With government policy dictating that learners must work towards maths qualifications, new measures are needed to make sure there will be teachers in FE, explains Charlie Stripp.
When I tell friends I work for an organisation that supports maths teachers, it quickly becomes clear to me most of them have an image limited to that of their secondary school teacher.
They do not seem to realise maths teaching — arguably the most important maths teaching — goes on in primary schools as well.
There isn’t much recognition either that the FE sector also houses teachers who help students master the maths they need to confidently manipulate numbers that lie at the heart of engineering, business, computer programming and every other life pursuit.
Maths is hardly an optional extra in any modern society.
So, I welcome the requirement that, from this autumn, all those students who have not yet reached the GCSE grade C benchmark will have to continue studying the subject and work towards the goal of getting that GCSE.
I also recognise the scale of what this change implies.
It will mean an additional 200,000-plus post-16 students with maths on their timetables, most of whom will be taught in FE.
This is not far short of a revolution in post-16 education.
And, of course, the crucial, immediate knock-on effect is the demand it is creating for more staff in FE capable of teaching GCSE maths.
We don’t yet know exactly how many teachers will need to be recruited, or re-trained to meet this demand.
But early estimates are around the 1,000-mark.
Students re-sitting GCSE maths have often failed it more than once“
So at the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, we are happy to support the FE sector in meeting this challenge.
We’ve already been working with the Department for Education, and 20 FE colleges, to develop materials to help existing teachers boost their current skills to allow them to teach GCSE maths.
These materials are at the heart of a continuing professional development programme, which will be starting soon, aimed principally at teachers of numeracy and functional skills, or teachers of other numerate/technical subjects, such as engineering or economics.
Over a six-month period, participants in this programme will have six days’ face-to-face training, interspersed with personal, college-based tasks.
Throughout our preparatory work, we’ve tried to be sensitive to the expectations and prior experiences of the students these teachers will encounter.
Students re-sitting GCSE maths have often failed it more than once.
The last thing they need is more of the same, but faster.
Ideally, re-sitting will support them in understanding maths, so that they can use it effectively in their everyday life and work, rather than fearing it.
But who will run this continuing professional development programme?
Who will train, or re-train, this new, enhanced workforce?
Well, this is our bread and butter. We exist in large part to nurture, develop and support the professional development specialists who help all maths teachers augment their teaching skills throughout their careers.
So, we are running a course tailored for people with a maths-specific professional development role within FE, to equip them to lead the programme for groups of college-based teachers.
Along with the Centres for Excellence in Teacher Training, we are urgently talking to colleges to identify around 60 people to take part in the first of these “primer” courses.
I don’t pretend the FE workforce can be transformed overnight, but by the end of this academic year, we hope we will have played our part in making substantial progress.
Charlie Stripp, director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics