Ofsted found that the most common experience of young people in maths classrooms is a focus on acquiring rote skills, routine exercises and preparing for exams (Mathematics – understanding the score, OfSTED 2008). They reported factors leading to ‘quiet disengagement’ of learners as:
- Tedium: they found the maths irrelevant and boring.
- Isolation: they felt that they had to work on their own.
- Rote learning: they viewed maths as involving learning and routinely applying a set of rules.
- Elitism: they saw maths as something in which only exceptionally intelligent people could succeed.
- Depersonalisation: they did not feel their individual learning needs and interests were catered for.
Simply repeating these approaches in colleges and training providers is unlikely to work. Different approaches are required – ones that actively involve and engage learners in developing their understanding and problem solving (both of which have increased emphasis in the new GCSE maths specifications). Where possible, lessons should be linked to vocational and real-life experiences in meaningful ways. This video [9:20] demonstrates some examples from an independent training provider and a FE College: Skills Solutions and Barking and Dagenham College.
Interviews and discussions with learners carried out by NIACE for a report called Engaging Learners in GCSE Maths and English (2015) emphasised the need for:
- small class sizes, with teachers having time to support all learners.
- teachers with strong behaviour management skills to prevent disruption by peers.
- timely initial assessments to identify support needs and for any additional support they require to be put in place.
- a supportive environment, where learners are not afraid to make mistakes and are encouraged to ask for help.
- sufficient time to practise topics that they find difficult.
Listen to what two of the learners said:
Providers may also want to ask learners about how their past experiences and how they want to learn GCSE maths and English. Listen to how Walsall College have listened to their learners, and are using this to develop their approaches:
The Education and Training Foundation offer a range of CPD modules focusing on making maths & English learning more engaging and accessible through their Maths and English Pipeline.
Download a PDF version of these questions here.