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Innovative ASDAN course can breathe new life into GCSE mathematics

ASDAN commissioned experienced teacher and former senior leader Mike Randall to write the Accelerating Progress mathematics course, which is aimed at helping learners gain a 4 or 5 in the current GCSE in England. Mike explains why the course is needed and how it offers a fresh approach to engage students in this key subject.

What are the challenges posed by the new mathematics GCSE?

Mike Randall

I have seen structural changes to GCSE mathematics over the years and various changes to content but nothing on the scale of the developments in the last few years. The current mathematics GCSE poses a significant challenge for many learners.

It’s not necessarily that the content itself is more difficult – the added complexity relates to the greater problem solving element of the questions. The course was developed following requests from employers for more students to be able to apply their mathematics knowledge in a real-life context. As a result, the new GCSE questions are more contextual, which means students have to solve problems rather than simply doing mathematics with no obvious real-world application. This new problem solving element is something that many students struggle with and they need extra support and resources to develop this skill. It is now more difficult for many students to reach grades that are considered to be a good pass at GCSE as they understand all the basic principles they need, but are unable to apply these to unfamiliar contexts.

What does the Accelerating Progress course aim to achieve?

Many students need help applying the actual problem solving skills required. The solution to this in many schools has been to give learners more mathematics lessons, which can lead to disengagement and increased frustration for students and teachers.

The Accelerating Progress course aims to get students who are struggling to gain a grade 4 or 5 to improve their problem solving skills, so that they can apply the mathematics needed to secure a good pass. It approaches the subject in a different way to give learners a fresh perspective. Accessible and engaging challenges stimulate learners’ interest in the subject and help them experience success. This in turn boosts their performance in the subject as well as enhancing their confidence and motivation. I have tested all of the challenges in the course with my own students so I know they have a proven impact.

Why should schools try a different approach to mathematics?

Many students who are given extra intervention lessons have been taught mathematics for a long time. They often feel like they are not improving and may be demoralised. Providing more of the same approach through extra intervention lessons does not always work in my experience and can lead to disengagement and increased frustration for students and teachers. What learners need is a new approach that’s going to transform their engagement with the subject.

What's also different is the personalised learning element. The student works with the tutor to decide on challenges to complete – this tailored approach taps into ASDAN’s proven methodology of engaging young people by giving them choice over their learning. Giving young people greater freedom over what they study is proven to engage and motivate them.

Who can deliver the Accelerating Progress course?

One of the advantages to the Accelerating Progress courses is that it has been designed so that non-specialists, as well as fully qualified mathematics teachers, can deliver it. Currently there is a shortage of mathematics teachers across the country and we are finding that in many cases non-specialists are teaching lessons. The nature of the course and the resources provided mean a wide variety of school staff can deliver the content, which gives schools more options in how to support struggling students.

All schools have groups of students who are disengaged with mathematics and need extra support. This course is ideal for schools that are struggling with mathematics attainment and need to provide extra support and inspiration to students.

The course can be used to breathe new life into intervention sessions as well as being used as a mainstream teaching resource, supplementing normal mathematics lessons.

Is the course suitable for post-16 students resitting their mathematics GCSE?

Students who have to resit GCSE mathematics are often disengaged with the subject and have had a bad experience in class. What they need is a new approach in a way that’s going to stimulate their interest. Students will find it difficult to improve if you keep applying the same approach – they switch off. Just when they thought they were done with maths, they now discover that they have to do it again. Accelerating Progress provides an engaging alternative to the subject that's worth trying.

About Mike

Mike has been teaching mathematics to Year 10 and 11 students for more than 20 years in a career spanning seven schools. He has extensive experience of working with disengaged learners, helping them gain a pass at GCSE.

Mike is a former head of mathematics, assistant head and deputy head and has worked in senior leadership teams for 10 years.