Maths Faculty Review

Discovery Academy
Mathematics Review: 12 April 2016
Robert Barbour

During this visit I made half-lesson visits to eight lessons, scrutinised work, looked at progress data for Year 11 students, spoke with a group of Key Stage 3 and a group of Key Stage 4 students and held discussions with the Head of Faculty and the Principal. I also gave feedback to each teacher whose lesson I observed.

Outcomes:

There have been no further GCSE results since my last visit, but there have been sets of mock exams which give a positive picture of current progress. More able students are making much more progress than previously. The number of A/A* grades looks set to increase significantly. The improvement in their progress has occurred mostly during the past six months, so that their 5-year progress is unlikely to be in line with national rates of progress, but lesson-by-lesson progress appears to be good. The 2016 GCSE results for other ability groups is likely to show progress much closer to national averages.

I did not have time to explore Year 10 data, and the new GCSE clouds this year group in some uncertainty. However a scrutiny of books suggests to me that 2017 results show every prospect of making the 5-year profile of progress to be good.

Teaching, Learning, Assessment and Curriculum:


The quality of teaching was better on this visit than on any of my previous visits and, crucially, I noted a consistency of quality across the team.  In particular:

  • The climate for learning was positive with a relaxed but business-like ethos. Behaviour was good. Students showed resilience when faced with harder questions. Expectations have increased.
  • Teachers explained concepts clearly. I was pleased to see more emphasis being placed on understanding rather than simply process, although there is still more to do in this area.
  • Where I saw evidence of progress over time in classes, I note that good progress has been made since September 2015, even though in many cases the longer term profile is less certain because of previously less good teaching.
  • Teachers asked good open questions that stimulated discussion. This discussion benefitted from being structured such as the use of thinking time or ‘think, pair, share’. This is helping to develop the reasoning strand of the new mathematics National Curriculum.
  • Students are presented with questions that apply their techniques to unfamiliar situations.
  • The Year 7 mastery programme is being introduced effectively, although more support is needed to help teachers plan for providing for the needs of the more able through greater depth rather than acceleration.
  • The quality of marking and feedback is now a strength of the faculty. Students find the programme of regular assessment helps them to learn. More may need to be done to integrate this system more coherently into the school’s wider plans for ‘assessment without levels’.

Students had a much more positive view of mathematics than was the case on my previous visits. I was especially encouraged by the number of Year 10 students thinking of taking maths to A-level. Students knew that they were making progress and were happy with the rate of that progress. They said that they had regular homework and in sufficient quantity and that it helped them to learn. They did, however, say that they would like more ‘fun’ or variety of activity in lessons.

This ‘fun’ comment is related to the breadth of teaching being currently somewhat narrow. Good groundwork has been laid by two members of the department being part of an NCETM group on problem solving. There has also been some other preparatory work. The time is ripe now for this experience to be mapped into the schemes of work for each group for the next academic year, so that students all encounter more problem solving during the year. This will both help implement new National Curriculum expectations and also make maths learning more fun, with open-ended activity, team challenges, investigations etc. It will also provide opportunity for real data to be used and for students to present results on occasion for class display.

Numeracy across the Curriculum


I did not have time to explore this in detail, but I note that the Head of Faculty has a plan to develop this. I note that an audit of maths use across departments has been completed and that some whole school training has been delivered. Extra numeracy practice is provided with certain skills to particular groups across the whole school. A new calculation policy is to be developed later this term in consultation with some partner primary schools. I offer two insights that I hope will be helpful:

  • The calculation policy could stress the value of estimating an answer first to get a feel for what is a reasonable result. Then a conscious choice can be made as to whether a particular calculation is best tackled mentally, by a written method, or with a calculator, and then checked against the estimate.
  • There is often a need to screen a new Year 7 cohort for gaps in very simple skills that should have been learned in Year 3 or 4. Students can gain a level 4 (or the new equivalent) and still hide deep-seated weakness. I have provided the Head of Faculty with a list of very simple skills that other schools have found useful for this purpose.

Leadership and Management

I am impressed with the rate of progress in the mathematics faculty and the very positive morale displayed by the maths team. It is clear that a great deal of well-directed hard work has taken place. In particular I was pleased to see how quickly my recommendation for higher expectations for the most able has been implemented. The rate of improvement thus far indicates that school and faculty leaders have good capacity for further improvement.

Areas for Improvement:

  • Integrate problem solving activities into the scheme of work for each year group.
  • Develop further the way teachers foster the understanding of topics as well as the methods and processes needed.
  • Develop and implement a calculation strategy across the school.
  • Provide further support for students with deep-seated calculation difficulties.
  • Consider further how to develop the school’s approach to assessment without levels.