One school’s success with Core Maths

Seven Core Maths classes prove the value of the qualification for students


One school’s success with Core Maths

Samantha Barker teaches maths at Saffron Walden County High School, part of the Saffron Academy Trust in Essex. The school is a large 11-18 comprehensive, with around 750 students in the Sixth Form. Core Maths was first taught in 2015/16, with one class of six students. Now, there are four classes in Year 12 and three in Year 13, with over 60 students taking the qualification. We speak to Sam to learn how and why things changed, and why Core Maths is proving so popular. Five top ideas for recruitment and planning are summarised at the end of the feature.

Enhance other courses

‘Core Maths is viewed as an enhancement. It’s not ‘enrichment’ because it works with students’ other A levels and qualifications, not as an added extra’. This is the attitude to Core Maths that Sam has fostered at Saffron Walden County High School (SWCHS), and one of the many reasons it is now so successful. But how did it start, and how did Sam and the Maths Department develop it into such a popular choice?

When SWCHS first offered Core Maths in the early days of the qualification, there was no real scheme of work and just one small class in Year 12. Sam suddenly found it on her timetable and admits she had a ‘full-scale panic’, not knowing the qualification and struggling to find out much about it or how to teach it.

Plan collaboratively and become experts

Fast-forward to 2023, and the subject is thriving. Sam teaches all seven classes across Year 12 and Year 13, alongside a team of six other maths teachers. In four hours a fortnight over two years, Sam and her colleagues teach the OCR A Specification, and split the curriculum in two. She teaches all classes covering the ‘A side’, while her colleagues tackle the ‘B side’ between them.

Collaborative planning has really helped to build the course, with Sam and the team working together to develop materials for topics including personal and business finance, currency, and an introduction to data. Sam has been able to lead her team with confidence after engaging with the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme (AMSP). Attending Core Maths conferences and exploring the AMSP's resources led Sam to start Core Maths advocate work for the AMSP in 2021, and in 2022 she became a Core Maths Specialist Lead. Working with the AMSP has allowed her to develop her own practice as well as supporting others in her school and beyond.

Recruitment – a cross-curricular endeavour

At SWCHS, recruitment to Core Maths involves support from teachers and departments beyond the Maths Department. The Sixth Form prospectus has been updated with details about the course and its benefits, and departments offering subjects that complement Core Maths, such as Science and Geography, give students leaflets from the AMSP explaining more about the qualification. The Head of Sixth Form also mentioned Core Maths in her address to parents on open evening this year.

Following Year 11 parents’ evening, Sam sent a letter to the parents of all Year 11s, encouraging students to consider adding Core Maths to their A level choices. As it is run as an enhancement, students can choose their A levels and add Core Maths without it affecting their other subject choices. Sam explains that ‘this has seen numbers soaring’. In 2023, 126 students applied to take Core Maths (SWCHS requires that students have a 5 in Maths and a 4 in English to take the course).

In most Core Maths classes, Sam notes that there is a 50/50 gender split. This has helped with recruitment as there is no perception that maths is just ‘a boys’ subject’, and many of the Core Maths teachers are female. Sam also credits the effort and enthusiasm of the team who teach the qualification, and the significantly raised profile of Core Maths across the whole school.

What’s next?

The Saffron Academy Trust is made up of seven schools, of which four are secondaries, and Sam is keen to work with all these schools to build Core Maths. She already shares schemes of work, and is supporting her Sixth Form colleagues to understand the qualification and teach high-quality lessons. SWCHS also has plans to offer Core Maths in one year for Year 13 students who are looking to boost their UCAS points, and Sam has created a handout for all Sixth Form tutors to ensure they understand and can promote the course.

Top ideas for Core Maths recruitment and teaching

Want to see your Core Maths numbers soar like at SWCHS? Ideas for developing the course and seeing successful recruitment include:

  • Promote Core Maths as an enhancement which complements other post-16 courses
  • Split the course between colleagues, but plan collaboratively
  • Use available resources and access fully-funded CPD from organisations such as the AMSP and Maths Hubs to develop teachers’ subject knowledge and pedagogy
  • Ensure all colleagues teaching Sixth Form students understand the course and its benefits
  • Provide flyers, information for the prospectus and letters to parents to broaden understanding.

<p>Want to know more about Core Maths?</p>

<p>If you teach Core Maths and want to enhance your subject knowledge and pedagogy, take part in the New to Core Maths Programme with the NCETM and the AMSP</p>


Related Pages

Post-16 resources