After two years of challenges brought on by Covid and the absence of public examinations, teaching had returned to ‘normality’. A full return to classroom teaching and exam preparation had the feeling of a return to 2019, but was this year a year of pre-pandemic familiarity?
The first shock to the system was the initial register. Working at a school which regularly recruits around 20 students onto its Core Maths course, it was surprising to find only one name on the list of sign-ups. Evidently the loss of face-to-face teaching time and Teacher Assessed Grades had impacted on both the promotion of the course in Year 11 lessons and the willingness of students to pursue level 3 maths. Despite knowledge of the different pathways of post-16 maths being embedded in the Key Stage 4 curriculum, teachers hadn’t found the time to expose students to Core Maths problems and to talk about the benefits of the qualification. Instead, there had been a heavy focus on preparing students for internal assessment with a lot of repeated learning and revision. Fortunately, when given the platform to talk about the course and the benefits of participating in its lessons to all of Year 12, I suddenly found 21 students in front of me in the first lesson. We hadn’t broken maths after all!
So, now that I had these eager students, surely teaching the content was going to be breeze. Wrong! With the exception of the highest achieving students, the pre-requisite knowledge was horribly absent. These was a lack of fluency when working with decimals and percentages and of interest, and therefore application, in statistics. So we took a trip back to Key Stage 3 teaching in order to bring them up to standard. There was also the inability to work with anything algebraic, including the plotting of graphs, which was a challenge to rectify. These are but a few of the difficulties experienced with the students’ knowledge, brought about by the impact of a pandemic on education. To add to this, this cohort was particularly diverse in its mathematical ability, with a uniform spread of GCSE grades from 9 to 5 – not pandemic-induced, but what a way to make a living! Keeping the most able students motivated and busy whilst supporting the least able was no mean feat and really tested my teaching ability.
Once we’d overcome the initial challenges of gaps in students’ knowledge, learning new content and engaging with new context should have been a more comfortable task. However, not only did I find that the embedding of mathematical knowledge from GCSE a problem, but the attitude towards learning new content wasn’t what it should be or what I’ve experienced in previous years. A resistance to engage in lesson, a refusal to do homework, and a lackadaisical attitude towards revision were all things that were now the norm for too many students that I had to work to overcome. Fortunately for me, this cohort showed the character to make the necessary changes to improve and to get out of this induced routine that they’d found themselves in. It meant that students became more adventurous with their Fermi estimation problems, more engrossed in the relevance of financial maths, and more inquisitive when critically analysing. Saying that they enjoyed the statistics elements is probably a bit of a stretch, but there was certainly a greater willingness to engage with the ideas and thus gain a better understanding of them.
So to the examinations, something that teachers hadn’t experienced for three years or indeed ever in the case of those who have began teaching Core Maths more recently. With the very slow start to the year, it felt like the students would never be ready and, to an extent, it felt like I’d forgotten how to prepare them for it. However, with a mix of practising techniques, investigative revision tasks, past papers, and making up questions based on the advantage information and pre-release material, we felt like we got there. My students were generally happy and positive which was a very different position to where they were six months ago. Just don’t get me started on randomly generated numbers!