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Success, TES Awards and the power of consistency

19 February 2020

5 Top Tips

by Jonathan Kay, Head of English & Maths, Tyne Coast College

In 2018/19, the English and maths team at Hartlepool College of Further Education nearly tripled the national average for GCSE maths, made great gains in GCSE English and achieved the best progress for FE colleges in the North East (within the top 5-10% of national FE colleges).

Functional Skills results exceeded national averages and retention, attendance and achievement also improved to above national average.

So, how did we do it?

In preparing to deliver a keynote at the Association of College’s English and maths conference, It’s very tempting to say that outrageously good teaching was the only factor (it was certainly a main ingredient). This wouldn’t tell the whole story.

After much reflection, it is obvious that the primary factor in achieving these results was, and is, consistency. In all areas.

As a pre-cursor to the keynote speech I will deliver at the AoC Conference, here are some details of what we did:

A strategy

Everyone in the building should know their responsibility and accountability for English and maths. This is where the Hartlepool College English and maths strategy came into being.

All staff were consulted before the document was signed off and this made the document as relevant as possible.

The strategy was part statement of intent, part encyclopaedia of college E&M and part accountability contract for all staff. No FE English and maths department can succeed without the support of all staff. We are all teachers of English and maths.

Attendance and Behaviour

Non-attendance and challenging behaviour remained key issues. So, what did we do? We redistributed workload, streamlined and became more consistent.

Consistency is powerful. It was interesting to see vocational areas attempting different strategies to address behaviour and attendance, but each approach had variable impact. With help from the Assistant Principal, we drafted a system fluid enough to deal with all students, but rigid enough for all staff to use consistently. It consisted of the below:

E&M staff took ownership of behaviour and attendance issues in the first instance with Heads of Dept having overall accountability. Vocational staff welcomed the movement of workload and gave English and maths staff a sense of empowerment and ownership.

The remaining questions persisted: what about students at stage 5? Would we withdraw students for attendance or behaviour in E&M, even if they performed well on vocational programmes?

Senior leaders supported us throughout. We withdrew students, but only after every step had been exhausted, and with vocational collaboration. Essentially, we gave everyone (and the learners) a chance to turn it around, and opportunities to make the right choices.

Vocational collaboration

If we wanted the strategy to succeed, we needed the support of all vocational staff. We consulted with regular E&M meetings with vocational leaders and we became aware of the barriers they faced in supporting us, and were able to act. We sought advice on creating contextually relevant resources and shared these resources (e.g. if a painting and decorating lecturer was teaching area to students, we sent them the maths teacher’s resources). We supported them to seamlessly embed English and maths where naturally occurring and it saved workload and ensured consistency in teaching. The same applied with ratio in hairdressing, punctuation for BTEC Sport students etc.

This opened conversation and debate, as opposed to confrontation.

Teaching, learning and assessment

Teaching was of a good standard, but teaching can always be better. We worked together to innovate assessment, cut workload and help students to be independent.

We moved away from traditional assessment and moved towards low stakes quizzing for assessment. We assessed what we had taught and didn’t give students questions they’d never covered before.

We shared resources. We built routines into lessons. Students knew what they would be doing, when and how. We engrained consistency into all aspects of teaching, learning and assessment.

We supplemented this with a very tight turnaround on administration. We beat deadlines by weeks, and knew our students inside out as a result. It was difficult, but, once we’d established those routines, confidence grew.

CPD & Networking

Meeting and greeting, asking and bidding for additional funds, visiting colleges across the land and trying to gain insights into how they do what they do, has at times left me feeling like a second-hand car salesman (all fake positivity and handshakes). The reality is that I wasn’t always sure what we were doing was going to work as I wanted it to. I thought it would eventually, but the clock is always ticking for Post-16 students in English and maths.

We started to use Secondary school CPD events, workshops and speakers. With more funding in Secondary, that’s where consultants and experts are drawn. We were invited to help organise the mE+ Conference, an annual conference supporting English and maths practitioners through CPD and workshops. The whole E&M team attended and began to use what they had learned.

Jonathan is speaking at AoC’s English and Maths Conference on 26 February and will offer lots more insights around this topic: