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Maths, Challenges and Opportunities


With the Department for Education recently announcing minimum hours of study for resit students in FE, most discussion has been around the headline figure of a minimum of 4 hours per week for those studying maths.


With the DfE mandating this to be “stand-alone, whole-class, in-person teaching, with any additional support… supplementary to these minimum classroom hours”, middle and senior leaders across the sector now begin the process of organising for 2024/25 and beyond (with rules strictly implemented from 2025/26).


Though any level of change will bring challenges, those within FE English and maths are well documented and long-standing. So, how will the change (specifically the move to a 4 hour maths timetable) impact some of these challenges?



A simple move from 3 to 4 hours of timetabling a week in maths will required an (estimated) additional 800 extra maths teachers (with an estimated additional 400 extra English teachers also required). With challenges across all sectors for qualified maths teachers, colleges will see this as a first priority among many. Though an enduring issue, there are steps that can be taken.


Firstly, evaluating existing staff can prove enormously fruitful – starting this process within support teams can help identify future teachers and, with the right support and training, we can quickly find answers to staffing challenges. By ensuring aspirant maths teachers support students primarily across maths, we offer opportunities to observe a range of maths teaching, before timetabling small-group maths support, then small group-teaching and then a small timetable of whole-class teaching. Against a backdrop of a teaching qualification, colleges can adeptly ‘grow their own’.


Similarly, identifying teachers across existing teacher training programmes can also yield positive results.


It’s also important to remember the rich depth of maths subject knowledge vocational teachers have gathered through years of teaching (and within industry). By utilising the experience of vocational colleagues, we can use the relationships already developed within workshops, salons and vocational classrooms to support students. This may also significantly support any challenges in timetabling…



With the vast majority of English and maths timetabled either into 1 x 1.5 hour session, 2 x 1.5 hour sessions or a single 3 hour session, changes to minimum hours in English are likely to follow existing timetables. However, in maths, a different model is clearly required for the ‘new’ 4th hour of minimum requirement.


So, what options do colleges have?


With a desire to keep existing models in vocational areas, many may opt to split the hours across 2 x 2-hour sessions, with delivery as close as possible to the current model. This will mean much easier timetabling of staff (and consistency in doing so, meaning teachers will be able to teach both 2 hour sessions).


Having said this, those with a 1 x 3 hour model may opt to continue this model and find another slot for the additional hour. Though simpler to timetable, this carries with it inherent challenge. Firstly, a session of a single hour is unlikely to be given priority on any timetable and could find itself in the graveyard slots of Monday morning, Friday afternoon or Wednesday afternoon (with the majority of sports and clubs already timetabled into this slot).  


A third approach, though different to existing models, could find solutions already in place. With a 3-hour model retained (either in a single 3 hour block or over two sessions of 1.5 hours), an additional hour could potentially be delivered in a vocational setting, by vocational staff. Having a contextualised hour per week could well support learners to implement the knowledge they have gained in previous maths lessons; develop communication, dialogue and planning between maths and vocational staff and also improve attendance. Which brings us to…



Though there are no easy answers here, a simple (and effective) solution could sit in the humble text. Through texting regular, motivational messages to students in preparation for sessions, a Harvard Business Review study showed an increase in attendance of 7% over a full academic year. As a result of sending texts. Not pastoral intervention; not regular attendance meetings; not case conferences (though, clearly, these are all invaluable weapons in the arsenal of any college to support students) – just from texts.  


It's clear that a range of work is yet to be done to successfully adopt the new measures, but what is clear is that the solutions needed are already within the sector.

As we approach the end of the first half term of 2024, we're also thrilled to announce the Beyond Boundaries English and maths Conference: an event specifically for English and maths teachers and leaders, brought to you by The Development Wheel. Taking place on Friday 15th March in the fantastic surroundings of The Queen's Hotel in Leeds, with a keynote from Baroness Floella Benjamin, sessions are keenly focused around subject specific innovation in both English and maths, as well as AI, assessment, leadership and more. For more information, including how to secure your ticket, follow the link here.


For more resources to support effective teaching, individualisation and adaptive teaching, check out the resource page on our website, here. With a range of resources to support Post-16 maths and English teachers and leaders, we’re working with colleges in the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside on our fully funded, DfE project. To be a part of the great work we’re doing, find out more here.


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