This time I am mostly excited by…..the youth of tomorrow

I wasn’t going to post this today but having seen Mel @justmaths’ latest blog it seems somewhat pertinent:

I’m going to put it out there right now – I am really proud of my boys.

The eldest is in Year 6, is working hard on his SATs and getting some top scores.  He plays football for the school 2nd team, plays guitar and is a member of the local scout group.

My youngest is an amazing story teller in the correct way – he was winner of Student of the Week a couple of weeks ago for his Art work; he plays piano and is a cub scout to boot.

All these things are fantastic but the real reason I am chuffed this week with them is because they have shown me what I need to be aware of in the future – of students who can already produce the kind of mathematics that I want my Year 11s to be doing!

There has been a change in Primary since the new syllabus appeared there a year ago – the students who appeared in my classroom in September were all well versed in methods that students higher up the school would have no idea about (column multiplication “What, not grid method Sir?”, division in all it’s glory “Can’t I just do multiplication to find how many 23s go into 576 instead?” and more excitingly, functions – they know what they are!!!)

Here are two examples:


The scene: my dining room, Saturday morning

Son2: Daddy, can you help me with this please?

Me: Which question?

Son2: 8x – 1 = 15

Me: OK.  How are you going to start?

Son2: Well I do the inverse of take 1 which is add 1 so I get 8x is equal to 16.  Then I divide by 8 to get 2.

Me:  Thud

Son2:  Daddy, why are you on the floor having fallen off your chair?



The scene: my classroom, late (probably) marking a pile of Foundation papers in which the question about the tank and the barrel of water is being examined.

Me: Nope

Me: Nothing

Me: Oo – 1 for working out the volume in litres

Me: Nope (this continues for about another 30 scripts)

Me: Nope

Me: Oh my goodness – 23.6cm – the correct answer

*turns to the front to see who it is*

Me: Blimey

The only student to get full marks was my son who had done the paper and put it in my pile to get it marked.

Now I know this is bragging (it’s not even close to might be) but it does raise an interesting point.  We, as the maths fraternity are struggling with this year’s papers and I think the current Year 10s are going to do so as well, but there is some light – the Primary schools are producing Numerate students who can problem solve, who are not afraid of maths and who are resilient enough to attempt the questions.

It does also raise the point that we should have waited until this cohort were in Y9 or 10 before introducing the new syllabus to Ks3/4 but as I am a glass half full kind of guy I’m going to close that can of worms right back up again.  Nor am I going to mention the fact that these numerate children are being tested with 67% of their papers using a calculator thus deskilling them.  Oh no I’m not.

What I will say is that we need to continue to nurture, feed and support these new breed of children – I’m not writing off the elders just yet – just looking at them the way they seem to be looking at maths at Primary – with awe rather than despondency.

Phil McBride is a Lead Practitioner of Mathematics at Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, and part of the Teaching and Learning team affiliated to the Pathfinder Teaching School Alliance in York.

This time I am mostly excited by…..ventiles

Since I last blogged there has been quite a bit of chatter in the maths department about the second set of mock papers and the best way to deliver the results to students.

Immediately that the papers were able to be tweeted about there was a general feeling that paper 1  was looking nice and this was borne out by our students who were happier.  I should say at this point that we were lucky to be given time in school to sit a second mock in its entirety for both English and Mathematics.  I know this has not been the case in many schools, with some only having lesson time or a limited number of papers.

As I was saying, the tweachers liked it, the students seemed to like it and the results showed that the paper was more accessible.  “We’ve cracked it” was the feeling, “It wasn’t that the paper was easy, it was the extra work we’d done with the students on problem solving and matching their issues on the last mock with personalised homeworks”.

If you are a teacher/football commentator reading this you’ll be well aware of the pitfall of such a rash and unconsidered statement!

Paper 2 was hard and paper 3 not much better.  We had the age old problem of not having enough calculators for the paper 2 (I still cannot believe the number of students who turn up for a CALCULATOR examination, without a calculator.  I mean, really *huff*) which cost some students marks but the paper did “do” for a large number.

The task of marking was done as a team – all 12 (10 real and 2 trainee) teachers sat in groups of 4 and marked the entire lot.  Old skool.  It was when we had collated the results that we encountered the next problem.

By now most maths teachers will be of the sound mind to know that grades are not to be discussed at any point with anybody at all.  Ever. No.


Every child wants to know their grade.

We think we’ve found a happy medium which is to use ventiles.  Now I don’t know if anyone used these before Pearson produced their mock 1 analysis – indeed my computer is telling me that the word is incorrect and I meant “gentiles” (read that again – it’s not what you think) but they have become the latest thing with my students – they want to know where they are in the school and against a virtual cohort (which is made up of the Pearson data plus a bit to take account of extra knowledge).

It’s by no means perfect, we do know how many AHS students gained a C grade last year in their mock2 so we have been able to set an approximate bar there, and at 20% and at 98% but I agree with the philosophy about not guessing grades.  What’s the benefit?

I am pleased also that schools in York have continued to share their results leading to larger sample sizes and better data analysis.   We’re getting more confident but more importantly, so are the students.

Phil McBride is a Lead Practitioner of Mathematics at Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, and part of the Teaching and Learning team affiliated to the Pathfinder Teaching School Alliance in York.

What will the papers say?

Our students sat the second Edexcel mock papers this week and I’ve just about finished marking them.

OK so it’s not really that exciting, but I do think that after many months (years?) of uncertainty we are beginning to see the light and the stark reality of what might happen in the summer.

We had the first set of mocks, we have PiXL papers and we had the discussions about the soul destroying low marks, ventiles and the fact we should not be mentioning any grade boundaries of any sort at any point…ever….

Our results in these mocks appear to have improved from the December ones – I am yet to do a complete analysis, but with 50% of the Higher cohort only getting 65 marks last time out it’s hard not to see an improvement.

What are the five stages of grief? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  I think I am now finally at acceptance – what will be will be but this doesn’t mean I am going to fight tooth and nail to drag my 4 groups of Year 11s to the best total score that they can get.  I will cajole, tease, shout, scream and possibly cry.  (I think they are still at anger by the way, by this is almost certainly because they are Y11 and not because of the exams!).  I will plan a variety of lessons based on their QLAs from each paper, all interspersed with the excellent Problem Solving Papers from Edexcel.

I know I am not alone in the dedication I am showing to my students – this year, more than any other year I have known in my 20 years experience, teachers are putting it all into the GCSE examinations. (What does this mean for A-level?)

In the back of my mind however is the constant worry that whatever we do, it will not be good enough for the media. Here is an interesting quote:

bbc ks2 sats
Source:BBC News 15th December 2016

The alert among you will have noticed the date, even if the quote rings true.  This is from the fall out from the 2016 KS2 results where Primary schools saw their results fall from 80% to 53%, technically not that dissimilar to what could happen this summer in Maths.

The Government were quick to point out that comparisons to previous years were not useful but this is the only bench mark that the media have and I am so worried that the headlines in the summer are going to be anti-maths again. (Maybe I’m not at acceptance just yet huh?)

So the problems still remain – we know 70(ish)% will get a grade 4+.  We also know that there is a shift towards the number of students being entered for the Foundation tier. Does this mean that nearly all of the Higher Tier will gain a grade 4?  In which case should we enter our borderlines for the Higher tier meaning that the 4 becomes harder to achieve again on Higher tier?  I’d like this to be called The McBride Paradox from now on please!

I am, in general a positive man so I am going to finish by saying that, despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth from last year’s KS2 results, my experience of the current Year 7 students and the many Year 6’s I know from church is that they are much better prepared that our Ks4 students. I will blog about this soon as it has been very interesting watching my own Year 6 do the Y11 mocks (and before you complain – he wanted to do them!)

Phil McBride is a Lead Practitioner of Mathematics at Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, and part of the Teaching and Learning team affiliated to the Pathfinder Teaching School Alliance in York.


This time I am mostly excited by…..Open Evenings

Unbelievably my eldest child is now in Year 6. This is unbelievable because, like many parents, I can still remember him lying in my arms, only a few hours old sleeping peacefully.  All the evidence was there I guess – the fact he now has the same shoe size as my wife, eats as much as me and only wants to spend his time playing anything electric, be it his DS, PS4 or Pokemon Go on my phone!

Inevitably therefore we had to “do the Open evenings” over the past few weeks so on three occasions the family has has a rushed tea (nominally pizza) before heading out dragging the little McB out with us.

As a teacher of *cough* many years, I have been on the other side of the fence so to speak.  I have had days when I have taught all 5 lessons, only to then have to sort my room out;  I have also had days when I have not had to arrive in school until 11am, then had a few hours training and then 5 hours set up time; I’ve been in charge of the whole Maths Department, and I’ve sat back and done my own little empire.  I’d like to think that I know Open Evenings!

The one thing I had not done, is the whole caboodle!

It is fair to say that all three did the majority of things differently and that was refreshing in itself.  Every school is unique and that should be celebrated in its own way, so it was good that some used guides, while another didn’t; one had all their rooms open for parents to see, some had only a couple per department; all had a sense of pride: that their school was simply the best and they were going to show it.

There were many similarities  (Science I’m looking at you – where were the sticks that turn different colours in the Bunsen burner? Oh over there.  Where is the mandatory eye ball that you can squeeze?  On that table over there.  What about the funny bubbles you can torch? See the man in the corner with the safety google and metre ruler) but all had good intentions.

The fact remains though that this is a big money industry.  Each child is worth an awful lot of money to a school and staffing, budgets and even building costs can be severely altered if not all spaces are filled.  It is important that this doesn’t come across to parents – that actually it is their own child that is the be all and end all to them, will also be the be all and end all to the school, with or without the price tag.

What have I learnt from this whole experience?

  • That is that the children and their parents need to be given freedom to see a school for themselves.   Don’t pressure them or the guides to getting round by a certain time.
  • That it is exhausting for the child who is asked to “try this” “taste this” “set fire to this”.  When new staff come on interview we let them talk to the students – why not just have a space for them to chat to those students who were in their shoes 12 months ago?
  • That being on an Open Evening as a parent in your own school is the toughest of all.  I couldn’t distance myself enough to be a parent and no member of staff could take me seriously as they thought I was in the words of on colleague “On a wander”!!

Child1 (as his social media name goes) has made his choice, we are happy with it and would have been happy with either of the other two.

Child2 (who is in Year 3)is still to make up his mind!

Phil McBride is a Lead Practitioner of Mathematics at Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, and part of the Teaching and Learning team affiliated to the Pathfinder Teaching School Alliance in York.




This time I am excited by…..lack of clarification for 9-1

I have been a bit like a dog with a bone for the past few days and I suspect that my impatient side will come out in this blog….it may well be that I have to come back and edit it in the next few days, but in the meantime my frustration and concerns have got to me and so I feel I need to “get this out there”:

What is going on with the levels in 2017?

In September 2014 Ofqual produced this:


By now most people have seen this and I certainly have had conversations with Heads of Department about the fact that “the same proportion of C will be a 4″….however WHAT IS THE PROPORTION OF Cs?

Is it of the entire cohort of students who sat the 2016 mathematics?  Is it only the Y11 students sitting for the first time?

And before you ask “does it matter?” – YES IT DOES (see I’m shouting now – apologies) because this is the AQA breakdown of the 117, 005 students who sat their papers this summer:

aqa results

So is a 9-1 “4” going to be based on the 53.7% or the 69.9% (or the 67.7%)?!

Now the JCQ figure according to their pdf is 61.0% but this is all entrants i.e. the average of those sitting at the “correct” time and “the rest”.

jcq results

The other thought running round in my head is the fact that the enforced change to the Edexcel Higher tier grade C border by Ofqual (read the letter here) has had a massive impact on some schools this year, but also it has an implication on the 2017 cohort.

Now some very rough maths shows me from this table that 98 227 Edexcel students got a D grade.  Assuming that the ratio of H:F was roughly 1:1.34 (the same as AQA – I haven’t got the Edexcel figures to hand) that means 41 977 students were in the H tier and (again assuming) a uniform distribution of marks on that paper means 2 469 students (0.3% of entire cohort) were moved from a C to a D. As I said – very very rough maths but the point is that in 2017 (broadly) 61% rather than 61.3% will get a 4 or higher.  Of course this is assuming that these are the percentages that are used….

Somebody must know something – there is so much hinging on this that I cannot believe no-one has had similar thoughts but if you do know anything – please let me know so I can share it on this blog.

Phil McBride is a Lead Practitioner of Mathematics at Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, and part of the Teaching and Learning team affiliated to the Pathfinder Teaching School Alliance in York.


This time I am mainly excited by…..evoking discussions

This has been a busy half term for a variety of reasons:  I have been fulfilling all parts of my job description – supporting a school in Hull, being observed by @highnett and others in the Outstanding teacher programme at @Pathfindertsa, and teaching Further Maths module 2 for the first time (my brain aches and I’m only on Chapter 2!!)

One of the more enjoyable roles I have done for Pathfinder is the Subject leader meetings for the Mathematics HoDs in York.  While attendance at the half termly meetings have been sporadic, the email conversations have been great and the support given to each other has been really useful.

We agreed back in March that we would try and collate our Y10 mock results and I would try to work out a grade boundary for the cohort.  We felt that by collating our results we would have a bigger cohort and therefore would have some weight behind our arguments.

As it turned out, 5 schools submitted the same paper (Edexcel specimen set 1 paper 1) and I was able to use 900+ students’ results.

The problem was how to find a meaningful breakdown of the levels.  A while ago I came across this on twitter

guess boundaries2
From a tweet on 1st July 2015


I was quick enough to print it off and am glad I did because I can’t find it again.

However the twitterland was quick to point out this report (page 2) from the government about certain pinch points.   FFT also came up with a table which can be found on page 9 of this report

So that gave me some idea!

I collated the results and just for fun, plotted the data….while the Foundation tier is roughly Normalised the higher most certainly is not – definitely so negative skewness going on there.

There are a number of points worth noting:

  1. 907 students were counted so large enough for me to be confident in the distributions
  2. The proportion of F:H was roughly 34.6%:65.3%
  3. A large number of students at Higher tier gained marks less than 10 (18.8%)
  4. This was done by Y10 in June – although some of the schools are “80-90%” through their SoW, some are only “50%”
  5. It was also the first paper they had sat
  6. I used the percentages to discern each grade (level) using a table published and tweeted about a year ago so this may change
  7. Grade 9 was allocated 3.7% of the whole cohort, not of those who got an 8

And finally then, the grade boundaries:

grade boundaries
York grade boundaries for Edexcel Spec1 paper1


This is a massive concern and one that I have tweeted about.


If we are going to keep similar percentages of level 4+ as C+ then the current situation (in York anyway) is that a 4 is only 6 marks out of 80 and the pass that is being touted as the Holy Grail of “5” is 12 out of 80.  This is akin to 15%!

I am aware of just how much a PR disaster this could be if the media realise that the pass mark is so much lower…and the impact it will have on future sittings.

This is a massive concern – I appreciate we still have a year to go and that the students will get better, will be more adept at answering the questions and will be better prepared but if we look at the progress most Y11 students make in their final year of GCSE, it’s not unreasonable to think that the pass percentage for a 5 is likely to be below that of a C this year.

I have been emailing Graham at the Emporium about this and he’s keen that these conversations are public – so I’m blogging in the hope that it starts a conversation within the Mathematics community.  I am also waiting for the Pixl trial whose results in September will shed further light on this situation.

Phil McBride is a Lead Practitioner of Mathematics at Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, and part of the Teaching and Learning team affiliated to the Pathfinder Teaching School Alliance in York.


This time I am mostly excited by….Summer Maths

This is actually not about summer schools – I have done my fair share of those in the past, times spent bowling and going to the cinema in the name of Mathematics – but about how to entertain students over the holidays.

During the course of the year I have been running a number of Saturday morning help sessions for the parents of Year 7 students.  I must admit that, when I started it, I was expecting a larger attendance than the half a dozen who did came regularly, however the mere fact that they did come back, and spread the word so that, at times, we had about 20 individuals meant that I was making a difference.

The plan was always to help the parents who find maths difficult – either because it’s been so long since they did maths themselves and were “out of touch” with teaching or because they didn’t like maths at school, or even simply because they wanted to see how to best help their child.  We looked at the next help term, the topics that were due to come up and then I simply went through with the group how I teach it, how they can use tips and hints to help their child and looked at the type of questions they might get.

We did it using tarzias, various other interactive resources and my own stuff.  It worked pretty well and the feedback I received was positive.

However, the question did remain – what do I cover in the final half term, when the end of year examinations have happened?

Rewind to another of my Saturday morning jaunts to the STEM centre in York where the Royal Institute of Mathematics was running it’s final session of 6 masterclasses for Y9 students.  They had a Maths Day with all kinds of events and activities for “all the family” including guest speaker Rob Eastaway.  Rob did a great session demonstrating how he engages his children and others – a lot of it was based around his book “Maths on the Go” which I duly purchased and devoured in a weekend.

My plan therefore was hatched – to make a booklet for parents to have that gives them some ideas of how to use everyday mathematics with their child over the holidays.  It started with some ideas from Rob’s book, then I added some I have of my own and finally some from the internet.

And here it is: y7 parents booklet

Please feel free to use and amend – after all it is about getting people thinking and doing maths all the time – not just in lessons!

Phil McBride is a Lead Practitioner of Mathematics at Archbishop Holgate’s School in York, and part of the Teaching and Learning team affiliated to the Pathfinder Teaching School Alliance in York.