Big improvements in maths GCSE attainment without specialists
What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?
Attainment overall in the School had improved considerably, but the maths results had stayed low, and kept the school in the National Challenge category. Recruitment to maths posts had been problematical for some time. Many groups were taught by long term supply staff and pupils had come to have very low expectations from maths classes.
Who might find this case study useful?
- Middle leader
- Senior leadership team (SLT)
- Subject leader
Dramatic progress in maths attainment is possible using non-specialist staff
Effective utilisation of current school strengths can radically improve a struggling maths department
What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?
How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?
We intended to improve all aspects of learning. During their time at the school, the pupils’ experience of maths had been largely unsatisfactory, and there was a lot of disaffection. Many saw their maths targets as unachievable, and given the levels of attainment of their predecessors this was a reasonable view for them to take. Through improved teaching and good AfL systems, it was hoped to raise the aspirations and engagement of the pupils so that their learning in maths matched their learning in other subjects.
What were your success criteria?
- Improved GCSE results in maths, resulting in the '5+ A*-C GCSE including En/Ma' exceeding 35% (from 23% in 2008)
- Eliminate unsatisfactory teaching from November 08
- Increase the proportion of good or better teaching to 60%, starting with Y11 by December 08, and leading on to all teaching in the department over the year.
PLEASE NOTE this page has three tabs - click 'Next tab' below or use tabs above to see Teaching approaches and CPD approaches
What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?
- Learning walks / study visits
- Observation outcomes
- Periodic teacher assessment
- Pupil consultation data
- Pupils' work
- Test results
What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?
- Assessment for Learning (AfL)
- Collaborative group work
- Independent learning
- Self assessment and peer assessment
Describe the teaching approaches you used
The maths department was re-launched after the October half term 2008, with special assemblies from the Head, new exercise books and decorative changes in the maths area. The head of PE, who has strong management skills, agreed to lead the department, and some of the strongest teachers from departments around the school were recruited to teach key groups. External consultants were used to model 'lead lessons', plan units of work and advise on school-initiated plans.
The school and consultants agreed a fortnightly unit-based model, with a lead lesson, three further input lessons followed by a short assessment and pupil self analysis, leading to a final lesson addressing the curricular targets identified.
The teaching during the lead lessons set the scene for the coming fortnight, introducing strands that could be picked up by the class teacher and covering some of the topics that non-specialist teachers might be expected to find hardest. The lessons modelled the use of open tasks and promoted pupil discussion as an aid to identifying misconceptions. Pupils worked in pairs, groups or individually as the tasks demanded. The purpose of the lead lesson was both as high quality input to the pupils, and also as subject knowledge and pedagogy CPD for staff.
The rest of the unit was planned and resourced by the consultant, though the level of detail required reduced as the year progressed. As well as teaching activities pupils were provided with unit objectives with approximate grades for each, and these were RAG rated as the lessons progressed. Homework was generally to complete activities started in class, so that results could be discussed the following lesson. Materials for a typical unit are attached.
The assessments were short and addressed the unit objectives directly. Students then self-marked their work, gaining familiarity with GCSE marks schemes as they did it. As well as being given a nominal 'GCSE' grade, pupils were also expected to identify errors and misunderstandings ready for the next lesson when time was given explicitly for interventions required to reach their target grade. If, at this stage, students were still not RAG rating themselves as green, they were encouraged to attend an after-school session the following week to address the weak area.
The assessments were graded, giving a 'working at' level for the most recent unit. Consultant support was given to ensure that the grading was robust. This was supported at intervals by the use of part, then full paper, mock exams, and over time, this developed into an effective tracking system for management use, as well as providing prompt feedback to pupils on the areas they needed to work on.
In addition, the results of internal pupil surveys, and monitoring activities by the subject leader, SLT and National Challenge Advisor were used to measure and evaluate progress.
HMI visits also gave a final external seal of approval to the internal progress measurements, as the school was coming out of special measures at the time.
In addition to the classroom developments, the school also allocated its week at Longrigg, the LA Outdoor Education Centre in Cumbria, to Maths. The pupils were selected as being borderline C/D, and their success in overcoming challenges during the outdoor activities, was transferred into the same attitude in overcoming the challenge of achieving a grade C.
What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?
- Lesson observation
- Work scrutiny
Describe the CPD approaches you used
Two consultants were involved for much of the year, with a total input of about 25 days, a significant part of this being in planning and preparing resources for non-specialists. The department, from October, included 2 full time but not maths-trained staff, one long term supply with some maths background, and up to 15 non-specialists from other departments. These were joined later in the year by one subject specialist. Many of the teachers had had some experience of teaching maths in the past, though generally only odd classes at KS3.
A key feature of the CPD was modelling of good practice through the lead lessons, schemes of work and resources. The non-specialists were all strong teachers and so they only needed to now how their experience could be applied to maths. Though they feared not being able to answer pupil questions, this was not an issue - even in the top set - mainly because of their professionalism in reading ahead. Classes had been allocated to staff carefully, and the top set went to an MFL teacher who had an A-level in maths. The consultants were available on e-mail to answer the few queries that were raised.
The new subject leader used systems that had worked in P.E. for tracking and monitoring and collaborated with the consultant to apply these to maths. There was a coaching role for the consultant here, that later widened to the new subject specialist as he took on a development role in the department, and was supported to re-organise the Schemes of Work in other years to reflect the Y11 model. Time was also spent on work scrutiny with the subject leader - largely to pinpoint issues that had been raised, and to monitor consistency across the department.
A few specific training sessions were run for non-specialists, on such topics as the use of calculators and formative marking in maths.
The staff continued to follow the school CPD programme with input on general topics such as AfL.
What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?
CPD was tailored to the school, and the particular teachers. However, the resources developed for the schemes of work were based very much on the approaches seen in the Standards Unit Box 'Improving Teaching and Learning in Mathematics'.
The LA consultants each contributed a day a fortnight from October to March. After Easter one of the consultants continued with a similar level of support for the remainder the year. In addition, some of the National Challenge funding was used to buy-in further specialist help to run intervention sessions.
Who provided you with support?
- Local authority staff
- Middle leader
- Senior management
- Subject leader
How were you supported?
Teachers had support from:
- Lead lessons to model good practice
- Specialist planning of the lessons
- Regular meetings with subject leader.
- Discrete inputs for non-specialists
Subject leader (and wider subject leadership) had support from:
- Senior management through membership of the SLT
- Senior management through high-profile re-launch of the department
- Senior management through the delegation of resources.
- LA Consultant support in unit planning
- LA Consultant support through subject expertise in adapting generic systems and policies to a maths setting.
Impact on Pupil Learning
What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?
Pupils are better able to assess their own progress and now know the curricular targets that will help them meet their grades. They are given opportunities both in and out of lessons to work on these targets, and take more responsibility themselves for reaching them.
The wide range of open tasks encountered has led to a much greater willingness to think about, and discuss mathematical problems.
Pupils enjoy their maths lessons and recognise the progress that they make.
Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning
The focus on sharing objectives, assessing progress against these and then intervening promptly when gaps are identified, has empowered pupils to make progress. Pupils now believe that they can achieve their targets in maths if they work hard, and that the maths lessons will support them in this.
It is important to note that though the school allocated some of their best teachers to work in maths, the improvement in the proportion of good or better teaching went well beyond the effect of just these teachers. The fact that with these experienced teachers, discipline was not an issue allowed all the teachers of maths to concentrate on their teaching and learning, rather than chasing behaviour issues, thereby raising the standard all round.
Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning
HMI Monitoring Inspection visit 8/7/09 - 'Students feel more confident about their learning in mathematics'
Y11 Intervention Evaluation Survey May '09 - 'Best maths lessons since I was at this school'
Increased enjoyment of lessons has resulted in positive attitudes to learning, especially in mathematics. (Ofsted report October 2009)
Results have improved, particularly in English and mathematics. (Ofsted report October 2009)
Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning
- CVA data
- Data comparison of cohorts
- Periodic teacher assessment
- Test results
Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning
- Learning walks / study visits
- Observation outcomes
- Pupil consultation data
- Pupils' work
Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning
Pupil attitude surveys carried out internally during the school year showed a dramatic change in attitudes to maths as early as December. This was backed up by pupil interviews carried out by an external advisor in February, and termly monitoring visits by HMI.
In a survey of Y11 students (example attached), carried out by the LA consultant to evaluate the various interventions in maths, pupils were unanimously positive about the provision that had been made and the impact that it had had on their progress.
Pupil tracking prior to the changes held nothing comparable to the regular unit grades, but once in place, these showed pupils gaining confidence as they regularly met their targets. Excellent attendance at additional intervention sessions, both after school and in the holidays, showed an increased desire to succeed and an understanding of the curricular targets to be met.
GCSE grades. The final evidence came at GCSE results time when 46% of pupils achieved C+ in maths, and the 5+ A*-C including En/Ma figure came in at 42% exceeding the school target of 35% by a considerable margin.
Impact on Teaching
What has been the impact on teaching?
Unsatisfactory teaching has been eliminated, and the proportion of teaching that is good or better has steadily increased. Lessons are now more purposeful, and behaviour has improved considerably. Teachers were willing to admit it when they did not know something –and the pupils respected this, and quickly took on a much more collaborative role in the classroom.
Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching
Non-maths specialist teachers with good teaching skills have quickly been able to adapt these to a maths environment, even to teaching a top set!
Most of the functions of a maths subject leader can be carried out effectively by a non-specialist.
Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching
Y11 Intervention Evaluation Survey May '09
Q: What has helped you most this year?
A: 'Teacher who is honest when she doesn't know, and then finds out'
Increased enjoyment of lessons has resulted in positive attitudes to learning, especially in mathematics. Ofsted report October 2009
The rate of students' progress in Years 7 to 11 since the last inspection has been good, though better in English and mathematics than in science. Ofsted report October 2009.
Evidence of impact on teaching
- Evidence from observation and monitoring
- Evidence from planning
- Improvements in curriculum documentation
- Teacher perceptions
Describe the evidence of impact on teaching
Up to half of KS4 maths lessons were judged internally to be unsatisfactory immediately prior to the changes. The replacement of supply staff with strong non-specialists immediately reduced this to about 10% in KS4, and this continued to reduce to zero as the year progressed according to in-school monitoring (later confirmed as robust during HMI visit). At KS3, where a similar, though less intense, re-organisation was underway the figures followed a similar trajectory even with teachers who were judged barely satisfactory at the start. Over 60% of lessons were classed as good or better across all year groups by the end of the year.
The HMI Monitoring Inspection visit report 8/7/09 agreed, stating ‘there is more good teaching and no inadequate lessons'.
Impact on school organisation and leadership
What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?
A strong effect of this initiative has been a growth of confidence in the school leadership, as the most intractable of their problems has been turned around using strengths available already within the school, or at their disposal through the LA.
Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership
Prior to this point the Maths department had been able to avoid engaging in school initiatives, both seeing itself and being seen as a special case. The scarcity of maths teachers led to those employed at the school being handled with kid-gloves, and the biggest effect of this initiative has been to break the mystique that maths held. SLT are now confident that good teaching is good teaching and inadequate teaching, even by specialists, is still inadequate teaching and must be challenged.
Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership
The school has been able to recruit more effectively due to the up-turn in Maths and has secured Key Stage Managers as well as main scale teachers. Despite this recruitment of specialist teachers the school has made the decision to keep the non-specialists teaching Maths throughout Key Stage 3 and 4. The varying styles of teaching and learning that have been developed have been seen as a real positive and has been maintained in order to continue the upward trend the department is on.
SLT decided to maintain the leadership structure of not having a Head of Dept and continued with the model of an Assistant Headteacher overseeing the subject with two key stage o-ordinators providing the Maths expertise.
As a result of the student tracking developed in Maths by non specialist staff a group has been established to monitor students across every subject and thus providing greater monitoring of students towards whole school targets. This is jointly led between Maths and English.
What is the crucial thing that made the difference?
The SLT decision to deploy its strongest staff to address its biggest problem area, and the buy-in to this idea from these staff.
What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?
- Good teachers and good leaders, whether or not they are specialists, who are willing to invest in the success of maths.
- External subject expertise, willing and able to support this model.
What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?
CPD was largely achieved through the consultants modelling good maths teaching approaches in the lead lessons, and suggesting rich teaching resources through the planning materials. The number of subject specific CPD sessions organised by the consultants was small.
If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?
- A school attempting to replicate this work would need to start by evaluating their own capacity to dedicate strong leaders and teachers to maths. If so, then achieving buy-in from these staff is an essential step.
- A good working relationship with specialist support eg consultant or AST, who can offer the time required, whilst ensuring that the management and drive for the initiative always come from within the school.
- Some visible changes at the start of the project to show that maths really is changing.
What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?
The next targets for the maths department at The Radcliffe School are to continue to improve attainment (with a maths target of 55% C+ for 2010) and to build internal capacity so that intensive external support can be phased out by the end of the year.
The links with non-specialists are being maintained, though less extensively as specialist recruitment has taken place.
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