John Westwell, Director for Strategy at the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) shares how maths hubs are helping to improve mathematics teaching.
If it was ever true that schools were islands, cut off from and indifferent to their neighbours, that’s emphatically not the case any more. Cross-fertilisation of leadership initiatives abound and successful approaches navigate way beyond school gates and town and county boundaries. For the current generation of school leaders, the horizons of influence stretch far and wide.
As national co-ordinators of the maths hubs programme, we at NCETM think we are helping to add an extra, valuable dimension to this success story: subject specialism. Even though we are less than 2 terms into embedding a new, collaborative way of working, we are seeing encouraging signs that leadership in mathematics education can be shared and spread within geographical areas.
Our vision is of a national, collective group of leaders exerting new, subject-specific influence across school phases and across geographical boundaries.
The essential professional characteristics of this group are that they know, from first-hand experience:
- how maths is best taught, and learnt
- how good maths teachers are nurtured
- how high-quality ongoing professional development can help good teachers become excellent ones
They have shown the capacity to lead others in all of these areas.
There are, of course, specialist leaders of education (SLEs) with a maths specialism, who have been providing important leadership support for mathematics in a variety of ways for a while now. However, we would argue that the maths hubs programme is building on existing pathways for mathematics SLEs, and other potential maths system leaders, to exert their influence.
What is a maths hub?
A maths hub is a partnership between leading schools, colleges and other organisations that have the specialist expertise to support mathematics education. Each hub is led by a school or college that has demonstrated that it has the credibility, capacity and commitment to take on this leadership role. These outstanding schools (often teaching schools) were chosen following a rigorous selection process co-ordinated by the Department for Education, NCETM and NCTL. There are now 34 maths hubs established, with just 1 area of the country where a lead school is yet to be identified.
Each maths hub has a strategic leadership group to consider needs and identify priorities, to plan and commission work, and to evaluate the impact of the work. This group will normally draw together partners such as teaching school alliances and other school collaboratives, as well as additional specialist expertise from universities, CPD providers, and employers.
The work group is the basic operating unit for the maths hub. Each work group is led locally by a system leader (for example, an SLE or NCETM professional development lead) and brings together a group of teachers and/or leaders to work together over time to address a particular maths education priority. These priorities may be wide ranging, for example:
- addressing change in maths pedagogy
- preparing for curriculum and qualification change
- developing new subject leaders
- providing subject knowledge enhancement for non-specialists
- developing initiatives to increase post-16 participation
A further, important dimension of maths hubs, is the way in which they can work together as part of a national network. This is what takes the approach from being a collection of partnerships offering good, local system leadership to something that supports leadership of mathematics on a national level. The network means that maths hubs can work together on national collaborative projects testing new approaches and ensuring innovation is spread across the system.
The maths hub leads also come together in a regular national forum, which allows them to exchange practice but also provides a platform for them to enter into dialogue with policy makers and key national bodies. Over time, we expect that maths hub leads will come to be recognised nationally as leaders of mathematics education.
Leading a maths hub
Paul Haigh is Director of the Hallam Teaching School Alliance in Sheffield, which leads the South Yorkshire maths hub. Here’s how he sees the potential of the programme:
We were a cohort 1 teaching school, amongst the first 100 designated in 2011. In the early years it was a daunting task for so few teaching schools to support so many schools across the system. The reality was most schools didn't know we existed or what we did. So our initial challenge, with limited seed funding, was to build capacity through strategic partners - most importantly more teaching schools and more partners joining alliances.
Now the number of teaching schools has increased, new projects like the maths hubs programme can identify individuals and schools in each region with strengths in particular subject areas, and the capacity to reach out beyond their own alliances to provide support across a whole region.
In South Yorkshire, we do this by passing funding and delegating roles to other strategic partners, such as other teaching schools, who can help us replicate what is working well in our alliance in a kind of franchise model.
But this isn't just about recycling what has worked in one context to another. The maths hubs model also enables innovation in mathematics teaching. We, for example, are using some of our funding to research, develop and capture new teaching ideas and then spread the resulting tried and tested approaches around the hub area.
This sort of genuine research and development has always been one of the core roles of teaching schools. But if we’re honest, it’s an area many have struggled to do well because funding was stretched for research. Now, maths hubs funding provides a lever to achieve it in mathematics. Just as, in the business world, a manufacturing firm might invest in their brightest innovators to come up with a new product and then put it into production at large scale, maths hubs can shine a light on how mathematics can be better taught in the future.
Maths hubs have made good progress with this model, and I think this can be replicated for other areas as a genuine way to build capacity, sustainability and durability in the self-improving system. Specialising in maths has allowed us to support other teaching school alliances – the maths hub model really does, I believe, have the potential to make the spread of good practice and innovation more efficient.
To find out more about the work of maths hubs and get in touch with one in your region, visit http://www.mathshubs.org.uk.
For more information or opportunities to get involved with our work, visit our pages on GOV.UK.