When maths did not add up: accounts of how we improved our Mathematics curriculum-Part 1

When maths did not add up!

I remember my first day at FGCS in April 2008, when I was appointed to lead a ‘relatively’ successful maths department. The department achieved 56% five or more A*-C that year, which was considerably higher than the performance of other departments at that time. The school was dusty and looked extremely outdated, but the students were positively energetic, something I craved in my previous school. According to John Hattie, students account for about 50% of the variance of achievement. It is what students bring to the table that predicts achievement more than any other variable.’ John Hattie, University of Auckland Australian Council for Educational Research, October 2003 Upon further observation, I discovered the following:

  • The department was highly disorganised: there was no cohesive structure to the development plan, what they do every day and how they track progress

  • They did not follow a scheme of work: individual teachers had their approaches to what they taught in their classes

  • They did not use data well (ironic coming from a maths department!)

  • There were no resources for years 7-9 and it was left to individual teachers to make lesson resources

  • A lot of excuses and blaming students for teacher setbacks

  • Students' exercise books were messy, some did not have any!

The above description is no exaggeration. I once asked the team how they think the department would do that year for their GCSE results. I was taken aback by their collective responses, which implied that the result very much depended on the ‘strength’ of the cohort.

  • Insisted that teachers provide evidence for their assertions

  • made KS2 data accessible to all teachers and challenged any teachers saying a level 5 student is either weak or lazy

  • Organised the department as much as I could by setting up trackers and accessible shared folders

  • Introduced SoW for Y7-9

  • Purchased textbooks to support the SoW

  • Bought a few expensive hole punchers so exercise books could be hole punched. This allowed students to secure loose papers by using tags

  • Facilitated students to practice exam questions in a timely manner

The following year the department results improved to 62% A*-C. In the next few years, I worked hard to change the culture of both teachers and students, because I understood, as indicated by Hattie's study, that 80% of the variance which impacts standards, depends on their combined attitude; what students and teachers both bring to the table.

One of the ways I addressed their attitude was by directly addressing their teaching and learning expectations and it continues to be challenged to this day. Our FGCS Maths department had been consistently achieving one whole grade better than their national counterpart, but we realise we can do better and therefore we continuously explore ways of standardising expectations through the refinement of the five-year long term plans (LTP) and more recently, the adoption of the maths curriculum booklets.

I will leave you with our (most recent) maths curriculum rationale:

  1. Every year group has 10 key objectives (KOs) that are taught throughout the academic year. This is captured in the long term plan (LTP) and appears on the Dynamic Progress Reporting (DPR). The KOs covers the requirements of the national curriculum as laid out by DfE and the exam board for KS3 and KS4. Further breakdown of the KO is within the MTP. The programme of study in KS3 equips students for KS4

  2. In year 7 to year 9, a greater focus on numeracy is embedded within the KOs to ensure mastery learning of these key skills; the challenge of the questions are relevant to the students' ability

  3. KOs are themed and made up of common topics which increase in difficulty when going up a pathway and year groups. The challenge of the content is deemed appropriate to the student's pathway which is determined by the students' KS2 starting point

  4. KOs are categorized by topics, which means all students will be covering the same or similar topic regardless of the year group they are in. However, the topics are differentiated based on pathways. Higher year groups will do more challenging topics that require the application of prior knowledge taught in previous years

  5. Aspects of KOs are revisited to ensure students are revising and recapping and to build new skills upon prior knowledge

  6. KOs have been mapped out for years 7 to 11. We have adopted a spiralled curriculum; our learning intentions are revisited yearly and we ensure knowledge is built progressively allowing the students to revisit prior skills

  7. Since all students are taught GCSE Statistics from year 9, data handling skills and contents have been merged within the existing KOs

  8. KOs are taught through DPR booklets, this is to standardise the content and the expectation of work that needs to be completed within the lessons. The booklets are structured to help with the pacing, challenge and to adequately teach the skills relevant to secure the KOs. Teachers should model effectively to ensure the students understand the content that is being taught. Teachers may use various scaffolded modelling to achieve this

  9. DPR KOs also have a memory tab which links the memory tools required to secure the KO. This is to cater for the new curriculum demands which are to memorise key formulas that are no longer provided in the exams

  10. Year 11 KOs are a combination of revisiting previously taught content for revision purposes and developing exam skills to help the students to better prepare for their exams. All KOs are challenging enough to stretch the students to aim for the best possible grades regardless of pathways and tiers of entry

  11. Pathway X KOs are highly challenging and targeted for a specific group of students with high KS2 scores. Based on their mental aptitude, there is an expectation for them to grasp the contents and skills quickly, hence allowing them to be further challenged. KO booklets help to standardise this expectation and to ensure the students are engaging with the right challenge. Teachers will need to model appropriate examples to secure these KOs

  12. We expect our teachers to introduce mathematical knowledge beyond what is on the KS3 and 4 programmes of studies to promote the love of maths and generate fascination for the subject