It’s that time of year when inevitably, the media is in a feeding frenzy with stories about grade boundaries being inflated or deflated, how education is on the decline, or how education is now so much better depending on which paper you choose to read, but for teachers working at the coal face life goes on much as it always does. For me, once the A and AS level results are published I am gearing up to deal with GCSE results – and in doing so some tough decisions are  made within the department and also by some of our students.

We don’t get a great deal of say in which students start Maths at A level – of course we have a minimum grade at GCSE of a B (and there could be argument that this should be an A) as an entry requirement, but in reality it isn’t always that simple. What inevitably happens though, is that any C grade students just won’t cope with the work involved and very quickly makes the decision not to continue (thinking about it, we’ve not had a grade C student start the course for a couple of years). The jump from KS4 to KS5 in maths particularly, is massive and some students won’t be able to cope – over the last couple of years the department  has tried different ways of smoothing this transition – it could be argued that what we are essentially doing is putting hurdles for the students to overcome (if you were of a negative frame of mind!) but in reality it’s about making sure that the right students are on the course and not wasting a year of their lives.

During the summer term our 6th form team collate names of students that have registered an interest in maths at A level and these students are invited into a “taster day” – its not really a day –  more like a few hours. Each KS5 teacher has about 20/25 minutes to cover a specific topic to give the students an idea of the level of work – one of these sessions is always planned to be particularly stretching. We’ve tried to make attendance mandatory but policing this is difficult.

When the results are given to the students (this Thursday … eeek!!) our students sign up for their choice of A levels, and it is at this point that those students who have chosen maths are given a book (CGPs Head Start to AS Maths) as a kind of Summer homework to work through, until the start of term, and during one of their initial lessons they are tested on this work. We haven’t yet introduced a minimum result that needs to be achieved, as there is very little that can be done at this stage, apart from supporting those students that need helping (there is a whole big picture thing to be considered so I’m told). As a school though our year 12s have a sort of probation period for the first half term and each of their subjects, their mentor and the 6th form team have to sign off on them achieving certain key targets (Its called a SIC card, which I think stands for Student Induction Card … possibly? but I’ll check in a couple of weeks) – this has worked really well in setting expectations in terms of attendance and appearance but we have some work to do (in my opinion), in ensuring students understand the scale of the “jump” to A level.

Our biggest challenge is ensuring that the students are doing sufficient work in their own time – even if it is set as homework it’s a big challenge. Last year we introduced compulsory study sessions (1 per week) in which the students work independently within a maths classroom – where the teacher is available to answer any queries they have. This seemed to have had some impact with year 13 having just achieved the best results at KS5 ever (including our first A*) and if our timetables allow this I suspect it will continue. However the issue remains about how to get the students doing additional work in their own time  – @MissieMaths (on twitter) is trialling the use of log books and I like that idea, so will be suggesting it to the teacher in charge of KS5.  

I’m not sure what else we can do but its an area that we need to focus on so any ideas you have … leave a comment below!! Any suggestions will be gratefully received.