The Most Important Academic Year in Generations

Written by Mark McCourt Friday, 27 March 2020

Very significant challenges lie ahead for schools.  With the closure of schools across the country, pupils are working hard at home with the incredible support and provision put in place by their teachers and schools in a remarkably short time under incredibly challenging circumstances.  As has ever been the case, when real challenge presents itself, teachers rise to it and go to great lengths to ensure their pupils have the best possible chances.

Although schools continue to do an amazing job, there is the very real risk that, during these times of school closures, the gap between the most disadvantaged pupils in our society and those who are most advantaged will widen even further, with those families with the means putting in place private tuition to ensure continuity.

We know that approximately 25% of all pupils in the UK were already benefiting from private tuition beyond school, giving them significant advantage over those pupils for whom this was not possible.  The average spend on mathematics tuition in the UK is around £1000 per year.  This is out of reach of many families.  

Now we are seeing the differences in opportunity become even more extreme.  Away from school, it is difficult for teachers to intervene and lift up those most disadvantaged pupils in the way they routinely do when the pupils are on site.  

For many pupils, particularly those in in the most disadvantaged circumstances, the coming months could represent significant lost opportunity.

When pupils return to school, teachers face an unprecedented challenge: to provide a schooling of such exceptional quality that all pupils are accelerated to (and hopefully beyond) a point in their learning as though no interruption to their education had happened.  Put simply, teachers face the challenge of providing the most important academic year in generations.

This will be a tremendously difficult task and schools must turn their focus to it now.

It is understandably tempting for teachers to focus on the immediate issue of providing pupils with access to learning materials during the school closure.  It is absolutely right that this happens, but we must not take our eyes off the bigger challenge of preparing for an exceptional year to come.

This will require a remarkable quality of curriculum planning, resourcing and monitoring.  That is why my focus now is on supporting schools to ensure that staff are well trained and prepared, that the curriculum is coherent and of the highest quality, that resourcing is in place and tracking pupil progress is automated such that all teachers, when finally faced with the return of pupils, are able to focus 100% on pedagogic decisions and working intensively with individual pupils.

We are already the UK’s largest provider of mathematics teacher professional learning, with thousands of teachers in our network and the most extensive programme of CPD across the country.  Now we are going even further to help teachers to boost their subject specific content knowledge and subject specific pedagogical knowledge.

Last week, we launched a comprehensive programme of online CPD sessions for maths teachers.  We are also working intensively with our member schools to support them with detailed curriculum planning – in the coming year, the curriculum needs to achieve something amazing, so we are working with our members to ensure that, when schools return, everything is in place for a hugely successful year.

For new school members, our focus is on ensuring they are fully trained and equipped to make the most of our curriculum and platform.

The adoption and successful deployment of a serious educational technology requires rigorous, dedicated teacher development and planning.  We do not throw technology at teachers and pupils for the sake of throwing technology at them – this always does more harm than good.  The deployment of educational resources requires strategic planning and critical evaluation of approaches.  Without this step, there is every chance that pupils will actually regress rather than improve.  This is why no school is allowed to join Complete Mathematics without also agreeing to receive the appropriate training (at no cost, of course).  We are interested in our work having real impact; this is far more important to us than trying to do a ‘land grab’ of a schools market at a time when schools are having all sort of opportunistic offers presented to them.  Our work is carefully considered, strategic and sustained.  Complete Mathematics schools and colleges are fully supported by our expert team at all times.

A recent report showed that for every £1 spend on education technology, just 4 pence is spent on the relevant CPD.  This is why almost all ‘edtech’ fails.  We all know that schools picking up and deploying products without taking the professional development needs of teachers seriously are simply contributing to making things worse.  Because we are a well-established organisation with expert mathematics education staff, we are able to ensure our members are fully supported to deliver impactful mathematics lessons and increased pupil outcomes.

We do things differently.  We take the longer view.

We are supporting schools and colleges to use the time now unexpectedly made available to them to thoroughly prepare for the most successful school year ever.  This means helping current and new Complete Mathematics members direct their efforts into the forthcoming academic year.  Of course our members are using Complete Mathematics to help their immediate work, with some pupils learning at home, but we are also determined to significantly strengthen the planning and preparation for accelerating the learning of all pupils once they return in the new academic year.

With teachers’ energy going in to preparing for the most important academic year in generations, we are also going further in supporting pupils and taking more and more workload away from teachers.

All Complete Mathematics pupils have a login for our extensive platform, where they can follow lessons set by their teachers or engage with independent learning.  But with the risk that pupils in the most disadvantaged circumstances will not be able to access the same additional tuition support that their more advantaged peers can, we are now putting in place a new form of provision: private tuition for all.

Our expert mathematics team has devised and planned a series of ‘Preparing for success…’ courses.  These courses are available to Complete Mathematics pupils for free.  Each will be a series formally taught sessions forming a single course.  The lessons will be delivered by expert, qualified teachers.  For those pupils who are unable to attend a session or who just want to revise further, the recordings of the courses will be available in the Complete Mathematics platform for all to view at a time that suits.

Complete Mathematics subscription is just £950 for a school or college, giving all teachers and pupils full access to the most comprehensive online learning platform for mathematics. We now also offer a full course of CPD for teachers and expert pupil tuition for key courses.

And we want to go even further still.  We recognise that there are many families who would like to access the benefits of these online courses, so we are making them available to non-members too.  This is an ideal use of pupil premium or PEF funding for those schools that wish to enrol specific pupils.

We refuse to create provision that is beyond the reach of families.  So, rather than the typical £20-50 per session fee that parents are often asked to pay for online tuition, we are making each full course available for just £30.  That’s over 30 sessions, spread across the next couple of months, for just £30.  This super low-cost tuition is designed to be accessible to all at under £1 per lesson.

In the coming weeks and months, we will work with our schools and colleges to:

  • Provide a comprehensive programme of online CPD for teachers
  • Provide extensive support and training on how to use our platform effectively and with impact on pupil outcomes
  • Fanatically support you in preparing for the new academic year with planning, resourcing, assessing and monitoring help
  • Ensure that all pupils who are now working from home can access online learning – both that set by their teachers and automated independent learning materials
  • Ensure the most disadvantaged pupils are not left behind and can access free or super low-cost private tuition

The Covid-19 virus has disrupted all of our lives.  Our job now is to ensure that all pupils, regardless of background, can return to the most impactful and amazing academic year ever.

For more details about our online CPD for teachers, visit the CPD page.

For more details about our private tuition for all pupils, visit our virtual school page.

For more details about the Complete Mathematics platform and how to join, visit our platform page.

About the Author

Mark McCourt

Mark is the UK's leading authority on teaching for mastery. He has trained over 2000 schools in mastery models for schooling in the UK and overseas.

A leading figure in mathematics education, Mark has led many large-scale government education initiatives, both in the UK and overseas. Mark was a Director at the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and has also been a school leader, an Advanced Skills Teacher, a school inspector and a teacher trainer. He founded and was Chairman of the Teacher Development Trust.

Mark has extensive experience of mathematics teaching and learning across all age and ability groups, having taught students from age 3 to PhD!

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