• Charlie’s Angles

Guest blog post by a Secondary School Head of Maths

An article by Hande Kiamil, Head of Maths at Mill Hill County High School, in the London Borough of Barne

  • Published: 27/01/2017
In a recent blog post, the NCETM’s Director, Charlie Stripp, suggested that, if secondary maths departments were able to organise timetables so that teachers could do more joint planning, then better, more effective lessons would result. He conceded, though, that implementing such arrangements is by no means easy, and he invited teachers with experience in this area to contribute their stories. Here, Hande Kiamil, Head of Maths at Mill Hill County High School, in the London Borough of Barnet, relates how she, and her department, have moved in this direction over the last couple of years.

The first move I made towards enabling more joint planning happened when, in September 2014, I introduced a scheme of work for Year 7 in which every half-term all sets studied maths around a common theme. This replaced a model in which top set Year 7 studied what middle set Year 8 studied and bottom set Year 9 studied etc. During its first year this scheme of work morphed from an objective per lesson with a list of possible resources, to lessons planned for the interactive whiteboard. Around a third of the resources for the scheme of work came from the 'Making Sense of Maths' series published by Hodder, which whilst being absolutely excellent, do require the teacher to do a lot of thinking before using. My department were thankfully enthusiastic about the material, but wanted shared lessons to help with the time-consuming planning required otherwise.

Thinking ahead to the following year, and the huge workload on our hands rolling the scheme of work forward into Year 8, whilst also fixing up Year 7, I managed to secure some helpful timetable changes. I split my department in half, giving every teacher either two Year 7 sets or two Year 8 sets. This was possible because in my school, maths is timetabled in two halves in Years 7, 8 and 9. This meant that when I allocated teachers runs of lessons to produce for either the Year 7 or 8 scheme of work, they would get the benefit of teaching the lessons they prepared twice. Secondly, as they worked through the year teaching lessons that others had made, they would have fewer lessons to think through, coupled with the ability to see how the lesson went and have another crack at it the same week, just as Charlie Stripp described in his blog.

But what I really wanted in addition to this, was that shared lessons be planned collaboratively to raise the quality of what was produced. My school had already allocated some collaborative planning times in twilight sessions, so I tried to use these to get collaborative planning going in these Year 7 and 8 planning 'teams'. The reality was that that bit of my plan did not work. The 1.5 hours every half-term or so that I had did not get us very far...in fact it got us virtually nowhere. As a department, we find that to produce one good shared lesson (which needs to be adaptable for sets 1 to 5 and contain teacher notes to explain things) takes around four hours, so collaborative planning time was just nowhere near long enough. In the end, the system I used was to allocate out runs of lessons to each teacher to produce individually. I started by giving out sets of two to three lessons. Then I met individually with everyone and gave feedback which they then acted on. That got us to some level of consistency and I was then able to give out bigger runs of five to eight lessons. Between that process, and a large amount of planning I did myself, we ended the year (2015/16) with two years’ worth of shared lessons. You can't just open and teach from them - they need adapting for which group you have, and you sometimes need to cut one lesson into two, or merge others together - but they give you a great head start.

This year (2016/17) I again mostly double-staffed people on Year 7 or Year 8. I asked the department about this when I started my timetabling request last year, and despite the increased stress on parents' evening and when report writing hits, they thought the reduced planning was a far bigger bonus. I have had 50% turnover in my department for two years in a row, and this system has been particularly useful in helping new people settle in and NQTs stay in the profession! I am praying for some stability, and if/when it comes, the future might look different. Once teachers have had a year (or two?) of double Year 7 and a year of double Year 8, they would be in a good position to teach one Year 7 and one Year 8 class the following year.

Finally, I thought this blog of Charlie Stripp's particularly poignant at this time due to the wave of KS5 changes about to smack us in the face. I met with my Leader of KS5 (Ana) over Christmas to make a start at getting our heads around what we want Year 12 to look like next year. In fact, we hardly got anywhere with that, but we did decide one thing. Next year we are going to timetable A level teaching in a very particular way. Year 13 will be covered by the half of my teachers who can teach that. The others will be on the new Year 12 course. We will have four maths A level classes with two teachers on each class. Ana will lead the pure and statistics, taking two classes, and I the pure and mechanics on the other two classes. We will each then 'pair' with the two other teachers who will teach our part of the course. This will give us a three person 'pure and statistics' team led by Ana, and a three person 'pure and mechanics' team led by me. There will be another pair of teachers responsible for the additional material needed for our Further Maths class. We are hoping to use this structure to help Year 12 go as smoothly as possible next year. The following year, I will bring some of my more experienced Year 13 teachers into the Year 12 team so that Ana and I can move onto sorting out Y13. Well that is the plan!

Thanks to Hande for sharing her story. If you’d like to contribute an experience from your department or school, please email the NCETM’s Secondary Director, Carol Knights.
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