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How can I best teach functional mathematics or functional skills?

Created on 18 October 2011 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 05 June 2013 by ncetm_administrator


How can I best teach functional mathematics or functional skills?


This package is written to help teachers teaching Functional Mathematics to Maths students and/or Functional Skills within a vocational course.


  • The question of What does it mean to be functional in mathematics? has been addressed by the editor of the Secondary Magazine. Take a look at the article to find out their opinion.

  • Developing functionality in mathematics is a Departmental Workshop written to introduce you and your team to both the standalone functional skills tests in mathematics and the functional elements in the new GCSE mathematics specifications for 2010. The aim is to provoke discussion about how you might embed opportunities for students to improve their functional skills into your schemes of work and day-to-day teaching.

  • If you are teaching functional mathematics to a mixed ability group, you will find the departmental workshop Teaching Mixed Ability Mathematics useful.

  • The short Maths in Work videos were designed to offer glimpses of the real world of work, to help students appreciate not only the relevance of mathematics but its importance in everyday life. The clips, which last for two or three minutes, feature the people who are actually ‘doing the job’ and explain some of the maths processes that they are involved with on a daily basis. There is a brief synopsis of each clip which identifies the maths topics covered, and all clips end with the simple question, “What mathematics would be involved in the work you have just watched?”

  • The Workplace Maths video collection contains six examples of how mathematics is being used in various occupations. Each piece of footage lasts around ten minutes and was filmed in Manchester centre and surrounding area.

  • It’s In the News! (formerly Up2d8 Maths) is a regular resource found in the Secondary Magazine. This edition explores a range of mathematical themes in a topical context. The resource is not intended to be a set of instructions but a framework which you can personalise to fit your classroom and your learners. You can download the resource in PowerPoint format. You can find a list of some of the It’s In the News! PowerPoint presentations for use in the classroom in Issue 13 of the FE Magazine.

  • The It’s In the News! published in the Primary Magazines provide ideas for contextualising mathematics that you can adapt to fit your classroom and your learners as appropriate. You can download the resource as a PowerPoint.

  • The Focus On articles from the FE Magazine which include weblinks to resources which will help you contextualise a mathematical topic, are listed in Issue 21.

  • In fact, all the NCETM Magazines provide a rich resource for teachers of functional mathematics. And Focus on Functional Mathematics from issue 16 of the FE Magazine includes suggested classroom activities and gives weblinks to useful resources.

  • Many teachers are discovering that using ICT and digital technology within a mathematics lesson can enhance both teaching and learning. Many of the available resources are free or inexpensive both in terms of time and money. The NCETM microsite ICT and Digital Technology used in mathematics teaching has a list of useful online resources which could be incorporated into functional mathematics lessons.

Discussion Point

With the help of National Centre regional project funding, collaboration between Suffolk LA and Orwell High School, Felixstowe, culminated in a series of functional maths 100-minute sessions being created and delivered which focused students’ attention on the new functional-style star questions. Through reading the moderation reports of standalone functional maths papers together with chief examiners reports, and by collating sample assessment material and looking at the mark schemes, the teachers wrote a list of what they considered to be the key challenges students face from the new style questions.

  • Read their list of key challenges.
  • Do you agree with their list?
  • Would you add to it?
  • What activities could you design to help your students meet these challenges?
  • The teachers involved in the project focused on preparing students for the functional skills examinations.
  • What would be your focus?
  • Why?

Explore a piece of mathematics

Some of the Durham Mathematics Mysteries mentioned in Focus on – functional maths are quite demanding.

  • Choose the one which you will find most challenging and do it.
  • Can you write one for your students?
  • Try it out on your colleagues!
  • Share it with other teachers through one of the NCETM Forums

Learning from each other

It has been said by some recently that ‘teachers learn best when they learn from each other’. If you know of another link to an activity or resource on the NCETM website that you think would be useful or appropriate for readers of this guidance, please use the comments box below to let us and them know of your idea.

Courses and Networks

We have many courses and networks available, search in our Professional Development Calendar to find a suitable course or network.

Personal Learning

“Activity by itself is not enough; it is the sense that is made of it that matters” (DRIVER, R. (1983) The Pupil as Scientist?, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

For the things you have tried out for yourself in your own classroom to become useful pieces of professional learning, there is a need to capture them, reflect upon them and remark on them. The NCETM Personal Learning Space (PLS) allows you to do this.

  • Use My Learning Journal to collect your thoughts and reflections as well as to log actions; documents can be attached to your entries. You could do this now by visiting your own PLS.
  • Use My Favourites and Notes to take note of and organise interesting things you have found (like this page) and want to return to easily in future.
  • Use the Sharing and Contacts facility to share elements of your PLS with colleagues, selecting them from your own list of contacts
  • Use the “Request a reminder” function

Find out more details of these and other functions of the PLS.



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