Derby College has had to handle large numbers of English and maths students resitting their GCSEs. But instead of converting some of its best teachers into GEM specialists similar to West Herts College, the college has embedded some of its existing experienced English and maths (E&M) teachers in vocational curriculum teams and recruited more specialists from outside.
In sport, for instance, where many learners have to pass English and maths to progress further in their level 2 and 3 courses, four English and maths teachers have been attached to the sport curriculum. They are still managed by their own English and maths departments but, like their sport colleagues, wear tracksuits, and discipline and chase students as one team. “The learners can’t distinguish between the different teachers,” says head of faculty Kate Martin.
The E&M specialists teach English or maths lessons but also use a wide range of relevant, tailor-made teaching exercises such as how to measure heart rate and represent it on a graph. They will often go into sport classes and shadow their specialist colleagues. There is also a buddy scheme pairing up E&M teachers with vocational specialists.
Derby is getting results. In 2014-15 its new teaching arrangements led to a substantial improvement in results on previous years, especially among 16- to 18-year-olds resitting their exams. “We have achieved 40-41% high grades A*-C in English and 39.8% for maths, so we think we’ve done very well,” says Kate.
This year the college has been recruiting rather than losing people. Finding suitable E&M teachers has been quite difficult, says Kate. “We’ve decided not to pay a premium. We’re essentially looking for teachers that have come through a pedagogic route.”
She describes FE as quite complex but interesting for teachers. Students warm to the college environment, while teaching staff find it rewarding to start from scratch with students who have not passed their exams and then see them succeed.
An FE college like Derby throws up a wide variety of challenges. Many students with English as their second language arrive with high grades in science and maths but very low grades in English. Derby runs a programme for 16 year-olds new to the UK who have often had a key stage 4 experience in their own country but not done GCSEs.
There are also learners who have missed out on traditional GCSE routes for many reasons and include young mothers, carers, people who have been ill or adults taking GCSEs for the first time.
The need to resit failed GCSEs has created fresh challenges for FE staff. Many students have to pass to progress on their chosen courses or go on to higher education. This has created new exciting opportunities to teach in FE and this is likely to grow both in vocational subjects supplying upskilled GEM teachers and in English and maths teaching in colleges following a more traditional recruitment path.