How and why one Yorkshire school is teaching Core Maths

A head of maths and Maths Hub Lead talks about the benefits of the qualification


How and why one Yorkshire school is teaching Core Maths

Harrogate Grammar School was one of the early adopters of Core Maths. It is now a well-established course at the school, with over 100 students in Year 12 and a financially sustainable model. Many students are encouraged by staff across other subjects to take Core Maths because of the cross-curricular benefits it offers. 

In this article, Colin Prestwich (Head of Maths at the school and Maths Hub Lead at Yorkshire Ridings Maths Hub at the time this article was written) explains how the school’s commitment to the relatively new qualification enabled them to overcome potential barriers. He also tells us about the pleasures and benefits (some of them unexpected) that delivering Core Maths has brought.

Don’t be confused! Core Maths is the generic term for the post-16 Level 3 course that carries equivalent UCAS points to an AS level. Each exam board has a different name for the qualification – specifications can be found using the links at the bottom of this page.

About our school

Photo of Colin PrestwichSituated in North Yorkshire, Harrogate Grammar School is a large mixed comprehensive school with sixth form provision, and is run by the Red Kite Learning Trust. The school has over 1,900 students, with around 600 of these studying in sixth form. Harrogate Grammar is the lead school for the Yorkshire Ridings Maths Hub. 

The school began teaching Core Maths in September 2014. 

Why we’re doing Core Maths

The school feels that it has an obligation to offer a suitable maths curriculum for all post-16 students. Further Maths, A level and AS Maths do not offer a broad enough spectrum. Students who have obtained a grade 4 or above in GCSE Maths need to have a maths option beyond GCSE.

There is a need to develop the problem-solving skills of all post-16 students to enable them to leave at 18 with the skills they deserve to be successful in their adult life. On a practical note, understanding personal finance and having the ability to use, analyse and interpret data are core skills. The increased mathematical content of many A level subjects (e.g. 10% in Biology and 20% in Economics) is also an important reason to offer Core Maths. It’s a great way to address this issue and now choosing Core Maths is highly recommended for entry to our Biology, Business Studies, Economics and Psychology A level courses. Harrogate Grammar will be taking advantage of the Advanced Maths Premium to support our vision of the post-16 curriculum.

Given the benefits, why wouldn’t you offer Core Maths?

Our Core Maths journey

This began in 2014, when I was offered the chance to be involved as a Core Maths Lead working with the Core Maths Support Programme, alongside my role in school. The real attraction to Core Maths was that it addressed a concern that we were not doing the best for our post-16 students. A/AS Maths is not the right option for all students with a grade 4+ (then C+) at GCSE. Also, Core Maths gave me the courage to teach the lessons using a project-based learning approach, where the task was a concrete, real-world problem with a number of possible approaches. I re-read The Elephant in the Classroom and it really made complete sense.

We put together a presentation for the Year 11 Open Evening and asked all maths staff to promote the qualification in lessons.

It was hard to recruit in June 2014 – there were no specifications and it was an unknown qualification. A turning point was getting the Head of Sixth Form ‘converted’ – enabling him to see the potential benefits. I very nearly managed to get him to teach a joint class (he is a sociologist). Students were guided onto the course after the GCSE results by the sixth form team and, after I got another colleague on board, we started out with a group of 32 students with a modal GCSE grade of C (some at Foundation!) and only one with an A. We hadn’t even chosen a specification by then but just got started with learning how to use data to address real problems. We supported each other with lesson design, but soon realised that there was a wealth of resources out there. There were no textbooks, so we tried hard to match the resources to the students and not the other way round. 

In 2016, 25 students took the exam, with 24 achieving a grade E or better.

The highlight for me was Kyle (not his real name), whose confidence just grew and grew (from a low base). Seeing his journey inspired me to really believe that success with maths is available to all. He converted his Foundation C grade at GCSE to a pass in Core Maths, which is a Level 3 qualification.

In 2017, 37 students took the exam, with 35% achieving an A grade and a 100% pass rate.  
By then we were also offering a one-year course to attract more students and give the opportunity to Year 13 students who realised that they needed to improve their mathematical understanding.  

In 2018, 39 students took the exam, with 25% achieving an A grade.
Three did not achieve a pass grade but they all valued their increase in confidence with using maths in their everyday lives. 

In 2019 we are expecting to enter 50 students, and at present 104 students are studying Core Maths in Year 12. 

To date, over the three years, 49% of students have achieved a B+ grade and 96% an E+ grade.


In 2017/18 two new teachers joined the Core Maths team, and in 2018/19 we have nine teachers in the team. Over the next three years, the aim is for all maths teachers at Harrogate Grammar to be trained to teach Core Maths. The training will run in parallel with the curriculum developments at Key Stages 3 and 4 (including the adoption of the NCETM’s teaching for mastery approach to the maths curriculum). 

Many sixth form providers are reviewing their curriculum as a result of a reduction in funding and changes to how Guided Learning Hours are funded. We have found that, with appropriate planning and training, it is possible to redeploy staff within school to teach Core Maths, thus helping to avoid redundancy whilst simultaneously creating the extra capacity required. ‘Established’ staff appear to be re-energised and often provide a fresh approach to the subject. Emerging signs indicate that they are becoming champions of Core Maths.

Tip: If you start with just one group, you may only need to staff two periods a week. 

Recruitment and retention of students

The school supports early promotion of the course at both Year 10 and Year 11 parents’ evenings, in addition to sixth form evenings and even Year 7 maths-specific events. The focus at these events is on the benefit of taking Core Maths to support other subjects that students are studying at A level and for their future careers. Additionally, the emphasis on problem-solving is used to ‘sell’ Core Maths to students as a new subject. As a result of this strategy, we are finding that students are making a positive choice to take Core Maths, rather than having to be cajoled into studying it. 

In order to support retention of students, Core Maths is now offered as both a one-year and a two-year course, with the latter being the default. It takes time for many students to get their heads round ‘acting their way into a new way of thinking’ as opposed to ‘thinking their way into a new way of acting’.  

Tip: Collaboration with your local Maths Hub and the Advanced Maths Support Programme (AMSP) is extremely helpful.

How do we pay for it?

This was an issue for us. Consider starting with one group on two periods a week, which costs about £2,000 a year. If you manage to attract, say, two students into the school because of your enlightened curriculum, the money generated will more than cover the cost and indeed will bring money in. Scale this up and increase the numbers of students. The Advanced Maths Premium means there is now a funding incentive for schools to offer Core Maths, which helps to overcome any funding barrier. 

Benefits versus barriers


  • A full maths curriculum offer provided by the school, supporting students to succeed in everyday life
  • Developing the pedagogy of all maths staff, which can improve maths teaching throughout the school
  • Improved problem-solving skills supporting all A level and BTEC subjects
  • Developing the mathematical confidence of all young people (especially with personal finance and data handling)
  • Supporting students to tackle the increased mathematical content of other A levels
  • Generating UCAS points and supporting HE applications.


  • The issues already raised are more akin to hurdles. If you consider funding, staffing, resources, recruitment, retention and timetabling, difficulties can often be overcome. 


We have a two-week timetable and started out by giving two 50/55 minute periods per week to classes in Year 12 with a view to increasing this to three, if possible, in Year 13. This meant that we did not need to fit Core Maths into our timetable blocking structure, so made use of non-blocked time.

From September 2017, all new sixth form students followed a programme of three A Levels (with an additional A Level for suitable candidates e.g. Further Maths) and one optional module. The optional modules are Core Maths, AS Maths or the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Core Maths is open to all students who have achieved a grade 4 or above at GCSE. With the increase in numbers we are now able to offer Core Maths in four out of five timetable blocks.


The Core Maths team at Harrogate Grammar recommend taking a very proactive approach to embedding Core Maths within the curriculum and psyche of both staff and students. The school has invested a significant amount of time in the vision of ‘what Core Maths can do for the school and the community of students’. We feel it is really enhancing our curriculum and improving the educational experience of our students.

Find out more about the sorts of activities that might be used in a Core Maths lesson in this article from the NCETM Secondary Magazine in 2017.  

You can view the different exam specifications on the exam boards’ websites: