Improving Learner Outcomes in GCSE Maths

Improving Learner Outcomes in GCSE Maths

Stockton Riverside College, Darlington College, Hartlepool College of FE and Egglescliffe School

So often people can be switched off to English and MathsThis project focussed on three local colleges working collaboratively to get ready to deliver the new 9-1 GCSE maths specification and improve outcomes.

The project involved three local colleges and a high performing local school.  Hartlepool College had a positive progress measure for their maths provision in 2016/2017 and mentored both Stockton Riverside College and Darlington College who had negative progress measures.

In addition to this support all three colleges worked with Egglescliffe School, a high performing local school, with a track record of outcomes above national and local averages and graded outstanding during their previous inspection, in order to share good practice.

All organisations worked together to design a diagnostic assessment tailored to the new 9-1 specification and develop a scheme of work that could be tailored to the individual learners’ needs identified through the diagnostic.


Since 2015 it has been a condition of funding that learners who achieved a grade D/3 in GCSE at school must continue to work towards achieving a grade C/4 or better.
The number of learners continuing to study GCSE has grown rapidly, with partner colleges seeing their numbers increase by up to 600%.

This growth has resulted in a shortage of maths practitioners and those who were delivering in the colleges had in the majority been delivering functional skills, leaving not only a capacity issue but a skills/experience gap. Where staff were experienced many had only ever delivered to learners who were motivated to achieve.

The reality for many practitioners going into a classroom of mandated learners is very different. Learners are disengaged and unmotivated.

Another issue identified by practitioners is that there are several initial and diagnostic packages available. These are tailored very well to functional skills but do not provide enough information to support teaching for the new GCSE specification.

This and the limited resources available to support the new specification, a lack of experience within organisations in isolation and the time constraints on already stretched teams were making it difficult for individual organisations to dedicate time to evaluate the issues and develop resources, which would be better suited for assessing GCSE learners.

Project Activities and Outputs

Approach and Methdology

The project was split into 2 stages:

Stage 1: Collaboration and mentoring

Stage 2: Implementation of teaching / assessment and tracking

In the first stage of the project the two colleges with negative progress measures were mentored by a college with positive progress measures.

Staff CPD sessions on theoretical approaches to GCSE maths delivery in FE were delivered to participating organisations. Colleges worked collaboratively with the high performing local school and peer observations were carried out to identify teaching approaches that support positive outcomes.

Assessment methods were evaluated and a new assessment and tracking system was developed. Participants worked collaboratively to develop a 1-year scheme of work for the new 9-1 specification.

In the second stage of the project the new assessment and tracking system and the 1-year scheme of work developed in stage one were implemented with a new cohort of learners.

Professional Learning

Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices.

The teaching practices that were taken from the school were linking each element of delivery and assessment to the exam assessment criteria and building learners’ understanding of the mark schemes.

Existing packages did not effectively initially assess and diagnostic assessments did not provide sufficient information to support teaching. A new assessment and tracking system has been developed that links directly to assessment criteria. The system uses previous exam questions in a way that then generates topic weaknesses at learner level. This was also linked to the mark scheme and grade boundaries to enable a current working at grade to be estimated.

“The new diagnostic has given me more confidence with my predictions”.

– Project Participant

Target setting has now been linked directly to each of the assessment criteria and the tracking system RAG rates the learner based on interim assessments.

Reviews and observations of teaching and learning indicated learners were more aware of their targets and could see the links between teaching, learning and assessment.
The new system enabled a tailored response and quicker interventions than previously.
The system was implemented at the two supported colleges. The diagnostic assessment process has been much smoother at each organisation and feedback from returning learners has been positive.

“I know the areas I need to work on”.

– Learner A

“Much better than sitting on a computer answering daft questions”.

– Learner B

Ideas from the CPD sessions informed planning and the one-year scheme of work was planned and disseminated across all practitioners in all three colleges to support delivery in 2017/18. The two colleges with negative progress measures implemented the new diagnostic and scheme of work.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisational practices

All participating organisations contributed fully to the project. Project participants enjoyed working collaboratively and all outcomes were achieved.

“The whole process has been a good experience and it has been very beneficial being able to discuss ideas across organisations. Our diagnostic process has run much smoother and been far more informative than previous years.”

– Project Participant

Participating organisations felt prepared to deliver the new 9-1 specification and all organisations have reported improved staff morale.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression.

Attendance on GCSE courses at both participating colleges has improved. Attendance at one college has improved by 4.5% compared to the previous year and the other college has improved by 1%.

Both colleges have experienced a high rate of attendance at exams with 95.7% and 93% attendance.

In a learner survey conducted by one of the participating colleges 95% of learners agreed their course was well organised; showing an improvement of 7% compared to the previous year.

A further improvement of 3% was recorded in the same survey with 96% of learners agreeing that assessment tasks were clear; with 94% agreeing that feedback tells them what they are doing well and need to improve on.

Both colleges have also recorded an improvement in learners moving from a grade 3 to a grade 4. One college improved from 17% to 34% in June 2018 and the other improved from 22.7% to 27.6% of learners who come in with a grade 3 achieving a grade 4 or better.

Concluding Remarks

Learning from this project

  • All assessment tasks developed are paper based and it has been identified that it would promote more enjoyment to have a mixed method approach incorporating interactive and practical assessment activities.
  • Scheduling meetings for collaborative practice was a challenge but proved to be extremely beneficial for sharing good practice and contributing to new developments.
  • Completing everything in the short time scale originally attached to the project was a challenge. The extension of the project to include a full academic year enabled us to monitor and evaluate the full impact.


Appendix 1 – Diagnostics and Tracker User Guide

Appendix 2 – Topic Text

Appendix 3 – Scheme of Work

Appendix 4 – Activity + Outcomes by Stage


Wallace, S. (2017) Motivating Unwilling Learners in Further Education London: Bloomsbury

Wolf, A. (2011) Review of Vocational Education – the Wolf Report. London: Department of Education.

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