Maths teaching was beset by changes last year. At secondary level, teachers tried to wrap their heads around new GCSE specifications while simultaneously teaching the first cohort of Year 10s according to the new criteria.
Meanwhile, primary teachers faced what were arguably even more significant changes, as new-look Sats were introduced, with the aim of making the tests harder.
What maths teachers would, no doubt, appreciate more than anything in the coming academic year would be time to catch their breath. Unfortunately, though, there won’t be much breathing space as yet more change is on the way.
Rather than spending time reflecting on lessons learned from the past year, attention will naturally turn to planning for the introduction of new A-level qualifications and coaching GCSE students through the first set of exams graded 9-1. And for primary teachers, there will be the dilemma of how to adopt new maths mastery approaches that promise to transform their teaching.
Nonetheless, maths specialists have plenty of experience of adapting to change. And for a bit of extra support, we have gathered some expert opinions to help you face what promises to be another uncertain year.
What you need to consider in the next 12 months
We asked Steve McCormack, communications director for the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), to outline the key issues and areas to focus on in the coming year
Last year, primary teachers were the ones feeling the changes to the subject most acutely, as they took their Year 2 and Year 6 pupils through new, more challenging Sats for the first time.
Primary maths will not experience such a big overhaul this year, but teachers can’t relax entirely as far as Sats are concerned – the assessment frameworks published by the Department for Education in the middle of July were labelled as “interim” and there is still uncertainty about what future frameworks might look like. According to the DfE website: “The interim teacher assessment frameworks are for 2016 to 2017 only. The DfE is evaluating options for future years.”
Against this backdrop of uncertainty, experimentation with and implementation of mastery approaches will continue in large numbers of schools. The NCETM is collaborating with the Maths Hubs programme to coordinate projects that will train 140 primary teachers as mastery specialists, and will work with 800 schools to deliver CPD activities and start the process of implementing maths mastery approaches.
For secondary teachers, the main focus for 2016-17 will be on how to support the first cohort of Year 11 pupils who will sit the new GCSE maths exams next summer.
This cohort has been taught against the new specifications in Year 10, but that was when teachers were still feeling their way. There’s no disputing that the new GCSE will be harder. This is owing to additional content in the syllabus and to more difficult questions in the exam. By more difficult, we mean questions that will require students to think independently and to solve problems that do not automatically fit into a template that allows for the application of a known method or algorithm.
Of course, the grading for this new GCSE will also be changing to a 9-1 system (9 being highest) rather than A*-G. Eight grades will be transforming into nine grades, which means there can be no direct mapping, particularly in the threshold area – previously a grade C and now categorised as a “good” grade 2 pass.
Meanwhile, teachers of Years 12 and 13 will be trying to find time to prepare for teaching the new A levels in maths and further maths for the first time in September 2017. The timing here is designed so that students who sit the new GCSE next summer will move on to start two years of lessons before sitting the new A level in 2019. The Further Mathematics Support Programme (FMSP) says that the assessment objectives for the new A levels are likely to “include a greater emphasis on modelling, problem-solving and reasoning”. This means that some questions may be longer and include less scaffolding in order to build on “the increase in problem-solving in GCSE so students will be better prepared”.
Tips and strategies for the year ahead
Make the most of the internet
In this atmosphere of ubiquitous change, it is gratifying to see teachers exploiting the power of online communication (forums, blogs and social media) to share experiences, pass on tips and discuss approaches. The lengths that some teachers go to in researching, collating and presenting information and ideas, only to make them freely available to colleagues they have never met, is admirable in the extreme.
So, my first tip is to type “teacher”, “maths” and “blog” into any search engine and see where it takes you. I’d be surprised if anyone were disappointed.
Lean on subject organisations
More formally, there are plenty of organisations providing valuable guidance to help teachers navigate the changes to the curriculum. For A-level maths, the Further Maths Support Programme (FMSP) has produced a paper listing all the changes to help teachers get their heads around what’s new.
The FMSP’s parent organisation, Mathematics in Education and Industry, goes into more depth with a video and dedicated web page.
Seek support from exam boards
As far as the GCSE is concerned, the exam boards are already offering a range of support for teachers. The most recent issue of NCETM’s magazine for secondary teachers (bit.ly/NCETMSecondary), asked the exam boards about specific GCSE support. These were their responses:
OCR offers paid-for CPD courses, but past course documents are available online for free. The GCSE (9-1) maths course offers planning approaches for the qualification, webinars and past paper reviews.
GCSE Mathematics: Getting Started is a free online training course to help you get to grips with the new specifications. Free face-to-face support is also available from AQA’s maths advocates.
Pearson provides free and paid-for CPD for Edexcel specifications. Free local teaching hubs, called mathematics collaborative networks, have also been introduced to support, train and share best practice with maths teachers and heads of department across the country. Network meetings run throughout the year on a termly basis in more than 40 centres.