#012 Mark McCourt – Ofsted, emaths, La Salle Education, NCETM and more!

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On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast I spoke to Mark McCourt.

Mark has had an incredibly varied career in mathematics education, including being a classroom teacher, AST, Head of Department, Senior Leader, Headteacher, Ofsted Inspector, Director of the NCETM, Founder of the Teacher Development Trust, creator of emaths, and now CEO of La Salle Education, which amongst other things give us the wonderful MathsConfs.

In a wide ranging, epic interview, we covered the following things:

  • Why Mark really, really, really loves zero
  • We learn about the five key questions Mark asks himself when both planning and delivering a lesson
  • Mark shares his experience as an Ofsted inspector, talking about common traits of some of the successful and less successful lessons he has seen
  • What is the impact of having a non subject specialist inspector observe your lesson, and how best to cope with this?
  • What is Mark’s view of the state of initial teacher training and CPD in this country, and why might the subject associations hold the key to solving this?
  • What books should every maths teacher read, and why is there a notable omission from this list?
  • Despite his first name, why has Mark never actually “marked” a book in his life?
  • How do we cope with the problem of a fixed mind-set?
  • And if I made Mark the Secretary of State for Education, what changes would he make to the curriculum, Ofsted, teacher training, SATs, GCSEs and A Levels?

Mark is a man who is never afraid to share his views, and you will get plenty of these throughout this interview. I know I say this every time, but I genuinely think this is worth a listen, whatever your role or stage of career might be. And if you disagree with anything Mark says – and you probably will do – he loves an argument, so just send him a tweet, where he is @EmathsUK

Links to the research that Mark mentions, as well as all the research cited by my previouis guests, can be found here
The books Mark recommends, along with those recommended by my other guests, can be found here

In addition:

The History of Education in England
Cockcroft Report 1982

Relational Understanding and Instrumental Understanding

Mark’s Big 3
1. emaths  and blog
2. La Salle Education home page  and free resources
3. Subject Association websites: ATM  and MA 

BONUS: mathsconf website 
Next dates: MathsConf7, Leeds, 25th June 2016
MathsConf8, Birmingham, 1st October 2016
MathsConf9, Bristol, 4th March 2017
MathsConf10, London, 24th June 2017
MathsConf11, Sheffield, 30th September 2017

Podcast Puzzle
This is a link to the Podcast Puzzle, Martin Gardner’s 3 squares problem:

Martin Gardner

My usual plugs:

Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you enjoy the show!
Craig Barton

2 thoughts on “#012 Mark McCourt – Ofsted, emaths, La Salle Education, NCETM and more!

  1. Comment from a listener:

    Hello Mr. Barton

    First off I have really enjoyed listening to all 12 podcasts as a parent with a daughter (currently Y8) who is very able in mathematics and would like to go on and become an engineer.

    Our problem as parents is that we are both highly educated but in ARTS but can’t support high level mathematics after a certain point. My husband is severely dyslexic and can barely work out average scores of University undergraduates for their end of year mark. I made it to Freshman Calculus (US education system) in my first year at University and regularly work with spreadsheets/ simple descriptive statistics for my own work as a researcher but would only consider myself highly numerate, definitely not a mathematician.

    My worry is this. My eldest daughter achieved NC L6 on her KS2 SATs in mathematics but she failed to pass the 11+ and therefore is now at an ordinary state comprehensive (Kings Norton Girls School in Birmingham). Like you, Kings Norton Girls School Maths Dept strongly believe in teaching by mixed ability in KS3 – but I suspect they don’t approach it in the same way as you do.

    They approach maths homework by starting worksheets (the same for every pupil) in class and my daughter either finishes the entire sheet in class or is asked to start half-way through the sheet. In general this means she is technically doing less maths daily (in terms of time put in) than less able pupils (one presume this is ‘designed’ and intentional to allow lower ability pupils the time/ space to ‘catch up’) and she is not extended (in that she is not given extra or more challenging problems to consolidate and perhaps stretch her mathematical knowledge).

    I have approached the school about my concern over this in Y7 and Y8 parent/ teacher meetings and have met with ‘the wall’, as I’d like to describe it.

    The wall is multi-faceted: first there’s the ‘WE ARE A TES TEACHING AWARD WINNING DEPARTMENT FOR MATHEMATICS’ (an award from what I can see which was based on catching lower ability pupils back up – and had ‘nowt’ (please read w/ Cumbrian accent) to do with getting higher ability pupils achieving at the highest possible levels at GCSE/ A-LEVEL.

    Second issue is that the Russel Group universities are increasingly dubious about maths ability from GCSE scores (typically treating GCSE grades as unlikely to be maintained at A Level – i.e. an A at GCSE is treated as a B at A-Level) and find teacher predictions at A Level often are over-optimistic so are considering implementing the Cambridge Sixth Term Examination Paper for all maths intensive subjects – which effectively expects students to be at the cusp of engaging with differential Calculus. In part this is a response to the decoupling of AS Levels & all of this has been reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

    Finally – there is my frustration as a US national at the curriculum in KS3 which is vague and unclear about how much emphasis should be given to consolidation of KS2 maths vs. acquiring algebra/ trigonometry skills. In the US more able pupils at middle school would start pre-algebra and commence algebra in 8th grade (= UK Y9). A diet of Trigonometry/ Advanced Algebra and Pre-Calculus & Calculus would follow in High School (= UK Y10 – Y13). Many advanced maths pupils take Calculus for ‘College Credit’ (i.e. University Level course credit) in their Senior Year of High School (= UK Y13)

    I am of course no expert and respect that the school should be allowed to teach as they desire – but 1) they refuse to tell me how many pupils achieve A or A* at GCSE (average GCSE score for higher ability pupils at the school is B-). Instead, I have been informed repeatedly ‘they get good outcomes’/ ‘children make expected progress’. Given that expected progress in the English system for a child achieving L5+ is a B at GCSE – which will be read as a C by any Russell Group Uni for predicted A Level – you can forgive me for feeling deeply concerned about how they’re preparing my child to go on to be an engineer on that basis.

    So my appeal to you Mr. Barton is could you consider having a discussion with maths experts/ teachers/ trainers regarding what to do with this top 5% cohort in ordinary state comprehensive schools. What should teachers be doing to stretch them? What websites/ on-line learning platforms are available to parents who fear their kids aren’t being stretched? When should things be happening (i.e. if your child isn’t equipped to solve simultaneous equations by Y9 – should I be worried?)? What questions should parents be asking (and when)?

    I respect I’m hijacking your blog – which is geared to improved maths teaching – but I think this is an important issue and I am deeply worried that my child’s aspirations (to be an engineer) are crashing and burning because I don’t know how to help.

    WHAT WE ARE DOING in the meantime: CIMT MEP worksheets (because they’re structured and reflect the national curriculum) + My MATHS lessons/ homeworks (when we hit a subject where more explanation/ instant feedback would help) + NRICH maths problems (for challenge – but she’s frustrated because they often don’t seem to link with what she’s doing in class/ sees it as unfair extra work).

    What I’m dealing with is a child who was totally switched on to maths (we used Mathsfactor to great success and did all L5 My Maths homeworks in run-up to 11+ here) gradually losing interest and increasingly describing maths class as ‘boring’. I feel we’re living those KS3 ‘lost years’ OFSTED warns about.

    With thanks for any help you can offer.

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