- Published: 26/06/2019
Maths Hubs around the country are running funded Work Groups for teachers of GCSE resit. What do they ‘work’ on? The structure and the content of the sessions is largely decided by the Work Group Lead, usually a practising teacher, in response to local need, and in consultation with members of the group. Collectively, Work Groups around the country form part of a national project designed to explore effective ways to teach GCSE content to resit students. The Work Groups also promote collaboration between FE colleges, 11-18 schools and sixth-form colleges.
GCSE resit teachers are often very isolated, says Work Group Lead, Jenny Hughes. Jenny teaches at Longley Park Sixth Form College in Sheffield, and leads the Work Group for the South Yorkshire Maths Hub. Resit teachers might be the only teacher of resit in a school sixth form, or they might be part of a larger college that has a maths teacher in each vocational faculty, often physically remote from one another.
In this context, the teachers in Jenny’s Work Group tell us how much they value the sharing of ideas and approaches that their meetings facilitate. From a wide variety of settings with often very different cohorts of students, they are clear that what works with one group of students may be very different from what works with another group. Motivation, for example, is well-known as a challenge, but the reality is more varied. Motivation for students that see a GCSE in Maths as a gateway to a career or study path, is very different from motivation in those for whom it is just a compulsory course. And it is different again for adult learners that have overcome significant barriers to return to study.
So, what’s different about teaching resitters rather than ‘ordinary’ GCSE classes? We ask Jenny’s Work Group what they would recommend to new teachers of resit groups. Here are their takeaways:
- Building confidence is key
In these classes are students that have failed at maths throughout school. ‘Their GCSE grade was probably determined when they were put in a set in Year 7,’ says one teacher. At the beginning students need to experience lots of success, not failing anything. Assessments should not involve a ‘pass mark’ to begin with.
- Relationships are everything
Get to know students individually, what makes each one tick. ‘You need to be relentlessly positive, know names of students and things about them. Be sympathetic, engaging, believe the best in them, and believe they work at home. Every lesson is a new start – don’t hold grudges.’ Much the same as for teaching any class, but even more so with students whose confidence is very low.
- Don’t try to cover the whole curriculum
Some institutions offer the harder topics in optional classes or give them minimal coverage in class time. However, there is broad agreement that the ‘grade 5 topics’ (trigonometry, simultaneous equations, factorising quadratics etc.) should be ignored for most students in favour of a really good grounding in more basic maths. Should all the topics new to Foundation tier be given less attention then? 'Oh no! There are some really good ones that students can get lots of success on!’ Frequency trees, upper/lower bounds and Venn diagrams are all mentioned.
- Interleaving is really important
Continually tackle questions from topics that have already been taught. At Longley Park this is done through a ‘bread and butter’ starter every lesson – a handful of questions, in no particular order, from previous work. This is an idea taken from JustMaths.
- Find your people!
It is important to make links with others teaching resit. The teachers we speak to are building these relationships because of their involvement in the Maths Hub Work Group. One teacher says that when she was more isolated in a previous school, she found maths resit teachers on Twitter to share support and ideas.
As Jenny says:
"Everyone needs to find their tribe. Teaching resit GCSE is brilliant, but can feel hard and disheartening sometimes. Having a support network of teachers in other institutions is brilliant. While the focus of the meetings is on a particular topic there’s also time to chat informally. The discussions and ideas shared give me reassurance and new things to try. I really appreciate that it is teachers working together.
"I asked at the end of last year whether they would like guest speakers and got my favourite quote from one of the participants: ‘not until we’ve exhausted all of our own ideas’. That’s not to say we aren’t looking externally – I bring along relevant reports and research – but between us we have many years of experience to draw on."
What about the approaches to maths, and teaching it for resit, that are shared in the Work Group meeting? Jenny’s documentation of the work done by the group in November 2018, on shapes and angles, shows a stimulating mix of resources, ideas and approaches shared amongst the group. She makes this document available for participants to follow up on any of the ideas; it is available to download.