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The Staffroom: Start now to improve resit grades in ’23

Remember, remember the 7th of November: Reasoning, revision and rote. But what else can we do to ensure resit grades improve? Julia Smith explains

Remember, remember the 7th of November: Reasoning, revision and rote. But what else can we do to ensure resit grades improve? Julia Smith explains

7 Nov 2022, 5:00

As I write, thousands of learners are preparing for their exams… for the second, fourth or even sixth time. The record is nine.

Yes, it’s GCSE resit time. The students have seen all of the maths before. It’s just that they couldn’t do it all. So they have to do it again… and again… until they reach the heady heights of a grade 4.

The resilience and tenacity of learners and staff are admirable. While outcomes may be low (as of June 2022, only 17 per cent of maths resitters gained grade 4 or higher), it is 100 per cent success for everyone who makes the grade. That qualification will open doors that they don’t even realise are shut.

According to Eddie Playfair’s analysis of the Summer 2022 outcomes for the Association of Colleges, the pandemic is still working its way through, adding to the pressure on colleges. So while 90 per cent of resitters are college-based, entry numbers were down in June for both post-16 learners and adults, meaning more pressure and higher numbers from this September. And while 47.2 per cent of adults (19-plus) achieved grade 4 or higher, only 15.2 per cent of about 100,000 16 to 18-year-olds did, perpetuating the pressure. 

And to make matters worse, analysis by Chris Briggs for Pearson shows an increase in the numbers of 17 and 18-year-olds not achieving grade 4 over the past two years – with the additional inference that the further a learner gets from their first sitting, the less likely they are to gain the elusive grade.

So what to do about it?

Professional development

It may be late for this season, but there are a number of initiatives and interventions in the post-16 arena that could have a big impact before the next round of exams. There are free courses and conferences a-plenty.

Attending – even hosting – such professional development opportunities is key to success. Last week’s attenders to the Capital City College Group maths and English conference heard from Mariusz Zurawski about his Ezone tools and Baber Hafiz on the use of Dr Frost resources to name just two of a range of inspiring sessions – many from college practitioners themselves.


There are also many opportunities to get involved in research. Right now, if you have a good idea in FE that can be delivered in the north, then consider applying for a Shine award

From maths hubs and action research sets to practitioner groups, and from the ETF to the MEI (which has just launched a new programme of professional development for FE), there is so much on offer for GCSE resits, not least some large research trials going on with the 5RS revision year approach, which I am leading on. 

Read all about it

A good professional development library is invaluable. Jo Morgan’s A Compendium of Mathematical Methods, Ed Southall’sYes, But Why?, Jemma Sherwood’s Subject Knowledge Enhancement – Number and Algebra, Peter Mattock’s Visible Maths, and Craig Barton’s How I Wish I Had Taught Maths and Reflect, Expect, Check and Explain are all indispensable.

There’s also a wonderful array of maths blogs, and you’ll find them all with ease if you get on to Twitter, where the maths community is collaborative, supportive and encouraging. Jo Morgan recently tweeted a link to resit resources as she acknowledged the current exam pressures. One of Jo’s ideas is one you could roll out on Monday: an exam-day breakfast maths warm-up so that learners can get their maths head on.

There are many other Tweeps and members of the maths Twitterati who will help you, too many for a list. Maybe follow me and see who I follow.

And finally, most great solutions come from within an organisation. So talk and listen to your colleagues. Because remember, remember: if it looks, feels and sounds like the maths they’ve had before then you’ll simply get the same result. So get innovating together.

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