The Benefits of Teaching Maths and English in FE

Published: 07 Mar 2016

The Benefits of Teaching Maths and English in FE

There has never been a better time to become a teacher of maths or English within the Further Education sector. The teaching of these core subjects has become a huge growth area within FE since the 2011 Wolf Report first recommended that all 16-19 year old learners without a GCSE grade C in these subjects must continue to study them, or miss out on funding.

The challenges are considerable, namely:

  • FE colleges tend to attract learners with lower GCSE grade profiles than sixth forms.
  • Learners may follow either GCSE or Functional Skills pathways. Both qualifications are currently undergoing change in order to create more "parity of esteem" between the two.
  • Learners' primary motivation is often to develop vocational skills and knowledge within their main subject specialism, rather than retaking exams they have already failed.
  • Ofsted has also attributed worsening inspection grades to the enormous rise in the number of learners studying maths and English within the sector.

However, the rewards of teaching maths or English are plenty and there is real scope for creativity and innovation. FE learners have often struggled within "traditional" classroom settings and respond positively to more innovative and personalised approaches to learning maths and English, in particular, the increased use of technology. The Further Education environment demands that teachers approach the teaching of maths and English with enthusiasm and a positive attitude, as well as the ability to help learners as far as possible to apply their skills to real world scenarios.

Some studies have estimated that there is a shortage of as many as 5000 maths and English teachers within Further Education. Bursaries are available to those who wish to undertake teaching qualifications in these core subjects and you may find your local college offers alternative routes into these specialist areas, such as level 3 qualifications in maths for numeracy teaching, or English for literacy teaching. These can then provide a springboard into specialist study at level 5. These programmes can be completed either as stand-alone qualifications, or as part of the Award, Certificate or Diploma in Education and Training suite, where maths and English are also embedded as the so-called "minimum core".

Once employed, even if your subject specialism is within another area, you will find that there is an expectation to "embed" or "promote" maths and English within your lessons. The Education and Training Foundation offers support for practitioners via their maths and English Pipeline programme, including resources, case studies and courses.

5 tips for new teachers are:

  • Create a vocabulary box with your learners, with key terms recorded on slips of card. These can then be used as starter activities for guessing games.
  • Most Virtual Learning Environments have a "Glossary" tool. Again, these can create a reference point for subject specialist terminology, whilst developing learners' writing skills.
  • Encourage learners to develop language awareness by e.g. removing all the adjectives from any text and replacing them with alternatives.
  • Set learners maths puzzles, again these work well as starter tasks, e.g. Calculate the costing for an event, recipe, building project, salon start up etc. They can then write or type this up to develop writing skills.
  • Ask learners to predict any statistics, which naturally occur during a lesson, e.g. the cost of an advertisement, average salary of a technician, ratios of staff to children at different ages.

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