GCSE resits: Could a 'revision year' boost maths grades?

A new student-centred, one-year approach could help prepare students, writes maths author Julia Smith

Julia Smith

maths numeracy college FE GCSE resit

This is a golden age for post-16 maths education. Despite the rhetoric of cutbacks and political agendas that clearly do not favour the brave in FE and other post-16 settings, it is a perfect time to be fearless and experimental with post-16 maths delivery. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.

We have initiatives, such as the maths hubs, working more closely than ever with colleges. We have research initiatives such as Bedford College Group Research Network. We have core maths and the benefits that it can bring to those students who have gained a high-grade GCSE. We have research trials such as Maths for Life with Geoff Wake at the University of Nottingham. And we have maths centres for excellence.

Background: Does maths teaching add up?

Podcast: Tes FE Podcast: Maths recruitment, retention and resits

More news: Alternative maths GCSE resit curriculum to be tested

Investment in maths

The probability of gaining both traction and momentum to an idea and even money to support maths initiatives has never been stronger. If you’ve got a bright idea, something that you know works in your setting, then step into the metaphorical Dragons' Den and pitch it. People are listening and there is a purseful of pennies waiting to be spent on research ideas that can be fully trialled and tested.

One such new initiative is the 5Rs, which is a revision-based, whole-year approach to GCSE maths resits, the evaluation of which is funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and supported by the Association of Colleges. 

Essentially the trial, being led by the University of York, aims to analyse the impact of the 5Rs revision year approach on GCSE maths resit outcomes. What the EEF funding has enabled is a large-scale assessment of whether the 5Rs is a valid approach for a resit maths learner.

Students at the heart

The approach is student-centred, with learners very much at the heart of it, taking ownership of their qualification. Comparative measures such as most recently obtained GCSE grade and key stage 2 data will be collected and analysed against resit outcomes in an intervention based upon training, support, resources and a community of practice.

The 5Rs research provides comprehensive training in the approach, fully resourced with a range of materials from the likes of Just Maths and Corbett Maths to name but two of the many outstanding resources. There will be full support throughout the year of delivery with access to a unique website and a new YouTube video series of techniques to support delivery. People are determined to improve the outcomes of a resit maths learner, many of whom have already sat the exam five or more times.

Now in its third year in some AQA centres, the 5Rs approach has yielded some promising outcomes. With two large providers, their GCSE maths resits high grades doubled, and student engagement proved better, with visits to revision homework padlets in the hundreds of hits in an eight-week, focused revision period. AQA initially supported the specific resit approach, having identified its potential, and there is plenty on the AQA All About Maths website to support this approach.

Not like school maths

It is built upon research into alternative methods, revision techniques, spaced practice and interleaving, and research into the learning habits of a resit student. The 5RS approach does not look, feel or sound like school maths, which may not have gone well for a resit learner. Colleges do not want the same outcome, hence the willingness to be brave.

The intervention will be attractive for colleges where the delivery team may be a little inexperienced in GCSE maths resit delivery or struggle to source fully-qualified staff. It is also perfect for those teams who struggle with student attendance, engagement and ideas for dynamic lessons. Neither is it exam board-specific, so any school or college may apply.

The mantra for the 5Rs approach has to be the old Bananarama hit: "It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it!" I shall leave you with that earworm.

Julia Smith is a teacher trainer and maths author. She tweets @tessmaths. You can get more information about the 5Rs approach here


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Julia Smith

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