GCSE resit pilots – thoughts from my kitchen table

The following post is the result of a long discussion with Anna Bellamy @Anna_Maths over my kitchen table while eating dinner and drinking gin, My writing in in purple and her comments are in tardis blue if that’s not too confusing.

TLDR: We both care a lot about GCSE maths resits and currently we are feeling a bit annoyed (Germanic translation by Anna a bit annoyed = angry!) by people wanting to come in and tell us how to do our jobs.

More and more funding keeps being announced for researching GCSE maths resits. It’s great that all of a sudden people care (do they? Isn’t our problem precisely that people who don’t care, bar the funding allocated to them, are doing research into something we are deeply professionally and personally invested in, regardless of the fact that it is, on the whole, a most ungrateful teaching experience?)  but it’s been a long time coming and I’m worried by the tone of things. I’m quite protective of both my GCSE resit students and the teachers who teach them.

Too much of what I’ve seen feels like criticisms of the teachers and other people coming in to say they can solve this problem of GCSE resits if we just do x y or z. It is projects where things are being done to teachers rather than truly in collaboration and that just doesn’t feel right. This is, at least in part, explained – but not justified! – but how EEF funding is allocated. The bidding system, and the nature of the proposals, are not conductive in the slightest to an organic, teacher-led, or even teacher-centered, research. Yet, the universities keep applying for said funding – the ethical dimension of such decisions apparently not at a forefront of their concern.

Since I started teaching in 2009 I have been teaching GCSE resit classes alongside everything else from entry to A level. In that time I feel like I’ve learnt a lot, the main thing I’ve learnt though is that there isn’t a quick fix for most students.  The lesson somehow lost on the policymakers. The lesson well learnt by the universities, yet happily ignored the moment that funding becomes available, that requires a “quick fix” approach. Yes we get the occasional students who didn’t get a C/4 at school because something went wrong that is easily fixed but for most there are complicated and deeply rooted individual reasons. I love working with these students and seeing them grow in confidence but it is a long process with huge ups and downs.

We’ve seen our funding at college cut year on year, on the whole I think that this has been dealt with as well as possible but we are struggling and all of the niceties are gone*. We need more time and resources to find ways to work with these students who have come to us so damaged in terms of their mathematical experiences. The current “cure all” championed by the minister of schools, the Shanghai approach, relies heavily on the additional time available to teachers for meaningful feedback and planning – hence it is not such an unreasonable request. Yet, the government prefers to make funding  available for the research projects, rather than to empower the teachers to do their jobs better.  It beggars the question: why? I’m very lucky to work somewhere that supported trying something new and resits over 2 years but there’s no extra time or money to do this. I then get contacted by research projects where university professors with little to no experience of teaching in this setting say they are going to improve teaching, outcomes and more including ofsted results. This sudden interest of theirs emerged only when they realised that there was money to be made out of a research project. All by running 2 half days of training for teachers one in January and one later on. That’s a lot of money being put into what amounts to a day of training for a few teachers.

Talk to the teachers who are already doing this day in day out, we’re generally a bit tired and overworked but there is a wealth of experience, energy and desire to help improve the experience and outcomes for these students.

*by niceties I really mean incredibly valuable things like cutting the librarians, learning support, fluffy subjects like dance and drama that help to engage the vulnerable and hard to reach students, admin staff to do some of the jobs on that once upheld list of things teachers shouldn’t do. So not really niceties at all!