Move over SPaG, MATH is on the scene

I am writing this following our event Opportunities for FE English and maths #FEconnect cutt.ly/FEmathsEng. We opened the day with a discussion between Jonny Kay (https://twitter.com/jonnykayteacher) and myself guided by Lou Mycroft (https://twitter.com/LouMycroft). During the discussion I suggested a whole college marking policy for maths. Most likely colleges have one for SPaG but possibly not maths. Why not?

We spend a lot of time in FE, and we used to in schools when I was in them, trying to put English and maths front and centre. Jonny and I argued that co teaching and collaboration should happen across disciplines in colleges. If Pythagoras is being taught in the vocational area, maths staff need to share how they would teach it and a consistent approach to be taken across the college. We carefully craft policies for every eventuality and we may even have a maths marking policy and code, but what do we do in our day to day tasks to support the development of maths?

I remember maths stairs being a necessity, an equation revealed or a fact to be recalled as you ascend. Yet when the same students answers maths problems in hair and beauty there was no consistent maths marking to help build connections to the maths qualification they were studying. SPaG policies and marking codes are almost a given, common currency transferable between institutions. If you arrive at a new school or college you can guess 'SP' probably means spelling mistake in work maybe even '//' is new paragraph. This currency of whole college and school marking has become the norm for English. Some have moved away and things will always shift though.

In researching this blog post I lost hours on an image search of whole school marking policy. Lots of // and SP and P. All familiar to me. One post I read said that the marking policy must be printed in size A1 in the classroom so that all teachers adhere to it! I remember in my NQT re-marking a set of books that I had marked in the wrong shade of green and I was terrified my mentor would tell me off. They didn't; but they did point out that my students were using the wrong coloured pens for reflections. I'm not proposing maths teachers head down this route, but a more unified marking code may help bring maths out in other areas more to be celebrated.

The EEF found that there was little difference of impact of teacher using coded Vs non-coded marking, as long as students knew what the codes meant. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/evidence-reviews/written-marking/. They suggested that time can be saved for teacher in using coded marking. Maybe this is why SPaG took off, everyone has or had one, each with a nuance for their institution.

What I can't let go of though is a maths code. I know in primary I have seen some use of maths marking codes in my local area. I haven't seen it in secondary (granted not visited very secondary school around and would love to be shown successful examples). In colleges I haven't seen it either. Again if you are successfully using a maths marking code please share your experiences, I am keen to learn.

I often say we are the double glazing sales people of education as maths teachers. Everyone needs windows but they are reluctant to pay (put the effort in) for them. I know this is a generalisation, though, but I hope that you get my meaning. We are on the back foot from the beginning. We talk a lot about embedding maths in other subjects. Julia Smith (https://twitter.com/tessmaths) (on our podcast e-m-booth.site) suggests that my embedding maths we are pushing it down and squeezing it in. Julia suggests we should be enhancing out maths in other subjects. I think she is on to something.

In vocational subjects that tokenistic embedding of maths can happen. 

"When we look at graphs of data maths will be embedded in this unit of work."

Great, graphs, perfect! What I always say is, ask that next question. What does the data tell you? What would happen if the outliers were removed from the sample? What percentage of success can you assume from this data? Whenever I talk about embedding (or enhancing) maths I want staff to ask that extra question. Conversely, those not taking a tokenistic approach maybe actually teaching units that involve serious calculations. Think about the calculations needed in electrical engineering or motor vehicle or catering. These calculations will be being taught in colleges, but then we may encounter another conflict. The methods chosen might not be the methods used by the maths department. Who has checked for consistency of message? Who is looking out for the interests of the students here? Imagine being taught ratio one way by your vocational tutor (I have 4 ratio methods that my students regularly come to class with from school!) and the next day being taught it another way by your maths tutor? This could easily happen. Consistency is key.

Move over SPaG MATH is on the scene.




M - clear method used
A - accuracy in the stages of calculation
T - task met
H - Work is set out in a clear, legible manner.

Anytime there is maths being used in work, this code can be applied. In vocational subjects that have maths, in study skills sessions that cover maths, in maths lessons. There can be a consistent message. Adding in here for progression from functional skills to GCSE, consistent message is also key to supporting students in feeling settled. This MATH message suggested is also consistent to GCSE and functional skills marking codes as well.


GCSE and functional skills maths have coded marking too. M for method is common currency as is A for accuracy. The setting out of work is key skill we, as maths teachers, push. The examiner wants to award marks (trust me I examine for an awarding body) but only if they can follow the working out. High standards of the setting out of work is not only a great study skill; it is important when submitting work to be marked externally, which probably isn't just happening in students' maths subject but in their vocational subject also.


The time saved by teachers in marking using a code, as the EEF (ref above) found, is worth considering. Time saving, wherever found, should be explored. The MATH marking code, as I suggest, may save time and deliver a more consistent student experience. I would also include the movement to a coded policy could enhance the student experience further as it moves away from tick and flick. 

A tick at the end of the work doesn't tell a student what was good. Likewise a X at the end doesn't explain what or where they went wrong. I would love feedback to be given to inform students on every piece of work but we have to be mindful of teacher workload. I'm not going to stray into the difficulties in students receiving quality feedback, that might be another blog. A coded policy may be a handy bridge between tick and flick to full feedback, whilst also bringing focus on maths across all subject areas too.

[ALT lattice method multiplication for 24 x 37 with answer 888 marked using MATH code M+ A- T+ H-]


In this example, the method and answer are correct but the setting out of work is wrong. There is no 24 x 37 = 888 but task met has been awarded as we can imply that is what was meant by the student. The method chosen hasn't been accurately applied, the 24 should have been where 88 is and 888 should arrive on the left hand side. I have indicated where the high standards also applies with the formation of 2 in 28. This may seem harsh to non maths specialists but these are the margins that can cause grades to change. Exam papers are scanned into a computer system to be externally marked for GCSE. Clarity is a key skill required. Opinions on this are all valid but these are the facts and the job of the maths teacher is to prepare students for their final exam, as it stands.




This is a paint mixing example from motor vehicle. Here the method is sound but there are errors in following through with numbers so A is not awarded. It is nearly set out and so H is awarded but the task hasn't been met as the final answer is incorrect and T isn't given. I can vision student reflecting on this and seeing that they have made mistakes within their working out using this code and seeking further guidance, or a teacher initiated discussion around the errors. The code is not the end of the journey but hopefully a consistent and speedy way to promote maths and high standards across colleges.



[ALT 4(x-5)=44 answered and marked using MATH code M+ A- T- H-]

In this example the method is sound, there is accuracy throughout until the final stage which has meant the final answer is incorrect. H wasn't awarded as there is a mis-alignment of the expanded bracket and the =44. 

I think M sits well, is there a sound method being used? A, is the student accurate in their application of the chosen method? T, have they answered the question that the teacher set them correctly? H, does the work read easily?

I have tried, unsuccessfully at a college previously, to embed this marking code. The college had a whole college numeracy marking code and didn't want to change. That code wasn't used by staff, it wasn't reviewed, it wasn't on A1 printouts on the walls (maybe that's where it fell down?) And it was a full page long. It had numeracy, processing, shape all included. For example, of drawing shapes must be done with a ruler. That awarded the [] mark on the code. 0 indicated correct order of digits. You get the idea. It was lengthy and not shared regularly, most importantly it wasn't led from the front. Was it a policy to grab if OfSTED asked if they had one maybe?

What I'm suggesting here is a brief whole college marking code. Wherever calculations are used they are marked the same way. Consistency of message aligned to GCSE and functional skills maths marking codes. But it must be led, it can't be assumed others will follow it, maths needs pushing to the top of the agenda! If college resit results are to improve, something has to change. If you have a SPaG marking code do you have a maths one too? I would love to know more, is it commonly used, is it equally used as much as SPaG?

And if you don't maybe you might consider applying my MATH example?

Context whole links included to be more accessible rather than hyperlinked behind a word of text. I am a consultant to colleges on their teaching and learning, EdTech and embedding of maths; whilst still teaching GCSE maths in an FE college.

M 0 method, A accuracy, T task met, H high standards



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