Aim: To raise standards of algebraic ability at GCSE in order to improve results, gain a stronger cohort at AS Level and provide stretch and challenge for more able students.

Background: Algebra was by far the weakest of the four mathematical strands in the school, and students often found the jump from GCSE to AS Level too difficult. Retention into A Level was poor and students were not choosing to study Maths-based courses at university.


Year 1: Top-set Year 10 students were taught OCR FMSQ Additional Mathematics, second set the Edexcel Level 3 Algebra Award and broad-banded sets the Level 3 Award.

Year 2: After initial enthusiasm, many of the Year 11 students sitting the Level 3 Award found it too difficult and could not see the value of it in relation to their actual GCSE. Overall success rates with algebraic questions did not improve from previous years, but a closer look revealed that those who focused on the L2 Award did perform better in their GCSE and gained confidence in tackling algebraic questions. The pass/fail grading system of the Edexcel awards was not providing students with the motivation to aim for a particular grade, so the Year 11 second set were switched to the more accessible and rewarding AQA GCSE Certificate in Further Mathematics, which are graded A^ (A* with distinction)-C.

Student interviews and questionnaires revealed that students chose Maths at AS Level because it was one of their better GCSEs, despite advice from teachers about the major step up in difficulty. A new approach to algebra was implemented in Year 12 that assumed no prior knowledge and used stronger students as facilitators. Experiments with teaching styles in Year 7 showed that while ‘funky’ fun and student-led lessons were more successful for teaching accessible content and revision, new or difficult content was best taught in a more ‘traditional’ style. Embedding algebra award content into schemes of work also proved successful.

Year 3: The calibre of students taking AS Level Maths was strong, suggesting that pupils were better informed of the rigours of A Level Maths. Of the 13 students who had not experienced additional algebra qualifications, 10 are in the bottom 20 of the year group (49 students in total).

Evidence: Baseline data, exam results, student take-up.

Impact: Although there was no measurable increase in students’ success at algebraic questions, the quality of uptake in Year 12 improved and more students went on to take Maths-based courses at university (3 in 2015 and 4 in 2016). The different approach to algebra in Year 12 also helped to improve grades. Year 12 Autumn assessment data showed an increase in A grades from 15% (2013-14) to 43% (2015-16). A*-C grades increased from 42% to 77%.

Reflections: We realised that intervention with algebra needs to be earlier and that it is important for students to experience more difficult algebra before Year 12, so that they can gain an insight into how big the jump is to A Level.

Contact: Jon Rhys,