Monday, 11 September 2017

The dreaded first week of teaching; Get a headstart

A long time coming, and a long time for people to wait for me to update the blog posts. It's been a wild and bumpy ride over the last few months, as such, my blog has suffered as a result. I started the blog feeling so passionate and so pleased with it's progress, however days turned to weeks then to months and I still didn't have the time to focus on it fully and give it the care and attention it deserved.

What have I been up to? I actually have been busy addressing other parts of my personal life in the form of a new relationship (oooooo, check you!) as well as taking on a new hobby; boxing. Boxing for me has been a lifesaver when it comes to how I deal with and handle stress within the classroom, it's comforting to know that once a week I can work it out and push myself to my absolute limit to take the edge of my time in the classroom. I took part in a charity boxing match raising over £150 for Cancer Research UK. I guess if there is any excuse for my lack of blogging, it's probably that.

Well, at least I was keeping fit! (Image courtesy of

Back to it and we are back from summer holiday! The seemingly short break has brought us into a dreary and cold September. Students are buzzing through the hallways and creating havoc within the FE classroom but today was a landmark for the majority of them within our college. It would be their first lesson of Maths within our setting. Initially as I went into each class today, a sea of subdued faces greeted me as I wandered around the room. It got me thinking about how I would share this feeling with others, and what other teachers within this environment would be feeling over the next few days and weeks.

I am not going to lie, I hate delivering introduction lessons to any group, it is the bane of my life. It's so routine and dull, I could have joined the students as I was paddling through the PowerPoint slides describing what their year in maths is going to look like, a lot of confused faces when I said that they would either be Level 1 or 2 functional skills (but I've already got a 2?!)

I thought about ideas that worked well and things that I have considered over the last few hours that have made my life a lot easier in the long term. I considered different things that a lot of people would want from us as a maths department as well as what the students would want from us as their lecturers. There are several suggestions that I am going to share with you today in the hope that you give them a try and let me know how you get on.

Another list, oh how I've missed these:

1) Print all your registers before your day begins

First time I tried this, going to do this every year from now on. The value in having a list in front of you showing who you are expecting is invaluable when meeting the students for the first time. Unfortunately due to high volumes of maths students, we cannot get everyone enrolled onto their programme on time, so there may be instances where people need adding to groups or taking off them. The list also feeds into the third practice I tried today with a lot of success.
For more effect, amend any online registers at the end of your day, add notes on the bottom of it regarding behaviours, attitudes of new students etc.

2) Give out colour co-ordinated folders/books

Split them by colour, it may save time searching for files (Image courtesy of
Now, this sparks from last year when I remember having to deal with new student groups all coming in and spending the first 15 minutes of my lesson searching for folders. Little A4 cardboard wallets conveniently come in a variety of colours. What I was able to do was split all my groups with colour, so any student who attends with me at 9am on Monday will be in the blue group, 10am Green group etc. 
I am hoping as all the students should remain within the same group (positive thinking here) then nobody should have any issues finding their folder in due course. It has been really helpful for me to organise where students are going and what they are doing too, I'll let you know how it works after 6 weeks

3) Talk to students individually about their potential EAA's

Now, if you want to show you care in this environment, you need to get to know your students learning needs. This practice benefits your classroom twofold, not only do you get to know of any needs that need addressing, but you can also show your students that you are genuinely interested in their educational experience. Take the list you printed with you as you are doing this, it is going to serve as a document that should start to create your class profile (unless you get names and groups before they start, if so, share how your college do it!)

4) Start your class profile folder now

Get organised now and save yourself a headache (Image courtesy of

Don't delay, start it now and start building up your profiles over the next few weeks. Even if your groups change massively in that time, just know that you were on the ball and felt on top of it all when you started. The first half term is going to be a tough one so the more organised you are now, the better off you are going to be down the line.
My folder is currently split by days, as I teach an evening class of adult learners, I have a separate division for them, any other information can be placed in here as time goes on so see it as a go to folder for any person who may need to find out more about your classes.

Here's a few suggestions for how you should start the year, I would love to hear how you got on within your first few days, please feel free to contact me through this blog or through my Twitter profile (@feguidebook) where we can discuss and share best practice across the whole of FE.

Only 29 teaching days until half term!


Saturday, 22 April 2017

How to teach Functional Skills Maths: The FEMaths Approach

As someone who has taught Functional Skills Maths for the last 2 years and has managed the course itself for the majority of that time, I feel that I have managed to grasp some concepts and some best practice for teaching this subject in a Further Education environment, or at the very least, I hope that I am doing the best by my students within this respect.

For those colleagues who are teaching in secondary and considering the shift towards teaching further education mathematics, Functional Skills can be a rewarding programme to teach for young people. I would stress some restraint before thinking that it is an easier version of GCSE delivery for older students, Functional Skills (especially at Level's 1 and 2) will challenge your students in their mathematic ability and how they apply mathematic concepts to real life situations. An employer values functional skills qualifications as they build in problem solving skills alongside the basic mathematics that the majority of the qualification covers within a workplace setting.

Functional Skills in English, Maths and ICT were originally introduced in education from 2012, preceding it was a lengthy review of how young people achieve qualifications within these areas that differentiate from GCSE to apply contextual problem solving skills that employers value. Many major awarding bodies now accredit these qualifications within educational centres with many taking steps towards flexibility for apprenticeships and having their own take on what their questions are structured like.

Students are just embarking on their Maths journey with you, treat with care (Image Courtesy of

Functional Skills qualifications map onto the Adult Core Curriculum areas within English and Maths (The maths one can be found here for download) where differentiated levels exist from Entry Level 1 to Level 2. The majority of students within an FE college will be working towards Level 1 or 2 as a condition of their funding, however adult based learning centres and other providers may offer entry level qualifications to encourage adult learners to address embedded issues within different subject areas and build confidence in these skills.

As a manager of this course, it is incredibly important to me that functional skills delivery is not just a "duller and dumbed down" GCSE course but rather an exploratory educational experience for learners where confidence within these skills enable learners to pursue their chosen career paths confident in their application of their newfound abilities. As much as we like to teach in this environment, in the FE college environment, you have to build a resilience due to the type of learner you are likely to encounter completing these qualifications. I am going to share with you some great advice that I've learned over my experience of managing and delivering these important qualifications.

1) The worksheet should support the learning, not guide it

Your learners adapt and are constantly responding to things around them, they will need engagement to build a resilience to mathematics delivery from their previous education provider. A great example of this is how you deliver the skills to your learners, start with the basics and ensure security on them (there will be high fliers, so just be sure to challenge them a little more) before advancing onto more complex examples. Once you have built a solid foundation for students to work with, a worksheet could be implemented to encourage students to direct themselves.
I am not a fan of the worksheet (unless it's one I've made myself) but that doesn't mean I don't agree with their usage, if you intend to deliver these skills, I would recommend avoiding them for the first few lessons. From a psychological standpoint, your students have already formed an opinion conditioned from secondary school of what a maths lesson is like, try to show them something a little more inspired.

Those poor trees! Give your students something unique and inspired (Image Courtesy of

2) Examples, Examples, Examples

As you grow and develop as a lecturer, you will be able to grasp onto a variety of real-life situations where the students can apply their functional skills learning, there are some great contextual books available for specific areas to work through but I would consider developing your knowledge from other areas to gain an idea of how you can embed that within your delivery.
Best practice would call for you to observe other colleagues, but let's face it, you are going to struggle with your own time restraints to get this done effectively. Instead, I would think of examples from your own life, I regularly talk to students about having a mobile phone contract (the majority of them do as well) and we discuss all sorts of mathematical ideas (interest rates, discounts, percentages, fractions) which can be scaffolded across a whole lesson, more often then not, I get questions from students about something they aren't sure about, one of my students felt comfortable showing me what their payslip looked like and what it all means, engage them with examples they can relate to and it may help it stick when they leave your class.

3) Scaffold the questions to gain results

A big lengthy question on a certain topic is how they will be assessed in functional skills, the exams are made up of 3 parts to form the overall functional skills picture so we need to consider each part equally to ensure the best result for your learners. The majority of students really struggle with scale drawing tasks and how these relate to something they are likely to see.
Start with the basic skills and then address questions from there, start with a simple calculation and talk about it's importance for working out the next question. An example of this may be working out the cost of a meal out for each person, you may start with 5 friends going to dinner and what they had, you could then discuss the idea of tipping at a certain percentage (extra Equality and Diversity points if you discuss tipping systems in different countries) and then splitting the final bill. React to your students, if they are struggling, go for a smaller example to develop the skills then expand from there. You'll be surprised by the end of the lesson when a student who struggled to work out a percentage can tell you the cost of an evening out and give themselves a budget development lesson to boot. They may think of you when they have to financially manage themselves one day.

How do you expect learners to step into a maths problem without the proper skillset to hand? (Image Courtesy of

4) You will need to develop learners English skills

English within functional skills Maths exams is vital for ensuring learners are able to access the material that is presented to them. Some questions rely on students to pick information out of tables which are complex to gain an insight into something which they may have never heard about before. Some of my students struggled with working out the running costs of a washing machine, naturally, they've probably never thought about how they work or that it costs a certain percentage of a water or electricity bill so the more you can get them developing their English skills the better.
Your students will need to remember to read the question fully before attempting it. Some students read it, then straight away jump to "I don't know" like a safety blanket, it's what they are used to doing so you need to show some restraint and allow them to talk out their thoughts about the question. I ask questions such as "What is the situation about", "What would you do in that situation yourself", "What methods could we use here". The students we work with won't attempt it in fear of being wrong, but it is the building of resilience to try mathematical methods that will help them when they leave functional skills behind and step into the workplace for potentially the first time.

5) Finally, Praise positive efforts and encourage methods over answers

How many of your students say "Is this right?" and look for validation of whether the final answer is correct? How many check their work before asking for advice? What proportion of your students need re-assurance that they are doing the right thing before even attempting it?
The majority of functional skills students in an FE college will struggle to try in fear of being wrong, it is human nature to think that we want to be seen in the most positive way possible and our own self-image is important to our peers. I have students in some classes who won't even try because they are afraid of getting it wrong, and if they get it wrong, they get angry and the usual rhetoric appears
"I've always been bad at this" "I'm going to give up" "I don't need this anyway"
My advice, never tell a student if they are correct, instead ask this question "explain how you did it", not only does this apply the student to consider their method to gain maximum marks, but it also reinforces their skills within maths to develop their learning. As education providers, we all know that if you can explain something to someone else, it strengthens your understanding of the material itself, so get your students to teach you. Have a bit of fun with it, I say the phrase "Explain like I'm five" to get through their explanation of it, you can also expand this to popular characters "Explain it to Homer Simpson anybody?"

Give your students reason to feel good, and don't forget to laugh sometimes too (Image Courtesy of

I hope you've gained something from this long blog post about functional skills, I would love to hear others opinions on what they do in their functional skills classrooms to encourage learning of these core skills. Please leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter (@feguidebook) with more suggestions as well as ideas for other areas you would like to see covered in future posts.

Enjoy your weekend teachers, and if none of your students have said to you already, I hope you've had an enjoyable Easter Break!

- Matt

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Working with Parents in FE, what works?

There's a growing consensus in Further Education that we must enable our students to become adults, in charge of their own paths to learning and developing their enthusiasm for lifelong learning within the current educational system. In theory this works, with a lot of students working towards gaining qualifications that will help them within the working world. We need to be careful however, as with the demand for students to complete compulsory aspects of their programme, there will be a shift in the dynamic between the FE lecturer and the student.

With compulsory English and Maths, getting the parents on board with you is of great importance in the early parts of a child's education, this ensures that we can ensure that both sides are "singing from the same hymn sheet" regarding the views of the educational establishment and the parents at home. There will be circumstances which means that this doesn't make much difference to the majority of the behavioural issues that you encounter, however for the majority that want their children to complete their English and Maths, this could be the difference between grade boundaries.

There is a massive caveat here though if the student is 18 or over. According to the Data Protection Act (1998), you will need the consent of the student before you make contact about their education to their parents so make sure you get this first. This could have serious legal implications for your workplace if this is not followed and you should receive Data Protection training regarding this fact.

Be sure to read up on Data Protection information before dealing with parents (image courtesy of

I believe parent-teacher relationships are vitally important to a students learning experience, a prime example is the publication date of this post. As we are in the Easter holidays, it is vitally important for GCSE students to start or to progress within their English or Maths revision, they all need to start somewhere and giving the tools that students will need for their exams to the parents will make our jobs easier, achieve higher success in exams and promote a culture of lifelong learning to the students attempting these qualifications.

I am going to propose some actions that you should consider regarding parent involvement to your student's education in compulsory subjects such as Maths or English. As a further education provider, we need to become hubs in our local communities so that people feel confident when they step through the door that they are safe, comfortable and relaxed in learning new skills. The way we develop this is in how we market and promote our establishment to the wider community but I will save that for another blog post.

Parent-Teacher Relationships can bridge the gap in a child's educational journey (image courtesy of
Here are some things that you could do to promote a healthy parent-teacher relationship in your students, no particular order, but feel free to give them a try:

1) Update your parents on your students progress in a different way

How many of you are sick of doing reports? Yeah? Me too. Reports are a funny thing because although they can be useful, usually people (including parents) lose interest in them within a few minutes to give them much thought. I suggest an easier and up to date way of contacting those people to ensure that you are getting them to think about their students journey.
Postcards! Yes Postcards!
A massive change in my students eyes when I realised that I send postcards home to parents for students that do particularly well within their Maths exams, or within their own work. Some students feel empowered by this and it is also a great way to show that you care about your students progress (one of my students shared her postcard to her Facebook friends! Free marketing for your workplace!)

2) Hold a parents evening near the start of the year

This is important because I believe that if you had a parents evening near the start of the year then you can introduce yourself, show the qualification that their children are working towards (not many parents know what a functional skill is) and how they are going to do it. It is also a great opportunity to share access to your own VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) which can be assessed remotely from home.
Although some parents will use this, others may opt for a more personal approach in regards to their own questions regarding their students learning, give your email address out if you must (but only if you are preparing yourself for email bombardment later down the line), a telephone number is preferable, you can usually get things solved much quicker over the phone then through an email thread!

Your engagement with a parent could impact your student's future (image courtesy of

3) Suggest the parents sit their GCSE alongside their child

Not usually conventional, but adult education is huge within further education. There is a growing demand within local communities and colleges should capitalise on the free GCSE English and Maths deal that is currently available.
Some parents will take you up on the offer, it is a great way to ensure that parents are seeing how difficult the syllabus can be as well as giving them an opportunity to socialise, learn and consolidate their own learning of Maths or English.
Why pay for a private tutor, when you can do it yourself? You cannot lose.

4) A phone call goes a long way

Parents who will want contact make themselves known fairly quickly in the academic year. Both negative and positive. The main thing is to treat them as your customers, if you have a rude one, then pass them onto your manager. If you have the pleasure of dealing with co-operative and supportive parents, then the occasional phone call won't hurt.
This doesn't even need to be for a long time, 2 minutes just to update them on their child's progress, the conversation structure should be like this:

a) How their attendance has been.
b) How their application to the subject is.
c) What could be done to improve either of these.

You wouldn't physically have the time to do this with every single student, however for those who are insistent on contact, then it certainly does make a difference to know you've listened to them and respected their wishes.

What are your thoughts on parent-teacher interactions within FE? Do you think we need to be more like a secondary school? What challenges do you face with parents in FE? Leave a comment below, or follow me on Twitter (@feguidebook) for more educational ideas worth sharing

Hope you are all enjoying your holidays!

- Matt

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The U-turns in FE, what do they mean?

Some major changes are coming around within FE Maths in the near future. With the implementation of the new-spec GCSE, Maths and English staff rooms across FE have been daunted with the idea that students will struggle within the new specification, especially those who have never attempted it before.

There is a mass of students who are currently sitting current specification GCSE Maths, hoping that the majority get the result they need to achieve before the end of this academic year. With only around 30% of students every year in FE achieving a grade C by the end of their 1 year resit, there is speculation as to how FE will continue to provide for those learners who will be attempting the new specification within the next academic year. Some will say that the learners will need to adapt, however if we keep changing the goalposts, they will lose faith in education altogether. Isn't promoting lifelong learning what Further Education is all about?

One of the biggest U-turns that is expected to come about for the next academic year is the retraction of the funding policy stating that any student with a grade "D" (or soon to be 3) will have to resit their GCSE in English or Maths, instead the suggestion is that we can flexibly offer either a functional skills qualification to suit the learners needs. If learners are primarily looking at a more vocational route, there is a lot to be said for putting learners into functional skills classes over GCSE.

This U-turn may avoid a serious issue around getting students from a 3 to a 4, where at the lower end of a 3 grade, you could be seeing students who were closer to an E. In Further Education Maths, there is a massive amount of differentiation that is needed to ensure we are catering for students who are 1 mark or 19 marks off a D grade. Tutors should have the flexibility to move students to other qualifications. For some students, it is not about the maths certificate, it is about the confidence in developing their Mathematics skills for working life, and the department for education should be responsive to that need. It's just a shame it's taken two years of beating students down to get there.

Are we preparing students with maths skills for the workplace? (Image courtesy of

Paula Mcgregor put the issues down well, much better than I could, in a TES article surrounding the need for students to resit their English and Maths qualifications (Link found here). Many flaws are apparent in the current system, where we have students who are sitting a qualification which may not be targeted towards their main aim, it could be that our students want an apprenticeship, so why do we need them to sit GCSE to get there.

As an educator myself, I am all for helping students achieve their ambitions and stretching students to achieve. I do not advocate picking the easy option, but more for treating our young people like the adults we want them to become. If you sit down and ask a student what they want to do, a lot will say they don't like Maths but they just want to be able to get a job by the end. Here is the true disconnect when we force students to sit GCSE Maths with D Grades. I am thankful that the government have responded to this massive need in our current educational system.

Another serious U-turn from the DfE is the lowering of a pass mark to a 4 instead of a 5. This would have foreseen massive issues in getting students from a 4-5 as well as identifying how we can accommodate a classroom for GCSE that have a mixture of 3/4 students within it. Justine Greening suggested that "Where employers, FE providers and universities currently accept a grade C we would expect them to continue recognising a grade 4." suggesting that students will not have to attend compulsory English and maths should they achieve a grade 4. This can actually have some issues in itself however.

Follow @teacherhead on Twitter

One of the biggest issues is grade 3. What is the condition of funding for them? Do we continue with grade 3 for GCSE resits and 2/1 for functional skills? With a mixture of different grades that students will achieve in English and Maths, colleges across the country will have to come up with rigorous diagnostic assessments in order to implement how they are going to differentiate pupils who are at different levels of their Maths education.

The biggest challenges for FE seem to have been quashed, I just hope that Justine makes good on her promise to remove the compulsory need before the next academic year, or we may all be in for a tough ride. There is a lot of hope for our young people, but the system needs to adapt, rather than our students, to the priorities of the employers that will hire young people from college.

What do you think? Do you believe that we should adapt to the climate? Do you think this is a bad move for FE students across the country? Let me know in the comments what you think and how we can make Maths education within FE more accessible to our students.

- Matt

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The FE Review: Mathsconf9

An exciting and brilliant day of activities and exploring methods within Mathematics. I was lucky enough to be able to go along to Mathsconf9 based in Bristol today and as an FE Maths lecturer, it was interesting to see what changes will be made to the GCSE as well as the opportunity to connect with other maths professionals and small businesses that were present at the event.

Start of the day, I arrive nervously at the venue, City Academy Bristol, which was an excellent venue for the event, plenty of space to get around and lots to do in the early stages of the event. I visited a few stalls initially and had discussions around maths practices. One of the best people I saw was Corbett Maths displaying his revision cards at the show. We had a long discussion about maths changes to the GCSE Maths specification. It was a pleasure to share such views and to see the resources that were displayed, for me it was a great welcome and gave me the confidence to talk to some of the other stands at the event, you can buy their excellent revision cards here

EZYMaths Matt Hawes was also at the event talking about their platform for Maths revision and preparation. I have a good conversation with him about the platform, a very slick and complete maths package for students in Maths ready for the new specification with tailored videos to each question that was asked within the package. I would highly recommend you check it out here.

Then I went to AQA Maths, the current exam board for GCSE Maths that my institution uses, I spoke to Helen Arman, relationship manager for AQA in detail about the state of FE resits in Mathematics and the challenges ahead for FE students. AQA did not fail to deliver their vision to help every student and raise potential, giving me a plethora of resources to take to my workplace on Monday, I am really excited to share these with my colleagues and see their faces when I present them with the multitude of helpful ideas and posters that they gave me.

I went to several workshops during the day, each with their own takeaway message. I tweeted a lot about the events as they unfolded (follow feguidebook to see more) and felt that I had gained useful insight to the delivery of GCSE Maths for the FE students I will be teaching next year. Here is an overview of the workshops I attended, featuring the notes I made as well as my overall thoughts on how we can apply what I gained to FE Maths:

Intro & Speed Dating by Mark McCourt (@Emathsuk) and Andrew Taylor (@AQAMaths) 

Mark welcomed everyone in the theatre, I sat on one of the many places on tables near the front and was able to have a clear view of the whole talk. Mark started showing off a rather sleek format for Maths education called Complete Maths from La Salle Education. I really liked the look of this, and the benefits of the membership are massive, especially the tickets to the conferences that run across the year (Cardiff anybody?). Mark made a comment about "I cans instead of Lesson Objectives" which really rang true for my students, getting them to consolidate and secure concepts before moving forward with complex mathematics problems. Andrew from AQA Maths also presented his support for the event and encouraged us to attend his talks, which luckily enough I was aiming to go to already!

Speed dating was an interesting affair, meeting like-minded professionals like Kyle Mcdonald (@jk_mcd) who wrote an excellent blog entry on the event already as well as other FE colleagues from different colleges (@macbeanmaths) discussing different resources and functional skills applications for our learners. It was good to know that FE was in good standing at the event with a fair amount of teachers from this sector who are preparing and getting set up for the new specification in the next academic year.

I even got a share for my four four's resource from @MacBeanMaths

Nearly There - Christian Seager & Mel Muldowney (@Just_Maths)

An interesting first workshop by this dynamic team. Christian and Mel clearly care about their students and they have a clear culture of getting students through their GCSE Maths exams.
Some of the biggest takeaways I got were some behaviour strategies, such as getting students who aren't doing anything to write a post it note with their reasons and emailing it to their parents, as well as an in-detail look at how much cross-over there is from Foundation to Higher (around 30% of content)

They also gave some practical advice and tips on a variety of exam questions in which students struggled, there is a lot of Speed, Distance, Time questions within GCSE as well as Frequency Trees and Venn Diagrams that FE students will be tested on within the new spec. They also drew on making activities simpler to access, as Mel put it, the "I'm not going to finish this, so there is no point in starting" concept.

A fantastic presentation from @Just_Maths a TES Award winning Maths team (they met Dara O'Briain too which made me slightly jealous), be sure to follow them on Twitter.

Where your Y11's will go wrong in this Summer's Maths GCSE and what you can do about it now (@MrBartonMaths)

Top 10 poorest answered topics from +mrbartonmaths1 
Craig's delivery of his presentation was exceptional. I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop as it was active, engaging and showed off a lot of the FREE resources that Craig has been working on alongside AQA Maths. His use of Diagnostic Questions from their collaboration gave me food for thought in FE and how we can do things differently that our students may not have seen before. You can find a link to that resource here, I will be signing up!

One of the biggest takeaway's from this was that students do not learn from just going over past papers again and again if the concepts are not secure in the first place. Craig linked research to each of his slides and I will be looking over these in the near future. Craig talked about practicing key concepts in engaging ways and allowed opportunities to make connections to other concepts that students should secure through purposeful practice tasks.

The biggest gain in his whole presentation was the top 10 struggling areas that students struggle with based on use of his diagnostic questions. These are shown here and if gives us a frame to see what skills we need to practice with our students in FE to push D's to C's. Check out Craig's Podcast too (linked here). A really interesting workshop just before Lunch!

New GCSE Maths Exams: How our questions work and what examiners look for (@AQAMaths)

This was probably the workshop I was most intrigued about from the title. Andrew Taylor explored issues within the GCSE Maths questions and identified how they spread their marks across their papers to meet the criteria for the new specification.

This workshop gave an insight into the new papers, which for us in FE is very useful and practical for how we can work with those students who are moving from the old specification to the new spec in the next academic year. They shared examples of longer problems which I have featured here as well as how these are assessed as well as providing us with an exemplar of student responses to one of their GCSE Maths questions.
Another higher question example!

An example of a question is as follows:

"A knife is twice the cost of a spoon. 8 Spoons and 12 Knives cost £46.08. Work out the cost of 1 Knife"

Depending on the layout of the paper, you may not receive a mark for putting that 2s = 1k as they can only allocate so many AO1 (identification) marks in their papers which are usually reserved for 1 mark questions near the start of their papers, it gave me great insight into how we need to develop skills and secure concepts within maths so that our students can adapt to whatever question is thrown at them. As some of the colleagues in the conference mentioned, sometimes students could not even see the algebra within the question itself so we have to step up to ensure that students develop their approach to problem solving.

An insightful and interesting talk from AQAMaths, from one of the best exam boards for our students!

What can teachers learn from PISA? (@MickBlaylock)

"Every Year I teach, I get a little bit better"
I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, but it was an intimate and interesting workshop featuring Mick, a well experienced Maths teacher discussing research within PISA, ten questions for Maths teachers. It was interesting to see the diversity in the room from people who are teaching maths in different sectors.

Some of the more concrete takeaways from this were based around challenging students without raising maths anxiety as well as developing the need for elaboration strategies in dealing with complex Maths problems, this approach is especially helpful for developing concepts within functional skills learners.

Mick ran through the most of the 10 things, however due to time constraints we didn't get a chance to hear more. You can read the whole thing online in all it's glory here which I will be doing alongside other research that I will be undertaking as part of my QTLS qualification.

The massive takeaway for me, it one of the comments that Mick made;

"Every Year I teach, I get a little bit better"

Which rings so true to new Maths teachers and anyone who teaches within FE today to not lose hope in their own abilities to teach the new specification from the next academic year.

Overall Opinions of MathsConf9

Overall, MathsConf9 was an excellent value package, with many excellent speakers and a positive message throughout the community. I found myself talking to many different people all with passion, inspired by their own practice and thinking about ways in which we can improve the state of Mathematics education within the UK.

In the final remarks, a nice touch was to send a postcard to ourselves in a few months with a commitment to what we are going to do from today to improve. Unfortunately I couldn't find mine in my bag at the time, but my commitment will be to develop my delivery to secure concepts in maths rather than teach to an exam to try to get students through.

Overall. A highly recommended CPD event especially to the FE Community, be sure to visit La Salle Educations MathsConf Page to see if there is an event near you.

Thank you so much for reading, and I look forward to sharing what I learn over the next few months in teaching maths inspired by the amazing people and community I became a part of Saturday! Be sure to check out my twitter to see what was shared throughout the exciting day! (Twitter Link here)

- Matt

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Holistic Approach: Investing in Student's goals and ambitions

On the preface, further education is all about the Holistic approach, according to Patel (2003) we can describe holistic learning as a method of self improvement where we consider aspects of a students character in order to help them within every aspect of their working life. An example of this may be a student who is studying Level 2 Bricklaying, who has a complete programme of English and Maths embedded within their practice of learning about the trade. Are we doing the right thing by our learners within Mathematics education in FE to ensure that we are doing our best for our learners? I will be discussing the methods and approaches you can use to develop the Holistic approach within FE teaching.

Regardless of what you teach within FE or any educational sector, we have a duty to give a good, well rounded educational experience to every learner in the room. This is no easy feat, we have a lot of students who can be resistant to change as well as those who do not see the value in education. If we have learnt anything from our student groups about their approach to education, it is fair to suggest that they may not have the right approach when they step foot within your Mathematics classroom as another year of resits lies ahead.

Holistic Education considers a whole-person based approach to learning (Image Courtesy of

When we look at learning styles, we are usually greeted by the same terminology, visual, auditory, kinetic etc for ways in which to teach our students. as a new practitioner myself, I aimed to look at ways in which we combine different elements of learning in order to benefit our students the most. In my opinion, this may just be masking an even bigger educational issue, that the student in your class does not see any value in learning and it's down to you to change their perception of that fact. Why should you care about this? If you can win your students over within the first few weeks of their education in FE, you may be able to inspire them to rewrite their story and focus on their self-development throughout the 2 years or so they spend with you. I talked about the idea of "Winning Hearts and Minds" where I explored Maths activities that can be used in the early days of your new maths year, a link to that can be found here (Winning Hearts and Minds)

Eugene Sadler-Smith (1996) suggested that learning styles are a blanket term, leading to the conclusion that it is up to us to suggest different approaches in how we develop our practice. As a new teacher, this is going to be tough but perseverance is key in ensuring that you develop your practice and consider new approaches to doing the same thing. If you are happy to do the same thing again and again, I would encourage you to become inspired by the different developing technologies that are available to you, especially now with the advancement of mobile technology and e-learning.

Some of my students prefer to be taught in a lecture style, get the facts then complete an activity based on what was discussed. This applies heavily to the GCSE Maths evening classes I teach, where learners are motivated and able to consider the deeper understanding to underpin their knowledge of a certain skill. This will not be the case for the majority of your learners within FE. I work with students who are engrossed by tabloid society, facebook fake news and popular social trends to inform their opinion of the world. A typical example would be the people on TOWIE or Made in Chelsea who embrace a lavish lifestyle without doing very much of anything.

Students love a bit of drama and story-telling (Image Courtesy of
Here is my advice for those holistic-sists (that's not a word) out there, if you are seeking to do it all in one hour then you will struggle, instead focus on one primary mission first. What are you trying to achieve and leave your students when they walk out of your classroom. For some of my lessons, this may be in the sense of knowing that you can't work out the area of a triangle the same way you can with a rectangle. The holistic approach within FE focuses on how you can embed these skills across their current interests and focus on the wants and wishes of your learners. If they can see the value in what they need to learn, they are likely to retain that information for future use.

A great example that I used was discussing percentage change within a context, I applied the learning to a few different contexts such as a restaurant discount, beauty salon sale and other things that my students could make tangible reference too. I feel that if you can't relate their learning to something that may be of interest, you may as well hand them a textbook to practice their basic skills in what you are trying to convey. You also have to embrace different technologies within your lessons, I actively use Activinspire software over PowerPoint as my platform of preference to integrate IT across my classroom. I can get students to work on the board for me and take control of their own learning journey, those OFSTED people love that!

Being Holistic isn't easy and takes time, as you learn more about the different areas you work with, you'll realise how complex and complicated the material the students have to deal with is. Armed with some years of experience, I can quickly pick out examples which relate to my students subject area, and guide them towards real life examples. I did speed distance time calculations based on the slowest London marathon runner (Brian the Snail in 2011) in the hope that they won't forget the message that I gave my students regarding methods on formula use. The lesson is then further referred to for those students who struggle inside a classroom with a helpful YouTube video I created on that particular subject just here:

It didn't take much to create resources that your students can use again and again. The Holistic approach is all about how you can allow your students to relate their learning to what they already perceive, if that means that I have to sink to the depths of explaining why Joey Essex's net worth is nearly £6 million and what this actually means then so be it. I am allowed to teach my students differently, and as educators we should strive for excellence in what we do. You may not be told you're excellent or that you're good enough, but for what it's worth, if you got this far then you do care about your students and wanting to learn something new which in my book makes you excellent already.

My tips for the Holistic Approach are as follows, to give some practical advice:

1) Embrace IT and New Technology: Consider getting your students to use Kahoot! for simple fun quizzes on the subject area through their Mobile Phones. Use the different platform of tech available to you, your college will have it somewhere, I am still experimenting with the idea of getting a Visualiser for my classroom!

2) Relate the majority of your learning to vocational studies/real life: You may not have students who are all doing the same area, however they may want a part-time job, show them that their manager would have to do a timetable to work out their rota of shifts for the week, show them the skills that they need to step up to the next position. It may be difficult with all aspects of maths but it can be achieved. You never know, you may learn something new too.

3) Observe, Observe, Observe: This was apparent to me today when I found that my students were struggling with formula, their main programme lecturer uses different terminology to explain it than I do, you'll surprise yourself with the behaviour and attitude shift in the majority of your students when you see them within their own area of interest and how their tutor can relate to them on a much more personal and impressionable level.

4) Stress the importance of a healthy life: Tell your students every time they see you about the importance of looking after themselves and a healthy lifestyle. We may not be perfect examples of this but imparting knowledge on how to be physically and mentally healthy will help them deal with future problems they may have. Some students have a lot of baggage when they walk into your class, so just take your time and talk to them about being happy. Remember, more money doesn't mean happiness and unrealistic expectations of them shouldn't be set. They are people, let's value them as such.

5) Lead by Example: Are you the example they would want to be? Are you empathetic, understanding and easily approachable regarding any issues. Consider reading ways in which you can help your students through self-help reading materials. My favourite is Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Books like this can teach you something valuable about the way in which you work to help others rather than being just another cog in the all powerful educational system. If you tell your students to read more, than bring a book in to read between your lessons, show them you are putting your money where your mouth is.

I hope you've enjoyed this post about the Holistic Approach, if you've got this far then thank you for supporting the FE Maths Guidebook. On twitter I am where we share regular postings and updates regarding education and best practice.
I am going to MathsConf9 Saturday, and I am hoping to see a lot of aspirational teachers and make new friends who are also excited to be on this educational journey with me. If you are attending, be sure to say hello!

Enjoy your weekend teachers, and remember, be happy!

- Matt

Monday, 6 March 2017

Living the Good Life, not the Outstanding one!

An interesting reflection on my own practice tonight, inspired a lot by my brother and how we discussed what I did day to day. I spoke to him about my reflections on my own competency within Maths teaching and how I can teach students about different concepts day-to-day. I don't know what I am aiming to achieve, I was already rated as Good in a recent observation and that is what it says on the tin, good.

Prior to this observation, I worked hard to try and show myself that I can be "Outstanding", what does it mean to be Outstanding. I would say that every person in my department is the definition of Outstanding. We start with the support that we provide our students, conversations about student behaviour and how to counteract the ideas that are floating around about Outstanding teaching practice. I believe that we are too eager to get to Outstanding within the department as a measure of how effective we are as teachers. This is simply not reflective of what we do day-to-day.

My own practice I believe is good, is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Do I think that I am the best maths teacher ever, definitely not, I know of amazing people through the Twittersphere (follow @feguidebook for more examples) who dedicate many "love hours" to their own professional practice. As I reflect on my own practice in Mathematics teaching, I don't believe that Outstanding should be the benchmark for success when it can be arguably seen as a way to drag teachers into stress, competition and nervousness.

Another good day, another goal to achieve (Image courtesy of

Is there a competitive element to the observations that we have? I don't believe there is, but I can see the need for teachers to feel that they are competent at delivery of their subject. As I learn more about the teaching environment, I learn about the way that everyone I work with is Outstanding in their own right, the reality is that we don't actually want to be Outstanding, we just want to be good at what we do. So that's what we should aim for, especially as a new teacher.

I have always been good, I have never been Outstanding within my own practice, told many times of the good things I do within my classroom but never given the sacred title of delivering an Outstanding lesson, and in this way I am relieved. I don't become complacent within my own practice and I reflect actively on how I can work towards my students best interests. The biggest thing I learnt from the last few months of reflection is to never aim for Outstanding, as this could lead to a pitfall of over-working, a change in work-life balances and a shift in my attitude towards the profession I care so deeply about.

Are you living the good life? (Image courtesy of

A teaching observation is a snapshot of what we deliver across the board, Outstanding is hard, and for those teachers who are able to achieve this without much deliberation I salute you, that doesn't mean I am envious of the title, it just means that we may have different methods on how we deliver to our students. I refuse to accept that Jonny in my class learns best through one method than another from a brief visit in my classroom by an observer. I also refuse to believe that I could be working harder to let my students show I am "aspirational" in my practice. We are only human, with human emotions, and yes believe it or not, we can be stressed too. The best thing to teach your students, is the value of being healthy, happy and enjoying what you do day-to-day. There is no greater value than the value of personal and mental health which should be placed in higher regard considering our students nature towards their own learning.

So what are my tips for today, simple. Don't aim for outstanding, aim for good. Your managers may say you are "un-aspirational" or "underachieving" but this is a much bigger issue then just being good at your job, this is about your work-life balance. I do not plan lessons every night, I don't work at the weekends, and I certainly don't spend time panicking about the state of my classroom. There are some things that are more important in teaching than Outstanding. How about we put more emphasis on being effective within the time you have and change the standard of teaching as a profession. Why don't we place emphasis on staff wellbeing, student interests and keeping what we do a lovely and supportive environment. That's what we all want, to be valued in what we do.

Like I said, don't worry about Outstanding, good is good. Nobody should ever tell you that you are different for wanting to be good, I may not ever be Outstanding, but I will value time in my life over work time to keep me in the job that I love every single day, without any undue stress. Nearly two years into my profession and I am still learning new things every day, I don't ever want to stop learning and competing for my students learning, that's what we should be focussed on, not on overloading ourselves with heavy marking and workloads, which I have seen drive excellent people away from education entirely. I leave you with this, nobody knows your students like you, and nobody will know your dedication to your craft. Don't let a grade dictate how you feel about what you enjoy to do.

Have an enjoyable week teachers!

- Matt
(Twitter: @feguidebook)

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Forget bad press, teaching is awesome

I may be a bit biased to this, being a relatively new teacher approaching his two years in service. I have my ups and downs in the profession but I know that the good outweighs the bad. I am aware of the common grievances that teachers have about the profession, the slandering of the profession in the media as well as other aspects of the role that often frustrate and drive excellent members of your team out of the door. If you add on top of this pressure the idea that some institutions can drive certain staff out of the door because their face doesn't fit, then you have a recipe for disaster.

I have been lucky in this respect, I work for a great organisation which values and cares about the students we work with day to day, I work in an excellent team lead by a supportive manager where we regularly discuss student needs and how to improve on our already excellent practice. I don't mean to brag, but I feel that we have to address issues that staff are facing within the profession in order to advance and progress as teachers in an ever-changing educational environment.

How do we adapt in a changing teaching environment? (Image courtesy of
Where we have changes to funding in which schools will need to make an overall saving of £3bn by 2020 (according to the BBC), it is no wonder that staff and management are feeling the pinch of the government's grasp on the current education system. Where our profession is at it's strength is supporting young people and helping them to gain an outlook into real life and what to expect within the working world. I think as lecturers and teachers, we do an excellent job at preparing students for their next steps, whether that is employment or further educational opportunities through our own experiences, stories and learning opportunities that we have faced, we were in their place once as well.

We have to remember why we became teachers, we want to help people. We have a lot of work to do in this respect and this is often lost within the data entry, success rates and marking which skew our idea of what being an educator is really about, we need to be excellent supporters of our students and advocate for their success. I think the "bad rap" that teachers receive in the UK won't change for a long time, it will take cultural shifts in how we view the education system. I ask of you if you are a teacher who is struggling, recall why you trained in the first place, you got here through your own motivations and achievements and for that you should always be proud. It is too easy to lose ourselves within workplace politics, grievances and heavy workloads so avoid this at all costs.

We didn't teach to be stuck behind computers, remember why you chose to teach (image courtesy of

We have set the bar high for education, many teachers report working a 54 hour work week including work from home (see this excellent TES article for reference to this idea) but we have to change the dynamic of what we do, we are too good and often once you are at your peak performance there is only one way to go. I believe this is why teachers who don't work insane hours at the weekend are ridiculed and often feel shamed enough to leave the profession, we aren't listened to and this in itself is frustrating for many teachers alike.

Teaching itself is a joy, I love the feeling that students get something and the lightbulbs come on across the room, that's what we fight for in our classes. I know my students and talk to them about their dreams and ambitions, even those that say they don't know what they want to do have passions and get excited by something that they want to do. Knowing your students on a personal level enables you to build rapport in the early stages of their lessons, further showing them that you do care and you work hard for them. One of my students the other week said to me "Thank you for putting up with the rubbish (not the word used) to teach us" your students value you, whether they show you or not is an entirely different matter. You aren't going to teach your students about being happy if you are unhappy yourselves, so relax, you're only human after all.

Technology has a big part to play in changes to education (Image courtesy of

So here's what I want us to think about, if we are going to complain, give a solution. If we are going to speak negatively of teaching, then consider how we can improve it. There is too much negative press on teachers and the profession as a whole but really we have an obligation and a duty to help our young people achieve, this doesn't mean we should sacrifice our own happiness for that of our students however. Let's learn alongside them, some of the best teachers I know (mainly in my current staff room) are always trying new things and adapting to changes. Let's adapt to the environment and consider how we move forward rather than pine for the days of old.

Teaching is changing, and you have to feel that change and want to be a part of it. Everyone talks about leaving, but let's consider how dynamic and refreshing the art of teaching actually is. I regularly tweet about these things (Twitter handle) and consider how we help teachers to love teaching again. Remind me when I go on a rant to read this again, and remember the feeling I have now, of loving teaching, education and the people I work with and for.

let's all come together to make teaching great again! (we could start #maketeachinggreatagain)

Enjoy your weekend, and thank you for supporting the FE Maths Guidebook. I will be going to #mathsconf9 in March, here is the schedule of workshops I will be attending so I hope to connect with a lot of you there, tweet your schedules at me if you are also attending and we can arrange a meet-up!

- Matt

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Winning over Hearts and Minds: Simple Maths activities for Further Education Maths Students

You walk into your classroom in September and are greeted by a new wave of students in the new year. In regards to further education, you know that some students will work with you to pass their exams, to others you are a piece of meat ready to be challenged for their own personal enjoyment. The hardest part of the role is behaviour management within this minefield due to the potential nature of the student as well as the previous negative experiences that student may have faced within education.

So when they enter your class, it is vitally important to your own wellbeing to encourage a quick rapport development with the students you work with, this may be in the form of introducing yourself, playing games and generally exploring possible opportunities within the Maths curriculum. We know however that we are struggling with engagement, students have devices in their pockets ready to engage them at any moment, so potential learning from you may be hard to come by if they see no value in your delivery.

Do your students see the value in chalk and talk delivery? (Image courtesy of
So you've got to ask yourself what can I do to combat this? The most engaging activities in Maths involve learners moving around, getting to know each other and generally being social within their group. This approach builds a strong group dynamic within your classroom which can in turn help you build rapport with some of the bigger characters in your class. If you win them over, you've won them all. Let's go through a few example activities and discuss their effectiveness for this scenario. I recommend the first week of your delivery to be "winning over hearts and minds" which essentially is about getting the students to come round to your way of thinking and to work with you rather than against you.

1) Circle Activity - Introduce another person

In your class, you may find that you have groups of people that know each other but not everyone else in the group. I would wholeheartedly recommend that you create an activity for them not only to get to know you, but to get to know each other as the group progresses.
You're just going to need everyone to have a piece of paper and a pen. Get them to draw a circle and quarter it (embedding of fractions there) afterwards they need to put their name and their neighbours name below the circle.
Each quarter represents a different thing, namely (Job, Holiday, Film, House) the idea is that they have to ask their neighbour what their favourite of each of these things are, once they know, they have to draw these out on their circle in the appropriate quarter.
Once all these are done, they then have to introduce their neighbour to the rest of the class. A very fun icebreaker, be sure to team up with one of the students yourself to make this super effective!

2) Four Four's? Five Five's? Three Three's?

This can be used as a great starter activity to get students thinking about mental arithmetic as well as testing their knowledge of mathematic principles.
You will need post it notes, you should write numbers 1-20 on the board. The idea is that using only four four's and any operation, students have to get to all of the answers. They cannot use two fours or three fours, they have to use all four of the fours!
If you have prizes, you can challenge tables to see who can come up with the most, make it a challenge and amuse adults. A lot of people get stuck into four four's. I picked this little one up at a GCSE Maths training event on delivering the new specification.
This website will help you show the solutions of Four Four's all the way up to 50! Four Four's Solutions Extension anybody?
You can try this with three three's or five five's for interest!

3) Always True, Somewhat True, Never True

Three easy signs you can make on three pieces of paper and stick them around the room. One saying "Always True", another saying "Sometimes True", and the final sign "Never True". You are going to have statements relating to maths and you are going to ask if the students think that the fact is always, sometimes or never true.
What you are assessing is students ability to prove a concept within Maths, if a student can see and argue that they are correct, they are developing their mathematics skills without even thinking about it.
Statements I use include: "When you multiply a negative and a positive number together, it is a positive number" are great ones to use. You can also use this in interpreting data when discussing different aspects of data collection such as "100 people is enough to represent a population in a survey". You could then progress this on to advertising and include some British Values for your Equality and Diversity.

4) The Magic Trick

This one is great for really capturing imagination early on in any Maths lesson.
Follow the trick in this video to try to wow your students by guessing a certain number:

The basic premise, is you get a piece of paper beforehand, then write any 5 digit number on it. (Let's say you picked 23523), fold up this piece of paper, and hand it to someone or stick it somewhere around the room.
Tell your students that you are going to trick them to pick your number that is on the board. The way you do this is say you are starting with a number (in our example, it has to be 3525, I'll explain why later) and get the students to pick a four digit number themselves. Once you have done that, then you write a number below it, you have to make sure that the sum of your number and their number is 9999. Do this again and ask the students to add this up. You know what the answer is going to be as you have manipulated the values to give you whatever 3523 + 19998 is. In this case, it's the number we started with. This works because you are always manipulating the values to give you a sum of 9999 for each selection, you have to do this twice however.
Try this out for yourself, for extra effect, get a student to grab the paper and reveal to the group the number on the board. "How did you do that?!" get's them intrigued and they want to know more!

Tell them you'll let them know how you did it at the end of the lesson!

Let me know if you enjoyed using any of these activities, and be sure to follow me on twitter for more updates and guidance. What activities do you use to capture students interests in the early stages?

Enjoy the rest of your week teachers!

- Matt

Monday, 20 February 2017

Skills development over exam successes, what is more important?

What do we do when students don't pass? What do we tell them when all their hard work and effort seem to go unnoticed and a pass doesn't seem possible? I want to talk today about the emphasis that needs to be placed upon development of skills over the end result.

Certain skills mean that you are suited to a particular occupation, it may be to do some work in a particular field that you may need a certain qualification in order to get there. This doesn't mean that you can look for short-cuts and easy ways to achieve the pass in order to get there, the work required takes hard work, resilience and patience to master.

The students I teach are more than happy to spend hundreds of pounds and repeat their driving test again and again, there is no easy way to get through a driving test without knowing the skills and applying them in a practical exam. The same can be said for any Maths or English exam, to enable yourself to complete this to the best of your ability, you need to be able to understand concepts and work towards making progress within this field. There is a common practice where students look for shortcuts and easy to memorise examples to get them through an exam, rather than developing their skills in this area.

Are your students looking for instant gratification from their English and Maths exams? (Image courtesy of

What are we really telling our students when we are merely preparing them for an exam rather than giving them skills to develop their critical thinking? Really we are part of a system that is forced to get students to pass an exam without too much emphasis placed on being able to apply those skills directly to a vocational activity, or to real life situations. The amount of people I am aware of that already have their GCSE in English or Maths at C grade or above and struggle to read and write is terrifying, considering that these are basic skills that employers would expect employees to know given the presence of a GCSE in these subjects.

Why do we value the result so much, rather than the journey. We don't actually teach our students to feel anything but the instant gratification of an exam pass rather than taking the time to sit down and throughly get involved in developing their understanding of a field. Some students are busy in their lives looking for a quick fix rather than taking the time to develop their own skill-set to make them work-ready. We can't hide from this hidden curriculum that has been thrown into our schooling system, but I wish it was different.

Is there anything we can do about this? Especially in a system where we value results and emphasise the importance of passing exams rather than applying content. What does this tell us about the future of our workforce and how do we continue to work with students when all they are focused on is the end result. Let's apply a context to discuss this in more detail.

Let's say someone wants to lose weight, not only do they have to take up an exercise routine, but they have to change their lifestyle. There is a reason that people don't adapt to this as they are looking for instant gratification and instant results in their own goals, this is why get fit fast fixes sell really quick, along with all the paraphernalia associated. They are focused on the goal rather than the journey, they don't feel satisfied in feeling a little bit fitter or more agile, they just want the result. This is why a lot of people fail. Can you apply this thinking to your students Maths and English lessons?

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a simple step. Why should it take any less? (Image courtesy of

How do we encourage the journey rather than the final destination? Maybe we could look at what we are teaching students and how we can apply their learning to real life examples, let's focus on what we were here to do, teach great lessons and make an impact. Would it make you happier knowing that your students developed their Maths or English skills over simply getting exam grades? Would you prefer to be the person that believed in someone's competency in your craft rather than their ability to pass the exam?

Encourage your students to enjoy the journey, rather than seek instant pleasure from a letter (soon to be numbers, but we will talk about that in a future post!) they may value their lessons much more, but this will need to be a shift from all sides of the educational system.

Don't forget to check out my YouTube video on Mean, Mode Median and Range here filled with real life examples, suggest new content for me to include as well as feedback. Any feedback is massively appreciated.

Have a good week

- Matt