The exam is next week!

I sit here writing on Wednesday 10th May – one week before the exam. Scary business!

We have had a really intensive return post-Easter. We came back on Tuesday 18th April, and the following day the Edexcel Data Source for the exam was released. How many hours have we put in since then – I’m sure you can guess!

The data source was quite an overwhelming document – not necessarily in terms of its content (though there is lots of confusing blurb in there!) – but simply because we know that every question on next week’s paper could link to this material. Both myself and the other class teacher have felt such a sense of responsibility receiving this document – if we do a good job – might we be able to predict our class’ exam?!

So – there were five data sources. Being the more experienced of the partnership, I took 3. I have tried to come up with anything and everything that could be asked on the data. I have asked family members for input (who also have a maths background), our other teacher has asked her husband – whose line of work links nicely with one of the data sources – it has dominated many conversations in the staff room. We are reasonably confident in our prediction skills that we should have thought of a good few questions that will come up next week.

This last fortnight has really served to engage our students – and our parents. We emailed all parents saying “talk to your children about their data sources” – and by and large they have! We have also kept parents in the loop of any lack of impetus at this stage – and as soon as parents have realised that we are trying to predict their offspring’s exams – they have really made their children knuckle down at home.

So – one week to go – predominantly to be spent on Data Source tasks. The following week (before the second exam) we will be focussing mainly on Linear Programming and Probability (as we really can’t see how that can be examined from the data source). Then we will be done! One of the most exhausting, but at the same times rewarding, courses that I have taught first time through.

And where then? Definitely not resting on our laurels. Post exams we really need to reflect on the ups and downs of this year, and tweak things with an “onwards and upwards” mentality for next year.

Core Maths

Spring 2017 (February half-term)

A lot seems to have happened this past half-term:

  • Students have sat their internal January mock exams.
  • The majority of the content from the specification has now been taught.
  • Thoughts are starting to turn to next year.
  • I have plucked up the courage to look at last year’s exam papers!

If I take each thought in order… starting with the mock exams.

I guess typically at this stage of year 12 it is normal for students to sit a 1 ½ hour exam to demonstrate their understanding of material covered since September. As our students are doing a one-year course, time is much more precious – so our students had the joys of a 2 ½ hour mock paper!

It might be wise to explain the rationale behind such an excessively long paper (Mathematics in Context was by far the longest of ANY year 12 course):

Take a typical question on regression. We all know how a question will start:

  1. a) Work out the equation of the least squares regression line.


But the variation on how it might continue is unpredictable, with the following all being possible follow-up questions:

b) Plot the regression line on your scatter diagram.

c) Show clearly that your regression line goes through the mean point.

d) Use your regression line to:

i) Predict y when x is ***
ii) Predict y when x is ***
iii) Which prediction is likely to be more accurate? Give a reason for your answer.


e) Interpret the gradient of your regression line.

f) Interpret the y-intercept of your regression line.

It would be reasonable to predict two of the b) – f) follow up questions might come up – but which ones? So we chose them all!

It did highlight to students that they need to know their work in depth, and not simply be able to scratch the surface.

Outcomes ranged from Grades A to U (using a typical 80% = A, 70% = B, etc approach). The U grade students weren’t horrifically short of an E, reflecting that we are justified in expecting a 100% pass rate.

Two questions were answered disproportionally weakly than the others. This was really helpful – as the week following the mock exams we started after-school revision classes (which are supposed to be an opt-in, but all are expected to attend. Any absentees had parents contacted – and now I have 100% attendance!).

Simply having an extra hour with the class a week is making a huge difference in their progress… and this extra time will offset not teaching the students in June/July once their course has finished.

My teaching partner will also run revision classes. Whilst I will expect whole class attendance, she will choose 3 or 4 careful targeted students who are having particular difficulty with certain aspects of the course. This model went down well with both parents and students at parents evening.

By the time the February half-term arrived, we have probably covered 95% of the specification in terms of content descriptors. Students have really valued knowing this – we have tackled many unseen topics of late with an air of “you do have the maths background to have a go…” even if the particular topic hasn’t been met before.

It might be easiest to illustrate this with an example. Much to my husband’s horror, I have delivered a topic on “The Creative Arts”. I don’t have a creative bone in my body – and I have shared this with my class. Whilst I am not creative at heart, I can understand the Maths in the Creative Arts…

  • Architecture – Fibonacci and Recurrence Relationships (which had previously been met)
  • The Drums – programming a drum machine with beats in both arithmetic and geometric progressions (again a previously met topic)
  • The Piano – again Fibonacci – but we also looked at the frequency of the waves on each key of the Keyboard. This lead to some exponential graphs (which we last looked at when studying absorption of drugs into the bloodstream).
  • The Piano work also lead to some new work – reciprocal graphs (wavelength is inversely proportional to frequency)… students could really feel the difference between an exponential decay graph and a reciprocal graph.

We have some minor polishing off of new material to cover over the next few weeks. However, by Easter we will have completed all new material. The concern that “we can never get this covered in a year” hasn’t materialised… we have worked the class really hard this year – and they have responded so well.

Turning towards next year – it has been confirmed that if the course goes ahead, we will be moving to a two-year model. Unfortunately, so far we have only had 3 students showing interest in the course for next year. In a way, I am not surprised… Our current crop of students chose the course as a 4th AS-level. Next year our school are turning to a 3 A-level model… with a fourth choice being a rarity. The benefits of this course for other subjects and future Higher Education cannot be underestimated, so we need to get the message of the benefits of this course out more clearly to students. Thoughts of how to do this…

  • We could set aside a portion of one of their maths lessons in the comings week to discuss Core Maths (some students are clearly not aware of what it even is!), and the benefits of studying it!
  • A chunk of a year 11 assembly could be used to spread the message.
  • We are looking at options of putting in the course in an “optional time” slot of the Sixth Form timetable. Students might then see that “optional time” can be used to gain a level 3 qualification which might appeal to some.
  • I think that if we run this course over two years we can pretty well do away for the need of setting homework (currently our students have 5 x 50 mins lessons a week and about 5 x 20 mins homework a week). This has got to be an attractive proposal!

Obviously before next year comes around, there is the small matter of this May’s exams. I refuse to be a teacher who “teaches to the test” – and this is critical when studying Mathematics in Context… every exam paper will choose new contexts – so “teaching to the test” is impractical. However, I have now had a sneaky look at last years’ papers…

Thoughts: they are more direct than the mock paper we gave our cohort! Indeed some questions were much more direct. Our students need to know this for an ego boost – so over the next half-term I might do a drip-feed of some of the sections within some of the papers.

Looking through the papers, I did find myself thinking that “the way a student needs to think” is very different to a traditional GCSE or A-level paper. To really appreciate the different assessment style, I think I need to be in the role of the student – so I have entered myself for the exam this summer. To have a first-hand appreciation of seeing seen and unseen data sources – and tackle a paper which is much more of a comprehension paper should be a real eye-opener.

Easter 2016: First steps in teaching Core Maths

July 2016: Moving forward with Core Maths

October 2016

When students signed up on 31st August, we had 16 students in our first class. A perfect first class size. The demographic have grades ranging from A-C at GCSE (majority A grade, only two C-grade students). Many of the A grade GCSE students opted for this course (as opposed to the traditional one) as they want maths “to be real and relevant”.

Over the course of the next fortnight, class sizes have fluctuated… bouncing from 16 to 19 to 21 to 23, then back to 21, before finally stabilising at 20! I have a few reflections to share regarding the early instability of numbers…

  • New students arrived in the class on differing days – depending on when they reviewed how their other year 12 subjects were panning out. Due to the drip, drip, drip of new students – catching them up with missed subject matter couldn’t be done in one swoop, and was tricky to manage.
  • It is fair to say that there is a really variable work ethic within the class, which is very easy to assess. Those who chose to sign up to the course from day dot have all been keen to do well. Those who seemed to opt for the subject as a “second best” preference when one of their other subjects proved overwhelming have had a less productive work ethic. I shouldn’t have been overly surprised at this – but worth noting all the same.

With regards to how the students are coping with their course, again it is fair to say “variable”. I have given the class their first assessment on: Arithmetic Progressions, Geometric Progressions, Recurrence Relationships and Spreadsheets (we covered a lot of work in the first three weeks!). In light of the title of the course, I ensured the assessment was fully “in context”, using our local parkrun as the theme (which brought some amusement from the students!). 19 students took the assessment (1 still to come) – I had to make theoretical grade boundaries. Using my perceived thresholds, here are the results:


15.8 15.8 15.8 26.3 10.5



15.8 31.6 47.4 73.7 84.2


The great news about this data is that the A & B grades are over double the percentage that was achieved nationally last year, and the U grades are under half the national 2016 figures (to say seeing the national 2016 picture gave me a few grey hairs, is an understatement!). For me I think this early assessment is going to see a double positive:

  • Students who have achieved sound results have taken their assessment mark as a great ego boost, and reaffirmed their commitment to the course.
  • Those who have achieved an A at their GCSE, and all of a sudden have achieved a D in their year 12 assessment (sometimes being surpassed by B grade GCSE students) have had a reality check of the demands of the course. I was encouraged by such students proactively asking me for the opportunity to resit the assessment, which is a really positive pointer to the future.

I would highly recommend an early assessment is factored in if you run this course next year.

Some other reflections…

  • I am still finding it hard not to plan too much work for an individual lesson (maybe this is why each lesson is still taking approximately 3 hours to plan!?). Often a planned lesson will stretch out over two lessons. This is causing major concern, as with any AS course, there is advice of needing 180 guided learning hours for the course. By the time the exams come in May 2017, our students will have had less than 140 guided learning hours (with no revision period factored in) – so approximately 25% less than that advised. This leaves me concerned that we may not cover the specification as intended.
  • Whenever I try to increase the volume of material covered in lessons to counteract the lack of guided learning hours, students then struggle with accessing their homework – meaning they need additional help, or risk them falling behind.

November 2016

Last week I had my first formal selling of the course to year 11 students and their parents in readiness for September 2017. I am really happy with how it went. We are in the enviable position at our school that parents will really take on board advice that teachers give to students… and parents could really appreciate the rationale behind offering this course, and the advantages it will give our students in terms of:

  • Assisting with the increased mathematical content of other A-levels.
  • Assisting transition to university courses with mathematical content post A-level.
  • Ensuring that students have the right skills to compete in a global marketplace.

A decision has been made to offer AS Mathematics in Context next year as a two-year course (not the current one-year model), as the school moves from students taking four AS levels in year 12, to the norm being starting with three A-level in year 12 to be completed in year 13. It is hard to predict what the knock on effect on AS Mathematics in Context numbers will be next year… we will get our first indications of numbers for next year in February 2017 – and I’ll update once these numbers are in.

Easter 2016 – First Steps in teaching Core Maths

July 2016

In February 2016, the year 11 cohort attended a “day in the life of a sixth former”. This provided an opportunity to discuss the new course with prospective students, and a lot of interest was generated.  It was decided that the course would definitely go ahead.

As a school we need to start planning for the September 2016 cohort. Our SCITT trainee is very keen to get involved with the new course, however we haven’t had a second teacher offer to take the Core Maths class. My line manager has said it will need to fall on my shoulders; after an evening of stressing, I’ve realised that as KS5 co-ordinator, it should be me.

We are also struggling to decide which course will best fit our students. Any school/college I’ve found who is offering Core Maths seems to have gone for the AQA syllabus. When pressed on the reason behind this decision, the most common responses were:

  • They were the first exam board who got their specification and course material ready.
  • There was a freedom of choice in the second paper for teacher to choose a module which suited their skills set.

However, now ALL exam boards have their specifications ready, so I can make an informed decision compared to two years ago. I am aware that I want to choose a course that best suits the students’ skills set (i.e. other A level choices), not necessarily my own. As such I feel we need a generic Core Maths syllabus, with no optional components, to ensure that we give all students in our first cohort a balanced course, instead of tailoring a course to some individuals – but not to others.

Decision made! We are going for Edexcel’s Level 3 Mathematics in Context. It is a 12 unit course covering application of maths to topics such as Social Networking, Disasters, Finance, Clothing – i.e. a hugely broad set of topics, and I can sense already that students are going to be able to buy into this course (unlike the traditional AS-Maths course and topics such as quadratic inequalities, or trigonometric identities!). I envisage that we could offer this course for two years (possibly 3?), and once we reach the stage of having several Core Maths classes, we can then maybe switch to the AQA course, and choose a course with an optional component so that students can select an option best suited to their other A-level choices.

Myself and our NQT have decided we’ll spend a chunk of the summer break planning some topics. She has opted for Finance and Sport to kick off with in the first half-term with, whilst I’ve chosen Social Networking and Clothing.

I’ll wrap up the summer term notes here. It is August and I am stunned at how long these lessons are taking to plan!! On average three hours each is typical. The content is really interesting, but constructing a series of cohesive lessons to support a topic is proving more time consuming than either of us could have ever imagined. I have to add here that the lessons that I’ve currently planned seem much more engaging than my typical A-level lessons (I’ve got a wealth of experience teaching Mechanics, Statistics, Pure Maths, Further Pure, Decision Maths) – and as such the students are going to get so much out of this course. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we actually get a decent number of students interested in the course to make the time investment given so far justifiable!

Henry Stevenson at Weydon School, Farnham has been running a project looking at increasing the participation levels of Post-16 students in Level 3 Maths courses. This Maths Hub project has one broad aim of increasing participation levels of post-16 students in A Level Mathematics, Further Mathematics and other level 3 courses, such as Core Maths.

Participation Rates

The project initially looked into studying habits of students in Surrey Plus region. We found that the percentage of students studying Maths and Further Maths in the Surrey Plus region is in line with the national picture, with a slight increase in uptake between 2013 and 2014 (table below):

Maths Further Maths
Surrey Plus England Surrey Plus England
2013 29% 28% 5% 5%
2014 31% 28% 5% 5%

However, hidden by these numbers is the fact that the number of girls pursuing post 16 maths courses is significantly outweighed by the number of boys; and relatively very few girls take on Further Maths as an A-level option.

Factors influencing progression to A-level mathematics

Having spoken with several post-16 providers, it became clear that there are several factors which influence student progression to A-level mathematics

  • High quality teaching throughout the secondary phase
  • Clearly demonstrated enthusiasm and passion for mathematics
  • Professional planning and managing of the several elements between them that make for effective teaching and learning of mathematics
  • High expectations of pupils’ learning of mathematics
  • Effective monitoring and assessment regimes
  • A positive whole school attitude towards maths as a subject
  • Good interpersonal teacher-student relationships
  • Career events
  • Transition projects and Summer Schools

In summary

One of the repeating themes that comes out of this, is that many Sixth Form colleges do not feel as though they have the Picture1power to influence participation, and 11-16 providers do not see A-level uptake as a concern.  Addressing this gap has been difficult.  However, the research tells us that the two key factors to increasing participation levels are student enrichment, and teacher PD.  It seems simple enough:  If the students have a positive learning experience during KS3 and KS4, and if the quality of teaching is high, the students will want to pursue mathematics at college.  These two features are being addressed through the TeachMeets, Secondary Maths Networks, Enrichment events and CPD that we are facilitating.

Strategies for raising participation

Below are some tried and tested strategies for increasing participation that schools and colleges have found successful:

  • Student enrichment events at KS4 currently available from the Surrey Plus Hub
  • Mentoring links between Year 12 pupils and Year 11 pupils
  • Sixth Form Taster days
  • Prospectus used to promote importance of Maths to parents
  • CPD to develop teaching and learning


All hubs are collaborating closely with locally based colleagues working for both the Further Mathematics Support Programme and the Core Maths Support Programme.

Further Maths Support Programme

FMSP Coordinators work with schools and colleges to support and promote the study of AS/A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics. They also provide training opportunities and support to teachers of AS/A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics and KS4 Higher Tier Mathematics. They are currently supporting teachers in preparation for the impending changes to the A level Mathematics specification.

Core Maths Support Programme

To encourage students to continue with Maths after GCSE, there is an additional option. Core Maths is a new course for those who want to keep up their valuable maths skills but are not planning to take AS or A-level maths. Core Maths aims to increase student confidence in using maths , and to be better equipped for the mathematical demands of other courses, higher education, employment and life. At the end of the two-year course, students will come out with a level 3 qualification– similar to an AS and recognised in UCAS points.  The qualification is assessed by a final examination; some courses also offer the option of submitting a portfolio of coursework. To find out more go to:

Research links

If you are interested in further investigating participation at post 16, the links below are recommended by the NCETM.

Widening Participation Report: A Summary

Factors Influencing Progression to A-level Mathematics