GCSE Mathematics resits revisited

Thursday 11th July 2019

Dr Antony Edkins, Regional Lead for the North West

Xaverian College in Manchester provided an excellent venue for Level 3 Maths Hub leaders and AMSP Area Coordinators to host a post-16 Mathematics conference on 3 July. Most of my career has focused on teaching resits for GCSE Mathematics. However, this conference also provided a great opportunity to meet colleagues across the North West, all of whom spend their working week helping GCSE maths resit students.

This week’s conference revealed some interesting insights. Firstly, working with these resit students is as much about support, care and building relationships as it is learning mathematics. This is because many learners lack confidence after "failing" GCSE Mathematics in Year 11. Consequently, these learners need repeated reassurance, especially if the GCSE grade awarded was a level 1 or 2.

Secondly, these learners lack many basic maths skills. Their command of times tables and of routine number bonds are weak. They also lack a grasp of the four operations of fractions. I shared an example where a learner could not add two fractions. The learner had calculated 3/4 + 3/7 = 6/11.

Because of similar misconceptions and gaps in learning, almost all of the GCSE resit teachers devoted the first half of the autumn term to revisiting the basics with their learners. This included introducing learners to equivalents, the relationship between fractions, decimals and percentages. Another approach focused on developing mental maths where the teacher insisted all learners would be able to divide any two digit number by any single digit number. GCSE maths resit teachers reported that developing these basic strategies increased learners’ confidence. As a result, by Christmas, most learners could answer correctly the ‘settler’ questions at the beginning of a GCSE Maths Foundation paper.

This conference provided helpful professional development, largely thanks to fellow GCSE maths resit tutors sharing good practice. However, at the end of the conference, I was left with one lingering doubt. Would GCSE Mathematics resits ever become ‘a thing of the past’, or will they remain a permanent fixture of the national curriculum offer in England?