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Five top tips to boost learners' progress in GCSE mathematics

Following a 20-year career as a mathematics teacher across six schools, Mike Randall, ASDAN’s Head of Curriculum Development, has extensive experience of working with learners who are disengaged or struggling at GCSE. He describes the key principles that formed the bedrock of his teaching, helping transform learners' progression and enjoyment of the subject.

When I was tasked with creating a course for ASDAN aimed at boosting progression in GCSE mathematics, I based my work on five guiding principles. These theories or rules have helped my learners succeed in the subject, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds or students who are having difficultly accessing the subject. With the current GCSE specifications, the bar has been raised and learners need all the support they can get to achieve that vital pass.

The course I wrote – Accelerating Progress: mathematics – is aimed at helping learners gain a grade 4 or 5 in the tougher GCSE specifications. It also be used to support post-16 students retaking their GCSE in the subject. We also have an Accelerating Progress course for English, written by experienced teacher Tom Walker.

To celebrate the launch of new teaching and learning resources for Accelerating Progress, I’ve listed my five trusted principles below and included links to two of the new resources that you can download for free.

My guiding principles are:

  1. Set high expectations of learners – many students are written off as not able to achieve particular levels of mathematics and subsequently get left behind. Setting out with the view that all learners can achieve with sufficient engagement, time and support is essential. By expecting a lot from learners, they will surprise you.
  2. Contextualise the learning – delivering knowledge within a practical real-life situation anchors what young people are learning in reality, giving it relevance and making it more likely to stick. If learners regard a subject or topic as overly theoretical, many will struggle to engage with it. Relate it to their real, day-to-day lives, and it suddenly takes on a much greater significance.
  3. Take baby steps with the learning – some knowledge and concepts are difficult, especially with the tougher GCSE specifications. Many students will struggle if you try to teach too much in one go, but introducing learning through small steps makes it easier for learners to grasp knowledge. I’ve seen far better progress from learners over the years when you adopt a manageable and gradual approach like this.
  4. Build confidence through practice – students need to practise new skills regularly in order to retain knowledge. But the best educators put a lot of thought into the type of practice tasks they allocate, choosing activities aimed specifically at building confidence in the topic at hand. Build confidence through carefully selecting the right difficultly level of practice tasks and progression will take care of itself.
  5. Combine topics and ideas where possible. We rarely use our knowledge in isolation; therefore try to use tasks that combine topics and ideas, revisiting previous work while practising new concepts. This builds resilience in problem solving, which is a key skill in the mathematics GCSE, and reinforces prior learning. This approach helps maximise the overall learning, creating a deeper experience for the students.

Free teaching and learning resources

In Accelerating Progress, students complete engaging challenges, collect evidence of their work and identify skills development.

You are welcome to download free teaching and learning resources for the mathematics and English courses for use with your GCSE learners.

The resources can be accessed by learners from registered ASDAN centres through the course’s e-portfolio system. Registered centres can access the resources by purchasing and downloading the tutor support manual through the members' area of the website.

To find out more about Accelerating Progress or to provide feedback on this article or the above free resources, please email