Normal ways of working

This article was originally published on Nexus Education on 6th July 2022.

When Peter joined SJ's class to resit his Maths GCSE, she couldn’t have anticipated how much she’d learn.

Peter* joined my GCSE resit maths class with all my other adults. Some were taking maths for the third or 4th time, but this was Peter’s first attempt. Peter was aged 74 and had left school 60 years previously. The courage from him to rejoin education inspired me, I was honoured to have him in my class. After an initial connection over the similar ages of my children and Peter’s grandchildren, we began with some assessments. Very quickly my teacher sense was alerted to the fact that there was a challenge Peter was facing. It became clear that Peter was struggling. His maths skills were great but the initial understanding of the question was a challenge.

Unlocking literacy

My default in this situation is to reach for my swatches of coloured overlays. I began trialling overlays with Peter, pink, yellow, blue and we settled on green as the right colour for him. Each lesson I would print his resources on green and he had an overlay too. When we reached week 3 we both recognised that whilst things had improved for Peter there was still a challenge for him when reading. There were waves of bravery and grace from Peter when he disclosed to me that reading was his nemesis and that he had taught himself to only read just enough to get by over the years.

I had noticed that if I read the question aloud Peter could tackle it with great accuracy. I reached out for some support from our SEND team and they arranged some time with Peter and access to a laptop for class time. After a session on how to use a laptop, Peter joined my class, proudly telling me he was ready to learn. Once he found the right pair of glasses, we loaded up the task on the laptop, popped some headphones in and turned on Read&Write and Equatio.

Read&Write has an inbuilt screen mask that matched the overlay Peter was familiar with. Read&Write also reads text aloud offering dictionary and picture dictionary support. Equatio can read maths aloud. Peter shared that whilst he enjoyed me reading to him, he preferred to access support on his own terms and be that independent student. Supporting him with Read&Write and Equatio did that.

Access arrangements

In preparation for the GCSE exam, I arranged for the SEND team to assess Peter for exam access arrangements. It was agreed that Peter could access a reader, coloured paper and extra time.

Both Equatio and Read&Write can be used as readers in exams and Peter couldn’t believe that his familiar tools would come with him into the exam room, his normal way of working could be applied in his exam.

Unlocking potential

The courage and bravery of Peter to return to study knowing that reading was a challenge is inspiring. Peter had gone through life not knowing who, how, or what tools could help. I am thankful that FE exists to support adult students like Peter. I am also thankful that tools now exist that enable so many students to discreetly access support. If we are truly going to arrive at normal ways of working for exam regulations we need to equip students with the technology, tools and resources needed so that, every day and in every classroom and at home, they are supported.

Peter chose to sit the foundation paper and achieved a grade 5. All the maths teachers reading will be pleased to know that Peter proudly shared with the students that he had used most of the content of GCSE maths throughout his life, and I can now cite him when I have students querying, “When will I ever use this?”.