Planning preparation and practice bring solid GCSE (9-1) results

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Name Queen Elizabeth Grammar School    
Type Grammar School    
Location Penrith, Cumbria    
Cohort GCSE Maths cohort size: 126 Cohort EAL: 6.3% Cohort SEN: 6.3%

Background

Queen Elizabeth Grammar School is a mixed school and has been a Pearson maths collaborative hub since 2015. It faced similar challenges to other schools when the GCSE (9-1) curriculum was introduced particularly regarding teaching additional content in the limited time they had. 

Nadine Ford - Queen Elizabeth Grammar School

Nadine Ford, Head of Mathematics, discusses how the school overcame these hurdles to deliver a very solid set of results.

Delivering extra content without extra time was a challenge

At the start of the process, we faced similar challenges to other schools in that we had to fit in teaching additional content, without a significant increase in teaching time until Year 11. We also had to ensure we got the students used to the new style of questions with increased problem-solving. It was difficult for all our staff to feel confident with the new grades.

A focus on content and extra practice was crucial

To address the challenges we focused on content during the lessons to ensure that we had taught this in full and as early as possible. We also ran a lunchtime club for students to practice the new style exam questions. As Head of Department, I sought information from other schools to support my thinking on grade boundaries using Just Maths’ collation of anonymous scores and grade boundaries to support my decisions. This gave me confidence that much lower grade boundaries were appropriate and that our students had scored consistently with other schools. Finally, I was honest with the students and ensured that they were aware that although their scores were comparatively lower than they had been used to in previous tests and exams, the grades were consistent with what they would have achieved under the previous exam.

Solid planning helped support Year 10 and 11 to prepare for the exams

Our focus was on teaching the content and then following this up with regular testing and we devoted time each week to problem-solving. For Year 11 students we increased the teaching time, initially focusing on finishing the syllabus. They were also strongly encouraged to attend our problem-solving lunchtime club where they worked independently or in pairs, with teacher support. Students attending this club gained hugely in confidence and increased resilience in attempting solutions.

Once we had taught everything by the end of March, we spent a lot of the time in lessons and weekly homework practicing exam papers so students would receive regular feedback and teachers were able to respond to any misconceptions and topics which needed revising.

We used all the practice papers from Edexcel, and other boards, so by exam time students had seen a genuine variety of question styles. We used past exam and specimen questions, often focusing on those with higher AO3 content. We also used KS4 Enrichment resources produced by FMSP (Further Maths Support Programme) and Corbett’s Conundrums.

Addressing issues after the mocks helped build the students’ confidence

We used the first Edexcel mock in December at the same time as the school mocks. Since the students had not fully completed the syllabus at that point, the challenge of the first mock was a shock to the majority of students with many being upset and losing confidence after receiving their results.

We used the second mock produced by Edexcel in March. This built students’ confidence as many had significantly improved their scores so could see that, with continued practice, they could continue to improve further. Both mocks provided us with valuable information so that staff could spend lunchtimes and after school sessions working with students who were lacking confidence or underperforming.

The support we had from Edexcel was excellent. Having two mocks and six practice papers was invaluable to both teachers and students in terms of understanding what to expect in the final exam. The detailed information available to teachers based on the mock results submitted to ResultsPlus was incredibly useful and helped to confirm the grade boundary choices we had made.

Our focus on problem-solving was a key factor for the final exams

The final assessments were probably marginally easier overall than the mocks; there was definitely increased challenge and problem-solving alongside some more straightforward questions.

We think encouraging the majority of students to attend the Problem-Solving Club increased the time Year 11 spent practicing and this was a significant factor in helping students prepare for the exams. Also having access to detailed information relating to other schools’ results and grade boundaries throughout this process gave us confidence about where our students were so we could track them accurately and know who needed support.

Key learnings are helping shape our future GCSE (9-1) strategy

By the time we sufficiently understood the new exams the students were already part way through Year 9. We made a decision to begin the GCSE teaching in Year 9 for later year groups but it was too late for this cohort. We have subsequently taken a much bolder step to teach fewer topics in Year 7 and 8 but spend greater time exploring topics and mastery to ensure that students have a really deep understanding. We have gradually started introducing more problem-solving into the lessons lower down the school. I think this will have a significant impact on results going forward and students’ confidence to tackle new and unusual problems.

The outcome – very happy students and staff

We were very happy with our final results. All our students got at least a Grade 4 and the vast majority a Grade 5 or above. Roughly, two thirds of our cohort achieved a grade 7 or above with over a third getting Grades 8 or 9.

To build on this success we are already changing the way we teach throughout the school to a Mastery approach. Beginning with this year’s Year 7, we have moved away from a spiral curriculum to ensure that we have time to teach deep understanding. We believe that teaching for deep understanding is the best way to enable students to tackle the new content and really be able to problem-solve properly.