiety, specifically their progression and confidence in their mathematical ability. Findings from questionnaires and qualitative data from 150 students demonstrated that the implementation of a coaching model that develops not only academic skills but additionally supports the development of a growth mindset does indeed impact positively on student’s mathematical confidence and ability to independently problem solve.

View/download the full report


The effect of small group intervention by teachers through maths labs and maths clinics on learner engagement and achievement

Authors: Viv Kimeng; Harlow College and Thomas Goodridge; Northampton College

Summary: The purpose of this Action Research study was to explore the effect of small-group intervention on learner engagement and overall achievement of 16-18-year-olds GCSE re-sit learners, implemented by Harlow College via maths Ccinics (MC) and Northampton College via maths labs (ML). Findings from this research showed that MC/ML have a positive effect on students’ overall interaction with each other and with their teachers/coaches, leading to positive increase in student overall understanding and problem solving. Thirteen of the fifteen (87%) learners participating in the project achieved a grade 4+ at their end of year assessment after the awarding body ratification.

View/download the full report


Exploring how online platforms can be used to re-engage and motivate disengaged post-16 GCSE maths re-sit learners

Author: Beka Zarnadze and Viv Kimeng; Harlow College

Summary: The purpose of this Action Research work was to explore the effect of using technology in the online teaching and learning of mathematics for GCSE re-sit learners with the aim of re-engaging and motivating disengaged post-16 further education learners in the learning of mathematics. Findings from surveys and interviews highlighted that technology can play a positive role in engaging learners by providing real-time feedback to students, and learners who answered 250 or more questions online had higher chances of achieving a grade 4+.

View/download the full report


Does a flipped classroom approach really add value?

Authors: Michelle Bilby and George Higgitt, Leicester College

Summary: Flipped learning aims to encourage learners to actively engage with the learning material, i.e., to give them maths topics as pre-learning, through Hegarty Maths, to complete and bring this understanding to the subsequent maths sessions to develop a deeper understanding of the topics through problem-solving during the lesson. Findings from this research exploring the effectiveness of flipped learning showed that some learners responded more effectively to flipped learning than others, and that assessment marks were positively impacted the more work a learner completed before a lesson.

View/download the full report


Enhancing GCSE maths re-sit using a problem-solving focussed delivery with an effective assessment for learning using gap analysis

Authors: John Chatterjee-Woolman, Prakash Patel, Kedia Paye and Jayen Sharma; Leicester College

Summary: The aim of this Action Research project was to explore the effect of a problem-solving centred series of lessons on students’ confidence scores and maths skills. Findings from this study showed a rise in in-year assessment results but resulted in examination pass rates no different from normal, which indicates improvements in mathematical understanding though not in exam performance. Additional strategies such as providing students with topic lists to review and conducting gap analysis to provide students with a trimmed-down list of topics to revise were more successful in helping students achieve a passing mark.

View/download the full report


Exploring ESOL/EAL specific teaching and learning interventions of key words and phrases in the GCSE maths classroom and how they impact on learners’ progress

Authors: Liz Hopker, Zia Rahman, Mohamed Ibrahim; Newham College

Summary: This Action Research project explored the effects of an intervention in which learners were pre-taught the English and maths definitions of ten commonly used, yet ambiguous words, before their maths lessons based on these words. Results from the study demonstrated that the intervention had positive impact on learners, with learners scoring significantly higher on the post-intervention test. Additional findings showed that the percentage of learners who knew or had an idea of the English definition/meaning and maths definition/meaning for each word and the proportion of the correct definitions/meaning had increased after the intervention.

View/download the full report


Exploring the use of technology and teacher confidence to develop and support teaching and learning with variation for fluency in 16-19-year-old GCSE maths re-sit learners, within different learning environments

Authors: Liz Hopker, Zia Rahman; Newham College

Summary: The aim of this Action Research project was to explore how supporting teachers to develop their confidence and skills in using online technologies in different learning environments (face-to-face, remote, and mixed delivery) can support students’ maths learning in GCSE re-sit courses. Findings from the project revealed that teachers’ confidence levels in using online tools increased as a result of bespoke CPD sessions, teacher sharing sessions, individual reflection and group reflection. Additionally, both learners and teachers felt that there was some improvement in learner fluency as a result of intervention activities developed on the online tools used, as well as increased learner engagement.

View/download the full report


Improving the motivation and engagement of maths GCSE re-sit students in further education by utilising a blended learning approach

Authors: Rob Harrop, Victoria Tomlison, Jennifer Hynes, Joseph Thursby, Louise Bentley, Lynsey Jordan, Laura Butt, Dave Clifton and Tania Latif; Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group

Summary: This Action Research project focused on how the use of a blended learning model (encompassing face-to-face delivery, online delivery, asynchronous delivery and independent study) impacted learners’ motivation and engagement towards maths and how in turn this affected their achievement and progress. Findings from this study demonstrated that the majority of students preferred to have face-to-face lessons where there was a physical classroom dynamic although there was a small portion who liked online classes citing no peer pressure and a quiet place to work. Students had a variety of accessibility and communication issues due to a number of factors although a smaller number preferred the remote element of delivery and had a minimal number of issues.

View/download the full report


Introducing blended teaching and learning opportunities through the use of interactive maths software

Authors: Ross Coupland, Aaron Sismey, Alison Woods, Bradley Rowley, Dorin Bickerstaff, Jasmit Singh-Sheri, Rob Irving, Paul Cartwright, Sue Foreman and Tim Richardson; Stamford College

Summary: This Action Research project considered the implementation of blended learning through the use of interactive maths software (GCSEPod, Century, Mathswatch, and Learn) and its impact on learners and how it might change their perception of GCSE maths. Results from two student surveys showed that student confidence in their maths skills increased to varying degrees and that student confidence in using computers and the interactive software increased, regardless of the type of software utilised.

View/download the full report


Developing an effective technology-based model that adds value to learning and supports learners to develop a growth mind-set to enable them to gain insights into mathematical concepts

Authors: Charles Bruce, Lewis Burridge, Josephine Connolly, Jennifer Cook, Tracy Dutton, Louise Evans, Helen Gaylard, Daniel Green, Andrew Hall, Yusra Haq, Abigail Holden, Marie Kan, Sean McDermott, Lorna McMahon, Laura Skermer, Adam Ward and Peter Worrall; Tameside College

Summary: This Action research project investigated by using an ethnographical action research project involving 400 GCSE maths resit students, 25 maths teachers and 30 vocational staff, whether an effective technology-based delivery model that supports a growth mind-set can be effectively developed. Findings from this study indicated that students and staff faced a variety of difficulties that made online working challenging, and recommendations have been made based on these barriers.

View/download the full report


Raising attainment in Level 2 students by developing an effective mastery model of intervention which fosters a positive mind-set by increasing learner confidence

Authors: Charles Bruce, Lewis Burridge, Josephine Connolly, Jennifer Cook, Tracy Dutton, Louise Evans, Helen Gaylard, Daniel Green, Andrew Hall, Yusra Haq, Abigail Holder, Marie Kan, Sean McDermott, Lorna McMahon, Laura Skermer, Peter Worrall; Tameside College

Summary: This piece of Action Research work explored how to improve students’ motivation through improved mathematical confidence and use a problem-solving approach to generate success and a more positive mindset. This report describes the implementation of several interventions in and out of the classroom (extra math lessons, use of physical manipulatives in class, short-term target setting, and mindset strategies to help reduce maths anxiety).

View/download the full report


How does the tone of assessment feedback impact the motivation and engagement of British GCSE mathematics re-sit students in a further education setting?

Authors: Stewart Edwards and Lucy Rowe; Wilberforce College

Summary: The aim of this Action Research work was to evaluate the efficacy of providing students with formative and summative assessment feedback of various tones. Findings from this study showed that students’ self-reported levels of motivation and engagement to pursue mathematical success increased after the provision of wholly positive feedback. The majority of students also reported finding biweekly micro assessments helpful and indicated a preference for their teacher to provide feedback rather than their peers.

View/download the full report


Student engagement coaches in Further Education for GCSE mathematics re-sit students

Authors: Julie Savage and Georgina Norris; Cambridge Regional College

Summary: The aim of this Action Research project was to explore whether employing Student Engagement Coaches (SEC) for mathematics would aid motivation, engagement and reduce mathematics anxiety for GCSE mathematics re-sit students. Findings from the project revealed that 88% of learners identified that coaching helped them realise that, when they make a greater effort, they are better at some mathematics topics than they initially thought. 81% of learners went from feeling ‘stressed/worried’ pre-intervention, to ‘hopeful or excited’ post-intervention, when thinking about mathematics. 63% reported that coaching gave them more confidence in their mathematics ability.

View/download the full report


Collaborative planning as a tool for teacher professional development

Author: Michael Lancaster; Cambridge Regional College

Summary: This Action Research project explored the benefits of working as a part of a collaborative teaching community on maths teachers’ beliefs on teaching and learning and their teaching practices, and on the development of collective teacher efficacy. Working together as part of an Action Research Group cultivated a safe environment in which teachers could have open and honest conversations and were encouraged to take risks and try new teaching approaches. Collaboratively discussing new tasks as part of a GCSE Maths re-sit curriculum helped teachers better understand the potential of these tasks, teach them in a different way, overcome the difficulties associated with student disengagement and challenged teachers’ perceptions of learner capability.

View/download the full report


Evaluating the impact of diagnostic teaching for learners studying Functional Skills Mathematics

Author: Sarah Morgan; East Kent College Group

Summary: The purpose of this Action Research project was to improve outcomes for Functional Skills learners by exploring diagnosis of knowledge gaps, determining a student per class each month who was nearly exam ready, and dedicating time to develop that student’s fluency in mathematics concepts prior to taking the exam. Findings from two colleges indicated that diagnostic teaching contributed to a significant increase in the numbers of students passing Functional Skills before November compared to previous years, and that diagnostic teaching was extremely well embedded at those colleges.

View/download the full report


What components of an effective digital maths provision positively affect motivation and engagement of GCSE and Functional Skills learners?

Author: Shabana Raman; East Kent College Group

Summary: The aim of this Action Research project was to examine the impact of digital maths provision for GCSE Maths and Functional Skills learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings from this project showed that students engaged better when they were in smaller teaching groups, led through Microsoft Teams, and where the teacher used breakout rooms to facilitate discussions. Platforms such as Hegarty and CENTURY TECH for independent learning and individualised learning plans were well-received by learners, and engagement with the platforms improved over the year even though there was little or no evidence found of a positive correlation between usage of these tools and performance in assessments.

View/download the full report


Can Mastery methods be applied online to the teaching of ratio?

Authors: Tracey (Parvia) Graham, Eleftheria Bourtzinakou and Helen Hubbard; Gateshead College

Summary: The aim of this piece of Action Research work was to examine the application of Mastery methods for teaching ratio in a virtual learning environment. Findings from a 3-point assessment showed that students’ average score increased from 52% to 68%, and 11/34 students scored 100% on the final assessment point. Findings from focus groups with students and teachers revealed that both students and teachers found the materials beneficial to student learning but would prefer to work together in person rather than virtually.

View/download the full report

The use of starters to reinforce KS 1-3 skills gaps to improve understanding of KS 3/4 topics

Authors: Mark Stewart and Sands Dobson; Gateshead College

Summary: This Action Research project investigated how addressing skills gaps/misconceptions with Key Stage 1-3 basic number topics could help learners to develop the skills needed to achieve at GCSE standard. 80 learners across 2 vocational areas were given starter activities to complete in all sessions, with one group given 10 minutes to mark and briefly discuss the answers, and the other give 30 minutes to mark and discuss. Findings showed that learners who spent significant time addressing skills gaps and misconceptions at KS1-3 achieved better assessment results than those who did not.

View/download the full report


Increasing attainment/progress in GCSE re-sit maths by improving L3 vocational engagement and motivation with mathematical content in both the vocational and maths classroom

Authors: Emma Bell and Leigh McLachlan; Grimsby Institute

Summary: The aim of this Action Research project was to investigate motivation and engagement of low maths achieving L3 learners and identify barriers and what resources can help improve progress/attainment. Findings from interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups with staff and students helped paint a picture of the ‘typical’ L3 learner, and recommendations are made on how vocational areas can support the maths learning journey.

View/download the full report


Year 11 maths dietary requirements

Authors: Emma Bell and Leigh McLachlan; Grimsby Institute

Summary: This Action Research project aimed to increase attainment/progress in GCSE re-sit maths by collecting a greater and more specific level of data than previously about each learner’s prior experiences and journey in maths so that maths tutors in Further Education can plan their lessons in more informed ways. Findings from a survey of 98 students revealed that only a fifth of surveyed students were unhappy about doing maths at college despite a majority of students reporting previous negative experiences of maths.

View/download the full report


Mindfulness in Further Education maths GCSE re-sits – an Action Research report

Authors: Paloma Hanlon (Greater Brighton Metropolitan College), Paula Wheeler (Worthing College)

Summary: The aim of this Action Research project was to investigate how students would respond to mindfulness interventions and to discover whether mindfulness could have a positive impact on maths anxiety. 38 students received a 4-session course covering mindfulness practice, physiological responses to stress and aspects of meta-cognition. Findings from the study revealed that students could see how mindfulness could benefit them in their daily lives, and the mean level of reported evaluation anxiety decreased after the mindfulness intervention.

View/download the full report


How time-poor teachers could become more confident at Assessment for Learning (AfL) techniques

Author: Naomi Adams; Greater Brighton Metropolitan College

Summary: The purpose of this Action Research project as to explore how time-poor teachers could become more confident at Assessment for Learning (AfL) techniques during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers were provided with bite-sized training videos, weekly drop-in sessions, external training sessions, and sharing reflection sessions to support teachers to overcome difficulties in checking for understanding and AfL. Findings reveal that teachers, and especially part-time staff, found the training opportunities beneficial and appreciated the opportunity to share practice and reflect.

View/download the full report