Dr Keevil’s post on Study Programmes got me thinking on another aspect of them, one that so far many colleges have just taken on board judging by the number of job vacancies for maths teachers appearing on the jobs pages. Students now have to, as the 157 Group writes “include the study of English and mathematics and work towards the achievement of GCSE A*-C for all students who do not already have these”.
Generally, those with a recent D grade will be enrolled onto the GCSE course and those without a D will be placed on a programme of Functional Skills and work towards a L2 qualification and then onto GCSE if they wish. The programmes will be individualised to meet the specific requirements of each learner, but broadly the expected size of the maths elements was expected to be:
For functional skills: 1-2 hours per week for each, plus additional support time
For GCSE: 2-3 hours per week for each, plus targeted workshops
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "Too many young people are dropping English and maths before they have secured a good grounding. These vital subjects are critical to the economy and as a country we need all our young people to be fluent and comfortable in these basic skills."
He’s right but that’s not how it’s being interpreted. The system is being manipulated to satisfy the appearance of ‘meeting their needs’ whilst minimising the risk to the colleges concerned.
The learner is not getting the best possible education in Maths.
GCSE Maths comes in two flavours, Foundation and Higher; both will give you the much vaunted C grade but the Higher paper gives the learner the chance to achieve a B or A or A* and future employers a more mathematically able learner.
Some colleges are now deliberately restricting which qualification the learners can take. They are restricting them to the Foundation Paper, the highest grade you can achieve on that is a C.
Surely, this is wrong?
Restricting achievement to ensure success rates? As one person told me “our job is to get the learner a C, nothing more”. Some are even changing the learner course part way through the year from Higher to Foundation as fear around the Grade C reaches fever pitch.
That will be devastating. Those learners who have become attuned to the knowledge that they are Higher candidates have had a boosted view of their ability and increased their confidence in maths. Many students only really achieve their potential in the last few weeks following their mock exam, and do increase from a D/C to a C/B. Stretch, Challenge and motivation are incredibly important in education.
Employers too, who do not necessarily understand that a C is not always a C are also being cheated of a learner, a potential employee who could have had a Grade B or A, but was forced to settle for a C. That could easily be a deal breaker in employment.
As a manager, I appreciate targets, levels of progress etc. all need to be adhered to but I know it’s really down to the individual student sitting in front of the teacher that knows them best. It is true differentiated learning and implements Stretch and Challenge to really bring out the learners skills; not limiting them to a safe grade to protect the college reputation.
It does concern me greatly, that teachers are now expected to run for the safety of Foundation and, in so doing, preclude the possibility of some doing Higher just because of ‘safety’ and ‘risk’ concerns.
As far as Higher/Foundation goes, I very much feel that as long you have the high expectations the learners deserve to have set, you should not limit them to a C early on. There may be a time when the decision needs to be made to enter some for Foundation due to individual circumstances but, if you deliver the message correctly through strong and challenging teaching, you can get the right results and the response you want from each learner.
If you are capable of getting a 'safe' C, you can get that grade on either paper. But they should go for the Higher paper. To get a C, on the GCSE maths Foundation paper they need to get around 75%, but only about 42% on the GCSE maths Higher paper where the questions are a little more demanding. Between taking the GCSE maths mocks and the real thing, I expect them to improve their grade by at least one. So if they got a C for their mock then they should be taking a higher paper. That's the only way they can get a B, which increasing numbers of universities and employers now demand.
In 2013 37.9% of 16 year olds failed to achieve a Grade C or better in maths GCSE. The considerable majority of these students then go on to Further Education; it is vital they are given a high quality teaching experience to help them achieve the good basic level in this core subject which they have previously missed out on.
As a marker, I have seen first-hand the problems with tiering. The most troubling issue is the grade cap, which sets a hard and fast limit on the number of marks Foundation candidates can receive. Regardless of how intelligent and well thought-out a student's response, they cannot be awarded more than a C. In the Foundation scripts I marked, it was shocking to see the number of "full marks" answers that clearly deserved a B, sometimes even an A. I am not the only marker share this concern.
If we are to really and truly get on board with the importance of Maths in the Programme of Study and its importance to our learners and our economic future, we surely owe it to our learners to stretch and challenge them to achieve their best possible grade.
If FE is going to limit them, clip their wings and deem them to be ‘low level learners’ before they have even taught them, then we need to take a good hard look at the reasons for this action and tease out the underpinning concerns.
F.E. should not limit learners; our role is to stretch and develop them as strongly as we possibly can. Those where Senior Managers are instigating this policy should be called forth and made to explain why. It goes against everything that F.E. stands for.