The pilot intervention ‘Embedding contextualisation in English and mathematics GCSE teaching’ trains English and maths teachers to use examples from real life and vocational contexts in their teaching to emphasise the relevance of studies to the future careers of students. The aim is to improve students’ motivation and engagement, leading to improvements in retention and attainment. The intervention is developed by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) and Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI).
The intervention is aimed at students who achieved below a grade 4 in their English and/or maths GCSE in the previous academic year and are resitting the course for the first time. The intervention was piloted within six further education providers during the 2017/2018 academic year. The main component of the intervention was four face-to-face training days which took place between June 2017 and February 2018. On the training days, participants were introduced to the aims of the intervention and the concept of contextualised learning, there was a review of existing benchmark practices, they developed an action plan, and trainers supported English and maths teachers in developing their own contextualisation resources. In addition, support was provided through remote support sessions and an online contextualisation toolkit with information about how to make use of contextualisation in teaching.
The aim of the pilot evaluation was to test the feasibility of the programme, its evidence of promise, and its potential readiness for trial. The pilot was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) as part of a joint initiative with J.P. Morgan to explore how to improve outcomes for disadvantaged 16- to 18-year-old students who achieve below a grade 4 in GCSE English or maths.
1. Overall, the increase in the use of contextualised learning in the classroom was limited and it was therefore difficult for teachers to assess whether the intervention had an impact on outcomes like retention and attainment.
2. The intervention helped to raise the profile of contextualisation among teachers and senior leaders. Further education teachers and senior leaders generally supported the idea of using contextualised learning to improve pupil motivation and believed in the potential of this type of intervention.
3. Teachers reported concerns about the challenge of applying contextualised knowledge to a non-contextualised GCSE exam. They also reported students’ tendency to respond better to real-life, rather than vocational, contextualisation due to a lack of interest in their vocational area.
4. The intervention required teachers to attend four full-day training sessions. This was considered to be a significant investment, and may have been more attractive for settings if the training days had been more time-effective and were shown to have proven impact.
5. If the intervention is taken forward for wider rollout, it needs significant changes. These could include the provision of additional resources, changes to the structure of sessions, and more clarity about the expectations of participating staff.