Making an impact with Core Maths

We find out why one of the country’s largest post-16 colleges has introduced Core Maths


Making an impact with Core Maths
Luton Sixth Form College is the oldest sixth form college in the country and is one of the largest, with over 3,000 students. But with high A level pass rates and an excellent progress score, senior leaders at the college need to be sure that any new qualification introduced is a positive addition to its post-16 provision. It was within this context that head of maths, Graeme Austin, set about making his case for introducing Core Maths to leaders and, more importantly, ensuring it would be a success.

Why Core Maths?

Graeme was very much the driving force behind the introduction of Core Maths at Luton Sixth Form College. In fact, he was busy persuading senior leaders of the qualification’s value long before he took up his new post as head of maths. Having spent around 25 years working in the City before retraining to teach maths, Graeme could immediately see its value in the wider world and in the mathematical decisions made in all areas of study, life and work.

“It's a very student-centred approach, because it's true that we know that our young people of the future are going to need all of these skills, but I think it's very easy just to focus on results rather than thinking, what can we do differently?”

Getting senior leaders on board

Graeme’s first challenge was to convince his SLT of the benefits of Core Maths. Fortunately, there were compelling reasons in favour of introducing the qualification that would appeal to senior leaders. These included:

  • a post-16 study pathway for students who enjoyed the subject but were not strong candidates for A level Maths
  • a qualification which, unlike AS level Maths, supports the majority of the maths content found in A level science and psychology subjects, making it a great choice for students of those subjects not studying A level Maths
  • a growing number of universities that offer students with Core Maths a reduced grade offer for one of their A levels, and many more advising prospective students that they welcome and encourage the study of the qualification.

Leaders were persuaded and gave Graeme the green light to introduce Core Maths at Luton.

Embracing a dialogic approach

Graeme admits that it would have been very easy to deliver Core Maths as a typical maths qualification, but his research suggested that it would be wise to approach it by focusing on classroom dialogue and debate.

“It's the antithesis for many people of what a maths lesson should look like. But once you allow the chaos to unleash, you realise it's not chaos at all. It's what all discursive subjects and their teachers are doing. Our teachers have embraced it. They enjoy it and find it refreshing that there's a different way to teach a different kind of course. There's a connection to ordinary life and ordinary business life.”

Graeme arranged for staff teaching Core Maths to visit other classrooms in the college where teachers were teaching discursive subjects, such as psychology and sociology, to observe the techniques used. This proved invaluable in supporting teachers to adapt their approaches.

Taking a strategic approach: the pilot

Like any good mathematician, Graeme was keen to gather more data before scaling delivery of the qualification up with larger student numbers, so he designed a small-scale pilot involving 12 biology students who were not studying maths. This gave Graeme the opportunity to try out new ideas in terms of course design and curriculum. He also found that the extensive resources available from the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme (AMSP) and Core Maths Pedagogy Work Groups run by the college’s local Maths Hub, Enigma, provided all the support he’d need to get Core Maths up and running. First taking part in the New to Teaching Core Maths Programme provided the natural starting point for the strategic route for teachers to develop their skills in teaching the qualification.

Lessons learned

The pilot provided plenty of useful data on what worked for well for Luton staff and students, and Graeme was able to make tweaks, such as designing the course to run over two years to reduce workload. This also allowed him to timetable in homework sessions in college time, to avoid students juggling Core Maths homework with their A level homework commitments. Approaching homework in this way also reduced teacher workload, as teachers were able to discuss completed homework tasks, which could be complicated and nuanced, with students present. It was also decided that mandating study of the course alongside other maths-rich A levels would ensure that students were prepared and on board from the outset, maximising their chances of success.

By accessing the schemes of work for other maths-rich subjects studied by his Core Maths students, Graeme was able to create a curriculum that would cover key topics in those subjects ahead of time. This had an enormous impact on wider student attainment and confidence. Psychology students were now well prepared for work on statistics, whilst biology students were primed and ready for Normal distribution and hypothesis testing. And, Graeme reports, students embarking on their first experiences of paid work found topics on tax and National Insurance especially interesting!

Next steps for Core Maths

To say Core Maths has been a resounding success at Luton Sixth Form College seems like an understatement. The course has grown in three years from its initial pilot cohort of 12 students to over 200 students studying Core Maths, and Graeme expects that number to steadily rise in line with the local population, especially as the value of the qualification becomes more widely known.

Graeme now plans to further refine the quality of delivery and support teachers to share their Core Maths expertise with colleagues. His department is expanding to meet demand and more students are studying maths at post-16 in Luton than ever before.

Make an impact with Core Maths in your school or college

Contact your local Maths Hub to find out more about the resources and fully-funded CPD available for Core Maths.