This week our Subject Leaders are presenting to the SLT on their summer results and lessons learnt for the coming year. One of our most successful department is maths. We are a large 12-16 comprehensive school, with a Y11 cohort of around 360. This year 80% of students achieved A*-C (NA 64%) and 23% an A*-A (NA 17%). The department is led brilliantly by Lee Ridout, who has a very sharp, no-nonsense approach to subject leadership. This post is an attempt to capture some of the things he does, to ensure such high achievement.
- Don’t wait to identify the students who are underachieving. Schools are very data rich places, so don’t wait until the first formal assessment in October or whenever, to identify students are struggling. Identify the students who were underachieving last year now (September), because if nothing else changes – they are likely to underachieve again this year. The sooner teachers know who they are, the sooner they can start working with them.
- Use homework to support the best type of intervention – quality first teaching. In maths, homework is used to diagnose issues and then work on addressing them. So homework is not just handed in, marked and then given back. Instead a lesson is given over to going through it, picking out issues that it has thrown up i.e. what can’t the students do and then addressing this, by modelling the solutions and then giving students the opportunity to practise and consolidate their weak areas.
- This is only works if it is done consistently. So homework scores are logged centrally and parental contact is expected if students are not attempting the homework. This also allows Lee and the team to spot patterns of students who are not doing their homework.
- Again, the best type of intervention is quality first teaching. Teaching needs to have a high level of challenge for all students, irrespective of their starting points – and this is a real cultural strength of the department. Students in KS3 are regularly exposed to GCSE level work and questions. So when new teachers join the team, it’s important to check that they are teaching with the right level of challenge – to meet the expectation of the department. Don’t just assume they will be.
- Log the interventions that you do. The department logs the interventions that they do for ‘at risk’ students i.e. students at risk of underachieving. By interventions, we mean doing things differently, when students are stuck with their learning. Not gimmicky things, but things that work – and of course the best intervention of all is high quality, responsive teaching. To support staff with planning interventions we have slightly adjusted the old ‘waves’ model of intervention, to make it more meaningful:
WAVE 1: High quality responsive teaching – what are they struggling with and how can I address it through my teaching?
WAVE 2: Focused teaching/ support of identified individuals/ groups in lessons who are stuck.
WAVE 3: Specific interventions for identified individuals/ groups outside of lessons.
- The advantage of logging interventions is that it keeps a record of what you have tried for individual students. This helps you to reflect on what’s worked and what hasn’t – and so try different things. If it isn’t working, there’s no point in sticking with it. Try something different.
- Small group extraction groups – wave 3 interventions. It’s easy to put these in place and think ‘that’s my intervention done!‘ But they only work well if there is planning between the class teacher and the intervention teacher – what have the students struggled with? Why have they struggled with it? What do they need to practise more? Then after the session, how they did – so the teacher can build on the session in lessons. If there isn’t this communication, the support will not be personalised. And following the period of support, look to see if it has mad a difference to the student – can they now do what they couldn’t before? Has their achievement improved? If it hasn’t, scrap it and try something else!
- Revision sessions. We all do them – but be more targeted with them. Contact parents and invite the ones that need to attend. Make sure the sessions have a specific focus and well planned out e.g. base the sessions around topics that students have struggled with.
- Follow up behaviour. If student behaviour is not good, always deal with it consistently and in line with school expectations and seek support from the subject leaders – and always follow it up with a phone call home. This reminds me of what my first Head of Science said to me as an NQT – “If they’re being disrespectful to you, they’re being disrespectful to me and my subject….and I aint having that!”
- Find out what they are stuck on and unstick them. Following tracking points (key assessments), staff have to identify key topic weaknesses and then the maths leaders put together booklets which have worked examples, revision notes and questions for students to complete personal to the student. The subject teacher then contacts home, explains that the booklets will be sent home, and ask that parents see students complete the work and send it back in to school for marking. Maths leaders work with subject teachers to make sure students return the booklets for marking so they can see if progress has been made.
- Lots of exam question deliberate practice. At the end of Y9, get students to sit a GCSE exam paper – as a start of things to come! Then lots of exam question practice most lessons – with lots of modelling and peer critique.
- Use the skills of your staff. Play to their strengths and use staff with classes where they have a track record of success – whether it be with more able students or low ability students. Maths are trying this, this year with underachieving pupil premium students.
Most importantly of all, it’s about working as a team – and this is why the maths department are so successful. And for that, we have much to learn from geese…..