How We Developed Our GCSE Maths Revision Programme
After 8 years, a million lessons, and the privilege of teaching over 80,000 primary students, we have just completed the first development of our exciting new maths programmes for secondary students.
These will continue to support our mission of closing the attainment gap and be delivered in schools through one to one online maths lessons by expert tutors, supporting the work of the classroom maths teacher.
In this article, we hear from Bethan Edwards, Third Space Learning’s Secondary Maths Curriculum Specialist, on how we developed the first of our maths programmes for secondary – the GCSE maths revision programme for those students following the Edexcel, AQA or OCR exam syllabus.
We also have a variety of free GCSE maths resources on our website. These comprehensive revision guides are broken down by topic. Our first topic is Algebra, including step-by-step instructions, detailed examples, practice questions, GCSE questions and free maths worksheets for Factorising Quadratics!
- How did we come up with the new programme?
- Which GCSE maths topics are taught on the programme?
- How do we know this GCSE revision programme is fit for purpose?
- Which students will benefit most from this maths revision programme?
- What are students’ motivations for tuition?
- What are the benefits of one to one maths tuition for revision?
- How do secondary students react to this new intervention?
- How do we use cognitive science in our lessons?
- How are the lesson slides structured?
- How does diagnostic testing inform what we teach?
- What training have the tutors undergone in preparation for teaching the programme?
- What is next for the maths revision programme?
How did we come up with the new programme?
We are passionate about enabling more GCSE students to reach their full potential in maths and have curated a tailored GCSE maths revision programme to facilitate this.
We wanted to develop a programme that would help support students who need it most, and deliver the most impact in the short timeframe we had. In an ideal world, we would love to have a GCSE revision programme for students at all levels, but for our initial GCSE programme, we needed to decide on a key group that we could deliver the most benefit.
Therefore, the Academic Team chose topics that would be most impactful for students specifically aiming to achieve a Grade 5, as this targets an often clearly identifiable cohort of students who need a high pass.
This means that if your students complete the maths revision programme, they will be well-placed to achieve a Grade 5. It might also be helpful for students aiming to achieve a Grade 6, but our primary goal is Grade 5.
Which GCSE maths topics are taught on the programme?
The programme offers a selection of 35 revision lessons on key topics to support students in attaining a Grade 5. The aim is to consolidate crucial skills through guided and individual practice whilst also preparing students for exam-style application questions using past paper questions.
The maths curriculum we’ve developed is a distillation of three distinct strands in our research:
- frequently occurring topics in past papers,
- content in the ‘crossover’ Higher-Foundation category,
- topics that have been identified as ‘low hanging fruit’ or ‘quick wins’ for students.
How do we know this GCSE revision programme is fit for purpose?
In advance of rolling out the full programme, we ran a GCSE maths pilot programme after February half term 2021. Of course, like all of our maths programmes, we are constantly reviewing and revising elements in response to school, teacher, student and tutor feedback, and our own internal product improvement processes.
We are now happy to share this maths programme with you, following months of developing, refining and testing all the elements that define the success of our online tuition. A key component of this process was piloting the programme with our fantastic group of around 9 pilot schools, 170 students and 20 tutors.
We have learnt a great deal from this development period, and it’s safe to say that the programme you see today is a combination of many individual contributions along the way. We tested everything, from the structure of the curriculum and the progression within each individual lesson, right down to how tutors welcome the students and the diagnostic assessment used before and after each lesson.
Here is just one example of the kinds of changes we made in user testing for the pilot:
Which students will benefit most from this maths revision programme?
During my time as a secondary school teacher in London, one of the biggest challenges at GCSE was ensuring that students who had been identified as ‘borderline’ for a Grade 4 or 5 went on to achieve these grades in their exams.
“We aim to build both students’ skills and confidence before they enter the exam hall.”Bethan Edwards, Secondary Maths Curriculum Specialist, Third Space Learning
We worked with students from a range of ages and abilities in our pilot schools, and found that this programme was particularly successful with students in categories that will no doubt already be familiar to you.
- Students in Year 11 sitting their maths GCSE for the first time.
- Students who are retaking their maths GCSE in Year 12 or Year 13.
- Students in Year 10 who need a confidence boost or to consolidate key skills.
- Students who are enthusiastic and want to engage with someone, but have significant gaps (for various reasons), and need the space to fill these.
- Students who are apathetic and not attaining highly, which could be because they are unmotivated or lacking in confidence, but benefit from 1-1 classroom time.
“Our 1-1 tuition is like being able to go and sit with your student.”Bethan Edwards, Secondary Maths Curriculum Specialist, Third Space Learning
Personalised online lessons to prepare your KS4 students for maths GCSEs
Weekly online one to one maths revision lessons delivered by specialist tutors and designed for the students who need it most.
What are students’ motivations for tuition?
Although intervention decisions are usually driven by teachers and the SLT, we are always keen to hear from the students themselves. We asked the cohort from our GCSE pilot programme why they wanted to pursue 1:1 tutoring:
- “I find maths very hard”
- “I find fractions, decimals and the y and x-axis graphs difficult”
- “I just wish to pass my maths GCSE”
- “I don’t like being distracted while doing a question”
- “My goal is to get a 5”
- “I really struggle with wordy questions”
- “I struggle with most of algebra, especially simultaneous equations”
- “I am really trying to get a grade 5 in maths”
- “A grade 5 would help me get onto my A Level courses”
- “I struggle with ratio”
“I really enjoyed the way my tutor taught me and I think he is amazing.”Third Space Learning Student
What are the benefits of one to one maths tuition for revision?
The 1-to-1 model provided by our online tutoring is beneficial for all levels and all types of students. The model is particularly special because it allows for targeted individual intervention, both through the lessons selected in the diagnostic element of the programme, and the tutors’ regular assessment during a lesson. This in turn allows students to practice specific areas for development identified throughout the session.
Tutoring helps to build confidence, engages students who may otherwise be apathetic or reluctant to participate, and provides time for students with gaps to be inquisitive and develop their knowledge. Pedagogically, tutoring allows students to become more confident in specific areas of need and work at their own pace, as well as receiving instant feedback. Students have tangible opportunities to check their understanding and make progress.
Emotionally, 1-1 online tutoring takes away the distractions of the classroom, as well as any embarrassment about asking questions. In our low-stakes tuition sessions, students are generally more engaged with the learning process and feel comfortable asking questions about their maths, with a personal tutor who will support them every step of the way.
How do secondary students react to this new intervention?
It was clear that our well-established primary interventions could not be directly transposed into a secondary context. For example, primary school messaging (such as pictures and smileys) would not necessarily have been appropriate for secondary school.
Our secondary students have been particularly forthcoming in identifying their own areas for development and using tutoring sessions as opportunities to fill their gaps. Having a one-to-one session each week helps students feel motivated in their maths and gives them a sense of ownership over their learning experience. For example, secondary students have been much more descriptive than at primary in their diagnostic assessments.
“We love that Third Space Learning use audio-only as the students feel more confident.”GCSE Pilot Programme School
How do we use cognitive science in our lessons?
The programme has been designed in line with current educational research, draws on my first-hand experience in schools, and was further developed through user testing.
The diagnostic element of the programme, initiated through a preliminary ‘Mission Zero’ test and continued through ‘Post-Session Questions’ on the taught lesson, and ‘Forward Looking Questions’ on future undiagnosed Learning Objectives, means that students are directed to the lessons which will have the most impact for them.
Our highly metacognitive programme asks students about their mindset, confidence and value in maths through Mission Zero. We also encourage students to reflect on their learning at the end of sessions, such as where they have made the most progress.
Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory is carefully considered in the slide design and paired examples are used to support successful tutor modelling. Live tutor notes provide appropriate probing questions to deliver effective assessment and lead to deeper student understanding. Isolating a skill and breaking it down optimises the load on students.
Variation Theory is also used when making the slides. For example, the ‘I do, You do’ questions are broadly based on Emma McCrea’s ‘Worked Example Pairs’. These target possible misconceptions and present a minimally different problem for students to try.
Tutors are trained in cognitive load and variation theory, and more recently we have embedded Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’ into our initial tutor training and continuous tutor development.
Principles such as these now guide our tutors’ practice:
- Present new materials in small steps
- Ask regular questions
- Provide models e.g. example pairs
- Guide student practice
- Check student understanding
- Obtain high success rate
- Scaffold difficult tasks
- Provide plenty of opportunity for independent practice
How are the lesson slides structured?
The design of the slides is intended to be quite flexible. Students who need extra support have plenty at their fingertips, including the whiteboard feature, whereas those who need to be stretched can move on quickly and appropriately. This means that the same lessons can effectively cater for students of different abilities, all broadly aiming for a Grade 5.
Each of the programme’s lessons features:
- ‘Guided’ slides – where students explore a concept together with a tutor, see a fully worked example and talk through their understanding;
- ‘Practice’ slides – where supports are removed, and students get an opportunity to test their understanding of each skill;
- ‘Exam’ questions – where students complete past GCSE maths questions, with a mark scheme provided.
How does diagnostic testing inform what we teach?
The design and format of the programme were created by our Product Team to clearly highlight each section to the student, and bridge curriculum content with usability. This is clearly demonstrated in the power of diagnostic testing, which can decide the priority and order of lessons a student will be assigned. The teacher also has the option to select sessions themselves if they would like to cover specific diagnosed revision topics.
Once the student finishes a lesson, they also complete two ‘Post-Session Questions’, which will assess their ability to apply what they have learnt in a test situation. This ongoing diagnostic testing aims to consolidate understanding and effectively plug gaps.
What training have the tutors undergone in preparation for teaching the programme?
All of our online maths tutors undergo a rigorous selection process and training – with live webinars, daily lesson discussions, lesson demos, assessments and GCSE paper studies – so that they are fully confident in the delivery of their sessions.
The initial 3 weeks of training includes an online course I created, which tutors can refer back to whenever they need a refresher. We also asked for feedback on tutor training, so this can be continually refined.
Every tutor has access to detailed lesson guides, thorough tutor notes for each lesson, sample videos, method explanations and discussions. The lesson guides include common misconceptions, example explanations and mark schemes.
Our goal is to make maths tuition accessible for as many schools as possible, and a central solution to this aim is to recruit our tutors from India and Sri Lanka, where there is a huge population of passionate, English speaking students and graduates who love maths.
Being outside of the UK, we take the time in our tutor training – designed by UK maths mastery expert teachers – to highlight the particular demands of the national curriculum and the pedagogical approaches that are preferred in the UK. This means that our global community of tutors are confident in teaching UK students.
Tutors have also adapted their way of speaking to secondary, ensuring that they pitch their tone appropriately, including considerations for SEN students. In my experience, talking to secondary students naturally and on the same level makes them feel more comfortable and allows tutors to build strong working relationships with students. Students are then more likely to ask questions and feel motivated to join our sessions, where they can value feeling successful. How secondary students learn has been central to the tutor training.
What is next for the maths revision programme?
We are continuing to develop the programme in reaction to the pilot, so it can properly cater to the emerging needs of our students. This includes the design of slides, which tutors can suggest edits to via a live form, in addition to more structural elements of the programme.
One of these changes will be engaging students more actively in the diagnostic element of the programme. Currently, their reports go straight to their teachers – which is great for giving the class teacher a map of their students’ individual successes and areas for improvement – but we would love to see students being able to own these too, so that they come into their sessions feeling motivated to make progress in their target areas.
The development of our GCSE programme has been a truly collaborative effort between various teams at Third Space Learning. We have utilised our existing expertise in conjunction with new curriculum content and product updates to produce what we hope is a truly valuable GCSE maths revision programme, bolstered by high-quality lessons, tutor training and diagnostic assessments.
We look forward to supporting your students in achieving their Grade 5 at GCSE!
Do you have students who need extra support in maths?
Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of students across hundreds of schools with weekly online 1-to-1 lessons and maths interventions designed to plug gaps and boost progress.
Since 2013 we’ve helped over 80,000 primary and secondary students become more confident, able mathematicians. Find out more about our GCSE Maths Revision Programme or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.
Our online tuition for maths programme provides every child with their own professional one to one maths tutor