Getting ready to deliver a new qualification can be quite daunting, from timetabling and schemes of work to resourcing and assessments. When you add to this getting to grips with a different teaching approach to support the open-ended problem-solving skills that Core Maths students need, you begin to appreciate the enormity of the task.
I’ve asked some teachers to give their insight into delivering Core Maths and to highlight the support that is available for getting started.
Dan Heller is Maths Curriculum Leader at King Edward VII School in Sheffield, Sue Rowing is the recently retired Assistant Head Teacher and Head of Maths at South Bromsgrove High, and Sam Barker is Head of Core Maths at Saffron Walden County High School.
The lessons they have learnt and the advice they give will be helpful if you are just starting to deliver Core Maths or are considering introducing it at your centre.
Dan: King Edward VII School is an inner city comprehensive, with a large sixth form (around 300 in each year) and roughly 100 of these take either Maths or Further Maths.
A long-standing problem was retention in A Level Maths from Y12 to Y13. This was due to three main reasons:
So, when Core Maths came along it seemed to address these issues. It was designed specifically to help students learn maths skills that could be applied to other subjects, it was not the size of another full A Level and it did not have the algebraic rigour needed for success in A Level Maths.
I applied for ‘Early Adopter’ status so was able to start teaching Core Maths to our first cohort in September 2015.
Sue: We wanted more students to maintain their mathematical skills after GCSE. As A Level Maths isn’t appropriate for all students, we thought Core Maths would be an ideal alternative. There was an opportunity to take part in the original pilot scheme and after one year, we were hooked!
Sam: I first began teaching Core Maths as part of a timetable reshuffle to cover a maternity leave. I had absolutely no idea what Core Maths was or how to deliver it and that first term was a very steep learning curve!
Dan: OCR Core Maths seemed to have been developed as something other than a ‘halfway house’ between GCSE and A Level which was how the other exam boards sample assessment material seemed to be treating it.
Sue: We do GCSE and A Level with OCR, so it made sense to use the same exam board. We felt that the Core Maths course followed on very nicely from the GCSE.
Dan: The exemplar questions produced by OCR were set in real contexts and required students to apply a range of techniques in novel and interesting ways. Whilst this wasn’t ‘open ended problem solving’, it seemed to be more in the spirit of the intention of the qualification.
At first, we recruited quite heavily from students studying biology and psychology, so the statistical problem solving component in Core Maths B was a good fit for us. An introduction to Spearman’s rank, normal distribution, etc. was just what those students needed. Over time we have skewed towards engineering students taking the course alongside BTEC Level 3, so the critical maths skills, including Fermi estimation in Core Maths A, are a better fit for their needs.
Sue: We have been happy with the style of questions and support from OCR and liked the style and format of the Core Maths papers.
Dan: As an early adopter centre, we were able to access the Core Maths Support Programme (CMSP), and regular face-to-face meetings helped to galvanise our ideas about how to approach the teaching of the course. In recent years, the Advanced Maths Support Programme (AMSP) has been invaluable in providing a forum to discuss and share ideas, including the new board-based Core Maths networks. I would strongly suggest that teachers involved, or interested, in teaching Core Maths join these networks, as the issues involved in Core Maths teaching are subtly different from those in other qualifications.
Sue: We started off with the Head of Faculty taking the course and then we steadily trained up other members of the department. We built up resources and stored them on our network. Core Maths is part of our sixth form enrichment option process and we run the course for one lesson per week for two years, but we would ideally like to run it for one year with two lessons per week.
Sam: I realised that I had to invest some time to really discover what it was all about – this was how I found out about AMSP and the Core Maths festivals. I felt I had found a community of like-minded individuals, all of whom loved what we thought Core Maths was about, but many of whom had confusions about how to deliver it, how to best engage students and how to make the course as fabulous as we thought it could be.
I set about rewriting the scheme of work. I had a strong belief that it needed to be more topic led – sure, we had to teach the new elements of maths, but we had to deliver them in the context of the subject and with relevance to real-world settings. This was my starting point. I began looking at contexts and situations which were relevant to our students and to build the maths around them.
This is now evident in our first term where we teach students how to manage their finances, how and when they will repay their student loans, and how to set up a driving school. I built in some of the lessons from MEI Integral and then made sure I had covered all the outcomes in the OCR specification. We ran the scheme of work for the first time in 2020/21 and we’ve been refining it for next year.
Dan: We have fluctuated in our ideas of pedagogy within Core Maths, starting from a position of learning new techniques through exploration, which was not always successful (often downright unsuccessful) and we now tend to ‘teach’ new content in much the same way that we would at GCSE or A Level, followed by giving students problems which allow them to practice these skills (along with skills from earlier in the course and to recap GCSE ideas). These activities are often a mixture of tried and tested activities, and questions to explore based on current events or news stories.
Sue: We have tried to make the course more ‘hands on’ where possible. For example, we have generated our own data for correlation, and we have also used up-to-date real-life information such as house prices, to bring more relevance to topics.
Dan: The relatively small amount of content allows us to constantly recap and review the topics that students find difficult (such as use of normal distribution, exponential models). But being able to see the same topic used in a variety of contexts allows students the opportunity to be able to decide when to apply that technique, rather than automatically assuming which technique to use.
Sue: We haven’t found any topics really tricky. The best approach for us has been to get stuck in and explore the maths and see where it takes us! That has made it more challenging and enjoyable for the students and the teachers.
Dan: We have found the material available through MEI Integral to be invaluable in planning our schemes of work and have developed a bank of our own resources to use alongside these. The new textbook from Illuminate Publishing looks good too, and we are looking forward to being able to use that in the new year. In addition, all the old CMSP material can be found on STEM learning.
Sue: We have made good use of the AMSP, MEI Integral, STEM learning and NCETM materials. We also like the OCR guides and resources.
Dan: Without a doubt, the most vibrant and up to date resources, ideas and discussion can always be found on Twitter by following the hashtags #CoreMaths and #CoreMathsChat.
Sue: Establish a strong profile throughout school, that it’s cool to do maths!
Sam: I’ve learnt that Core Maths is not for everyone. There will be some teachers who do not enjoy the wonder of a discussion about how long the queue for the toilets could be on a hot day in London Zoo or how many ice-creams might be sold. They do not enjoy the interweaving of the maths, the building in of Excel skills, graph interpretation and standard deviations rather than the direct delivery of it, but for me and many of my colleagues, OCR Core Maths has given us the chance to explore how wonderful maths is in the real-world and how useful it can be to understand percentages and log scales.
My top tips are:
I hope the information raised here helps you to prepare for teaching Core Maths at your centre. For more support and resourcing, please visit our planning and teaching pages for Core Maths A and B.
If you have any queries, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Maths. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
Ruth has worked in the OCR maths team since 2014. Before joining OCR, Ruth taught maths in the UK, New Zealand, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. Ruth worked on the development of the reformed A Level maths qualifications for first teaching in 2017 and she supports our Level 3 maths qualifications.