We Teach Maths - Blog and News Updates


3 November 2015 - Enriching your curriculum offering

GCSE Statistics - What is the point?

A bit of background

In recent years, the popularity of GCSE Statistics has grown dramatically in secondary schools across the UK. Many departments have opted to enter students as a way of supplementing their GCSE Mathematics learning and enriching their curriculum offering to their students.

During the 5 A*-C era, the benefits of GCSE Statistics were obvious:
    • Significant overlapping content between the qualifications meant high attainers in GCSE Mathematics were able to transfer their knowledge and achieve good grades in GCSE Statistics with relative ease.
    • GCSE Statistics could be used to boost a school’s 5 A* - C measure without the need to dedicate significant resources or teaching time to it.
However, with the introduction of Progress 8 new consideration will be needed when deciding on which students are appropriate for the qualification.
GCSE Statistics – The Upside
In the new Progress 8 measures, in order to promote a curriculum that is wide-ranging, qualifications that have a significant amount of overlapping content are discounted against each other. However, contrary to the opinion of many, the DfE have recently stated that the content in the GCSE Mathematics and GCSE Statistics specifications is not sufficient to warrant such discounting.
Therefore, GCSE Statistics will be allocated in a student’s Progress 8 “Open Group” and in certain circumstances it can be used to easily improve your performance measures.
Which students could you enter?
This is where everything changes.
In previous years, departments entered students who were likely to achieve a Grade C or above in Statistics so it could be utilised in their 5 A*-C count. With Progress 8, this is no longer the only criteria that will need to be considered when selecting your candidates.
    • High attainers in GCSE Mathematics should continue be entered. Due to the overlapping content and similar skill requirements, a student’s grade in GCSE Mathematics is a reasonable indicator for what they will achieve in GCSE Statistics. As a result, your Mathematics high attainers are likely to perform well in Statistics too.
    • Students who are struggling to fulfil their “Open Group” requirements or could achieve a better grade in Statistics when compared to another subject should now be considered. This is actually the key decision that needs to be made as they may perform better in GCSE Statistics which leads to a better allocation of grades in their Progress 8.
Controlled Assessment – The Big Drawback
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as identifying your students, getting them to sit the exam and keeping your fingers crossed for a positive outcome. As part of the qualification, all students must complete a piece of Controlled Assessment which represents 25% of their final grade. This is usually the key factor that discourages many schools away from the qualification.
Those who do decide to enter pupils for the qualification attempt to minimise the impact of the coursework by providing extra sessions after school for students. This means they don’t have to allocate time from their core maths lessons enabling their students to continue as normal in their preparations for the GCSE Mathematics exam.
How can we help?
Luckily, the coursework requirements from the exam boards are very specific. Every year, each exam board publishes a list of topics that must be followed in the coursework and, for this reason; coursework between students does not vary widely.
As part of our support to schools, we are currently in the process of examining the recently published coursework guidelines from AQA and will shortly be publishing our 2015-2016 Controlled Assessment Support Resources. This includes our:
    • Student Support Booklet – a step by step guide to completing the coursework with worked examples, support on how to use Excel / Word in their coursework and bullet point lists on how to structure your investigation.
    • A comprehensive database that is applicable to the coursework topic which can be distributed and used by your students. Great way to speed up the planning section and ensure that all of your candidates have access to the necessary data for their investigation.
    • Specific criteria for every section in the coursework which details what they will need to do to hit each grade. In our opinion, the coursework requirements are quite transparent which allows us to provide advice on what will need to be included at each grade level and, more importantly, how to apply it to the respective coursework scenario.
    • Exemplar Coursework – for many students, it will be the first time they undertake a lengthy investigation in Maths and they will need considerable guidance. Exemplar coursework is a simple yet effective resource that you can distribute to your students.
What Next?
It’s never too early for middle leaders and SLT to start considering who they may enter for the qualification. It’s especially important to start identifying students who may struggle to fulfil the requirements for their Progress 8 Open Slot or scenarios where they can improve the allocation using GCSE Statistics. It may be that you want to allocate extra support or give them extra time on the coursework to ensure they maximise their grade.
It is imperative that you begin to think about your staffing requirements and consider any CPD that will be needed. It’s likely that this will be the first time your staff have gone through the coursework and training sessions may be needed to ensure they are fully aware of the demands and requirements that it entails.
Luckily, there’s no rush to start the coursework immediately, but you will need to give thought as to when you want to do it. In particular, it’s a good idea to consider the coursework requirements and deadlines of other GCSE subjects and attempt to do it when the workload of your students is minimised.
Speak to us
We are well aware that the demands and pressure of GCSE Mathematics is high enough on its own, but if you are currently considering GCSE Statistics and have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be more than happy to give you further guidance and answer any questions you may have.

21 October 2015 - Progress 8 Analysis

How are you monitoring your Year 11 students as they work towards their final exam?

With the introduction of the new Progress 8 Measures, middle leaders in Maths need to quickly focus their attention on how Progress 8 will impact their GCSE intervention this year. For the first time in a long while, no longer will departments automatically dedicate additional resources to their C/D borderline students.
In a nutshell, Progress 8 measures students against similar students in the country. Using a student's KS2 average score in English and Mathematics, every pupil is assigned a target which are derived by looking at the expected progress of similar students in the previous academic year. The old 3 Levels of Progress is effectively redundant as students with different KS2 profiles are expected to make different amounts of progress.
Every student with prior KS2 data is given an individual progress 8 contribution. Students who exceed their target points are positive and students who fail to hit their target are negative, with the department's progress 8 score being calculated by taking the mean average of every student's score. Therefore, quite literally, every student counts.
Middle leaders and SLT will need to be keenly aware of every student's Progress 8 target points and compare this to their current attainment. Internal assessments need to be scrutinised and Progress 8 should be monitored and updated on an ongoing basis. Students who are struggling to meet their Progress 8 target will not necessarily be in a particular group or subset, they are just as likely to be your high attainers as they will have significantly higher targets because of their higher KS2 attainment levels.
It is more important than ever to have a rigorous and accurate internal assessment policy to ensure that students are identified quickly and the necessary therapy is put in place. 
How can I improve our Progress 8 in the short term?
  • Students who are close to moving up a grade. All assessments should be fine graded so that you can see which students were close to the higher grade boundary. If you can push these students over to the higher grade quickly, they can improve your Progress 8 quickly.
  • Students who are considered disadvantaged will need to be identified. Results about your disadvantaged students will be published so you need to ensure these students are making progress in line with expectations.
  • Move U's to a Grade G. Achieving a Grade G in GCSE Mathematics scores a students 0 points, so you need to minimise the number of students who fail to record a grade.
Departments will need to provide intervention in "waves". The students you give extra attention to now will be different to those you choose in January - use your latest assessment data to continuously update your intervention and make sure your limited resources are being used efficiently.

Regular internal assessments will provide you with new data, and you may need to change the students you focus on. Early intervention will be key, and will allow you to support and help many of your students in their final year of GCSE Mathematics.
With the changes to the progress measures, many schools are investing in third party data analysis tools. Our recommendation is using SISRA as it provides accurate data that can be filtered to look at different subsets or categories of students.
We will be providing our member schools with our Progress 8 What If Analysis spreadsheet shortly which will allow departments to speculate and predict movements in their Progress 8 score. 

20 October 2015 - Grading under the new GCSE Specification

Why have we published grade indicators on our website?

Over the last few months, each of the examination boards has stated that we can no longer directly map topics from the old specification across to exact grades in the new specification.
On the 30 September, AQA further clarified this point in a blog post on their website. Ben Stafford, the Maths Qualification Manager at AQA, stated that “exam boards are required to take some of the standard content, and ask it in a way that will stretch even the brightest of pupils”. Inevitably, this has caused significant problems for departments across the country. Not only do they have to adapt to the new specification which contains far more content than the previous specification, but they also now have to prepare for life without grades.
In order to support some of our member schools, we have designed 5 schemes of work with detailed learning objectives for each topic. Despite being unable to directly map whole topics to a particular level, teachers and senior leaders will still need to consider how they are going to monitor and report on their pupils as they advance through the course. To facilitate this, we have designed topics tests that are aligned to each learning objective in our scheme of work. In our topic progress trackers, where we indicate a grade or a level, we are indicating the approximate difficulty of that particular question in the topic test. This will allow teachers to be able to report with a reasonable degree of accuracy on the level that the pupil is currently working at.
As you will notice in our grade indicators, topics regularly appear across a number of grades. For example, solving problems involving decimal numbers, appears from Grade 1 all the way up to Grade 5. This is our attempt to map the difficulty at which that topic could be assessed in their final examination and the level of difficulty that we have attempted to prepare exam-style questions for.
Having spoken to a number of our member schools over the last 2 weeks, it is obvious that schools are approaching life without grades very differently. Some are choosing not to report any grades to students, parents or senior leaders but instead, are simply using the topic tests as a diagnostic tool. They are only using the tests to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of their pupils and form a profile for each student which can then be used for intervention / therapy.
On the other hand, some departments have said that they are going to use the grade indicators in some form. A few departments have reported that requirements from senior leaders means that they need to report approximate grades of students and some have reported that they are communicating these approximate grades to the pupils as an indication of the difficulty of work they are looking at. English and Maths are in the unfortunate position where they are the only subjects who are struggling with this issue.
At the moment, parents fully expect to be given information on their child’s current grade as this is what they have received ever since their child started school. Over the course of the next few years this is likely to change. Other subjects will catch up as they move into their new specification and parents will become more informed on the new designs of the national curriculum. Even if some of our member schools chose to report approximate grades to their students this year, they may not do this next year. 
At this point in time, schools and senior leaders need to careful consider updating their internal assessment and reporting models following the recommendations of exam boards. Topic tests and internal assessments should only be used diagnostically, and any reported grades should be given with caution and as a last resort. This is a major time of transition for departments across the country and many will take time to adapt.

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