The 2015-16 academic year began with emphasis from the new Principal that maths and English outcomes had to improve. As part of a management restructure, my role as Director of Curriculum (DOC) was created to lead both the strategic and operational work required.

From our first meeting with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) it was evident that we needed to make some significant changes to improve maths and English outcomes – and backing from our Senior Leadership Team was fundamental in driving this agenda forward.

We allocated specialist rooms, changed the number of hours allocated to GCSE, changed the delivery to more individualised learning, and we set up ETF training for our maths and English staff.

Part of our challenge was to change the attitude and culture at Havant & South Downs College (HSDC) to these subjects, and investing in these teaching teams demonstrated the college’s commitment to achieving this.

A whole team effort

Our college-wide approach meant that we could make significant improvements across communication, attendance, assessment and progress monitoring and performance development. Across all areas of HSDC, the culture of expectations was made very clear: this was everyone’s responsibility.

Communication started with a rewrite and simplification of our maths and English policy, to make it more accessible to staff. This was supported by regular communication from the Principal and Deputy Principal, to staff, students and parents.

We produced a weekly newsletter to provide an update on exam dates, revision dates and what to embed in lessons that corresponded with the maths and English schemes of work.

We also ensured our staff were involved in work experience and trips. To communicate the importance of these subjects to learners, we mass-produced posters for each department and every classroom to identify different career paths that maths and English can open the doors to.

Overcoming the challenge of attendance

Attendance has probably been our greatest challenge of all and so this is where we invested much of our time. We re-established roles and expectations so that it was clear that attendance was the responsibility of tutors.

The departmental managers were also clear that they were responsible for their learners attending these subjects. New attendance reports were created and published that allowed us all to focus on maths and English comprehensively and intervene where required.

Part of our focus was on exam attendance with a media campaign to students, parents and staff about exam and revision dates. Free exam breakfasts were provided along with last minute drop-in revision sessions.

In the classroom, there was an emphasis on assessment and progress monitoring. An initial assessment at enrolment, diagnostic assessments at points throughout the year and formal mock exams in January all helped to track learner progress.

As part of our mid-year Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) monitoring reviews, new review meetings for maths and English required subject managers to present projected outcomes and propose new actions to continue progress.

Upskilling staff

Performance development started with upskilling teaching staff through ETF workshops and this gave our staff the opportunity to network with other colleges. A significant amount of time has been invested in attending Association of South East Colleges events, visiting other colleges and working with local schools to improve our delivery.

We have focused on improving the teaching and learning in these lessons, robustly challenged mediocrity and invested in staff to support their development. We hosted an ETF workshop in ‘using technology in maths’ – and two of our staff with Ofsted inspection experience completed joint observations with our maths and English managers to validate our judgements.

Raising standards

The journey of improvement will never be completed, and maths and English remains the first item on our latest College QIP. We still face challenges, particularly with attendance. However, there has been a marked improvement on where we were two years ago, and importantly we now feel the culture at HSDC has changed.

Maths and English are no longer missed from meeting agendas or seen as ‘someone else’s problem’ – they are at the forefront of everything we do, and every member of staff knows that these subjects are crucial to our continued success.

Ashley Grute is Director of Curriculum at Havant & South Downs College.

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