Effective Practices in Post-16 Vocational Maths

Maths and English are the key enabling subjects. We have been thinking for some time about how we can support maths provision to be the best it can be, and what we can learn from others nationally and internationally. In that context, working with the Department for Education and the Cabinet Office, we commissioned this research to look at some of the best ideas from around the world for teaching maths to learners aged 16-19.

The researchers looked at innovative approaches and international good practice in maths teaching, focusing on pedagogy as well as how to enhance learner motivation and engagement. They also considered the experience of employers in supporting the teaching of maths. The research found that cultural contexts and negative attitudes all have an impact on the teaching of maths and learners’ maths development. Links to the reports are below.

Summary

Cultural context, negative attitudes, family income and the amount of autonomy given to teachers are all factors that determine how well countries teach maths to learners aged over 16 and engaged in vocational training.

The majority of young people who do not obtain a good maths GCSE by 16 progress to FE colleges. Additionally, around 20% of 16-19 year olds are considered functionally innumerate, a figure that has changed little in the past 20 years and again, many of these young people will enter the FE sector. Poor maths ability and, in particular, young people’s inability to apply maths in the workplace, is often cited as a problem by employers.

The researchers looked at innovative approaches and international good practice in maths teaching, focusing on pedagogy as well as how to enhance learner motivation and engagement. They also considered the experience of employers in supporting the teaching of maths. They found that cultural context affects both the teaching of maths, and learners’ maths development. Negative attitudes to maths in the UK, for example, are prevalent, and it is often seen as socially acceptable not to ‘get’ maths. Low family income and poverty are also associated with negative attitudes towards maths.

Vocational maths policies tend to be successful in countries where maths is given strong cultural importance, and where pre-16 maths teaching works well. Those such as Singapore, where there has been a shift from abstract maths to more creative applied, or functional maths, also perform well, as do those where teachers have greater autonomy over how to interpret the curriculum, enabling them to tailor it to the individual learner. It is also helpful to involve employers in this process, so they see the relevance of maths in their workplace, and what more they could do with the teaching of maths.

The authors comment: “Engaging this group of learners can be particularly challenging for teachers, trainers and assessors, as maladaptive belief and low self-esteem is common. Changing mindsets so that learners develop confidence and “mathematical resilience” is often key to starting off learning maths again.”

“Internationally, we found that effective practice in maths teaching and across vocational programmes requires time, and investment in teachers and trainers, to ensure they have the training and CPD to understand how to properly contextualise maths teaching.”