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Leading in English and maths: doing the right things at the right times in the right way

With 82% of leaders classed as ‘accidental managers’ (in that they have had no formal leadership training before taking up a management role) in a recent study, and a huge increase in the number of students resitting English and maths in FE in 2023/24, effective FE E&M leaders are needed now more than ever.

Whether led by a Head (or Heads) of Dept., lead practitioner, senior leader with responsibility for English and maths, or a vocational leader, there remains a broad spectrum to the way English and maths departments are led. Of course, this is dictated by local context, college size, available staffing, and a myriad of other factors; however, despite this, the challenges leaders face remain consistent.

So, what are the primary challenges in 2023 faced by English and maths leaders and, more importantly, what action can be taken? From working with colleges across the country, below is a summary of what we consider to be the main challenges with suggested evidence-based solutions:


A primary concern for all English and maths leaders is recruiting suitably skilled and qualified teachers - which has been an issue in FE for a number of years. Unfortunately, there is no short-term solution.

So, how do we solve a problem like staffing?

The longer we work to solve a problem, the longer term the solution needs to be: with this in mind, ‘growing your own’ is one of the most effective ways to support recruitment of suitable staff.

First, evaluate available internal staff – who could be an English or maths teacher? – before discussing a potential transition (potentially starting at 2-3 hours per week and moving up).

Second, look at the appointments made in support services – do any Teaching Assistants have a teaching qualification, a PGCE, English/ maths degree, English/ maths A level etc.? Are they keen to achieve a qualification? With support, you’ll likely find solutions on your doorstep.

Which brings us to…

Professional Development

Leaders will often discuss the challenges of accessing high-quality CPD – it’s difficult to fund and find available time; online? Face to face? Who should attend? How will impact be measured?

Thankfully, for this challenge, there are accessible solutions. Create Development offers fully funded CPD in the form of experienced FE teachers and leaders who have a wealth of knowledge and can tailor bespoke support to individual contexts. For more information on our range of outstanding CPD, contact Jonny Kay, our National Education Lead, here.


A huge challenge across FE, and we know that attendance can significantly impact student success. To combat this, studies have shown that motivational text messages, sent days before an English and/ or maths lesson, can significantly impact student attendance. Whether directly texting students, or developing a network of peer support via text, results showed an increase of around 6% in attendance, with no additional resource other than a text message. See more on this study here.

Vocational collaboration

All E&M leaders have a view on the effectiveness of vocational collaboration, but ask, ‘what are we doing to support vocational staff?’. English and maths staff have an abundance of resources, so let’s share them! By ensuring consistency in how English and maths topics are taught, students receive consistent teaching and that knowledge is more likely to ‘stick’. Explore vocational schemes of learning, support vocational staff with the “where, when, and how” English and maths can be embedded and for easily applied, college-wide embedding resources, check out our resource library, here.

Assessment tracking

Assessment and tracking can be enormously complex, whether tracking cohorts, vocational groups or individual students. However, consistency is difficult to achieve with the majority of FE tracking tools squarely aimed at vocational teachers. Now, we believe this challenge has a simple solution: The Development Wheel. Our online interactive tool allows students and teachers to track their own progress and identify achievable next steps, whilst offering a range of revision and assessment tools for students, and a library of resources and CPD content for teachers. To learn more about The Development Wheel, contact us here.

With leaders finding solutions to a raft of challenges at the beginning of 2023/24, it’s been fantastic to see so many colleges collaboratively engage with The BASE Project: our project which supports students, teachers and leaders in Further Education English and maths throughout the North-East, Yorkshire and Humberside. Through this project you will find our library of DfE funded tools and resources to support all progress and achievement. With a focus on supporting high-quality, impactful teaching and supporting self-efficacy in students, you can find more information on the BASE Project, and how it is supporting colleges (and how it can support you), on our website here.

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