Findings from a ‘groundbreaking’ pilot have indicated that a new approach to teaching GCSE maths resits can radically improve students’ progress and attainment.
The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) today published the outcome of a pilot programme which found that students being taught by teachers on a specific professional development programme made one month of additional progress on their peers, with disadvantaged students making even more gains.
The project, carried out by the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Research in Mathematics Education, encompassed 147 college sites and 7,453 students for post-GCSE maths resits between October 2021 and June last year.
It investigated two levels of intervention – “partial” and “full” which involved teachers working with lesson resources and professional development opportunities based around the ETF’s “teaching for mastery in FE” principles.
The partial intervention featured teachers taking part in online professional development sessions to develop new teaching practices across seven lessons.
Full intervention featured all of the elements of the partial intervention pathway as well as a programme of “lesson study” which saw groups of teachers come together and observe one of the group teaching a class, before discussing the lesson afterwards.
It effectively aims to help tutors adapt their teaching to include principles in the ETF’s Centres for Excellence in Maths programme, which include evaluating prior learning, connecting learning tasks with the curriculum and creating “safe” spaces in classrooms where misunderstandings are accepted.
The report found that students taught by teachers on both the partial and full intervention saw some benefits, but those on the full intervention made one month of additional progress in learning compared to peers in other colleges.
For students on free school meals prior to college, researchers found that two months of additional progress was made.
Those on the partial intervention had slightly improved scores but no discernible increase in learning months, the report found.
The university said that its analysis did detect improvement in GCSE scores, but has only reported its findings in “additional months progress” because that is the benchmark used by the ETF. However it estimated that students on the intervention will have gained around three to five more marks than peers in other colleges.
Steve Pardoe, head of the ETF’s Centres for Excellence in Maths programme, said: “This research is genuinely groundbreaking. It demonstrates that improvements in learner outcomes in maths are possible and points to the importance of ‘mastery’ approaches in unlocking them.”
The Centres for Excellence in Maths was a five-year Department for Education-funded programme that concluded at the end of March aimed at improving level 2 maths outcomes for 16 to 19 year-olds in post-16 providers.
Five “teaching for mastery principles” were formed by the Centres for Excellence in Maths programme to bolster attainment, and include developing an understanding of maths structures, building on students’ prior learning, help students make connections across the curriculum, attain fluency in maths and develop a collaborative and safe culture to build confidence.
Professor Geoff Wake, lead research at the University of Nottingham, said: “The findings of our research are hugely encouraging in pointing to ways we might help the teaching and learning of students who have often found mathematics particularly difficult.
“We hope to be able to build on what we have learned from this research to support such students to gain better outcomes in mathematics GCSE which is known to improve their future life chances.”
Many students with low prior attainment in maths – grade 3 or below at GCSE – do not make enough measurable progress by age 19, the report said.
GCSE resits data released last summer indicated that around a fifth – 20.1 per cent – achieved a grade 4 or higher in 2022 in England, compared to the 38.6 per cent in 2021. However, 2020 and 2021 exams were disrupted by Covid-19 and resulted in teacher-assessed grades being issued.
Last summer’s figures were just 1.1 percent points down on 2019, the last exams series before the pandemic hit.
It comes just a week after the prime minister reaffirmed his commitment to introducing maths to 18, which has seen a task force formed to help advise on future developments that could include a new qualification post-16.