Young people’s recommendations for GCSE maths and English

5 March 2015

Young people’s attitudes towards GCSE maths and English change once they realise how important the subjects and qualifications are to their future job and education prospects, according to new research published by NIACE today. The research also shows that if learners see how relevant these qualifications are to their everyday lives, find the subjects interesting and are taught in a supportive setting, then they are more likely to achieve better grades.

The report – Engaging Learners in GCSE maths and English, commissioned and funded by The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) – captured the opinions of more than 70 young people aged 16 – 24. The research shows that learners are more likely to engage and have positive attitudes to maths and English when:

  • learning is fun, interactive and practical where there is a strong understanding of the purpose and importance of qualifications, in particular when relating them to real-life situations;
  • appropriate time and support is given to individuals to practise challenging topics, in and out of the classroom;
  • there is a clear assessment process with clarity on marking schemes, enabling learners to adequately prepare for exams and coursework assignments;
  • timely initial assessments are carried out to identify support needs, and that any additional support is put in place as soon as possible;
  • class sizes are kept small, enabling teachers to have sufficient time to support all learners. Larger classes are perceived as a barrier to effective teaching and learning;
  • teachers have strong behaviour management skills to reduce the impact of peers distracting others during lessons;
  • a supportive environment is fostered in the classroom and learners are encouraged to ask for help from teachers and peers. Embarrassment can be a strong factor in not asking for support when needed; and
  • practitioners listen to learners’ needs and tailor support and learning accordingly.

Joyce Black, Assistant Director of Development and Research at NIACE, said:

“Our research demonstrates the importance of high quality teaching, access to timely support and peers in supporting learners to engage with GCSE maths and English. This report has given learners the opportunity to explain the barriers they experience whilst they were working towards these qualifications at school.  Maths and English GCSEs are vital for learners to take a step towards further education or work.

“Teachers who interviewed learners acknowledged how listening to their experiences helped them to understand the diverse needs they have. This has given them the opportunity to reflect and to adapt a number of their approaches to teaching.”

Helen Pettifor, Director for Professional Standards and Workforce Development, at the Education and Training Foundation, said:

“This report tells us what learners think and expect, what they come against and what can change. We will use it to look at ways we can help teachers and trainers to understand how to engage learners, equip them to carry out their own research, and to help them understand what would help to give their students a positive experience. The Education and Training Foundation work with people at all stages of their teaching career, understanding the findings in this report will help us to support better teaching.”