From education to employment

Transitioning to Level 3 Academic and Vocational Courses: It’s all about ME!

Jan Atkinson, Principal, Shooters Hill Sixth Form College

Shooters Hill Sixth Form College serves a diverse community within the boroughs of South East London. Around one third of the students, primarily 16-18 year olds, undertake Level 3 programmes including A levels and vocational subjects.

The College had been graded as ‘Requiring Improvement’ since 2013. In 2016, senior leaders and Governors worked with key stakeholders to create a 5-year strategic vision.

One of our key priorities was to provide an enriched and inclusive learning experience for all young people through high quality standards of education and training services leading to greater progression.

Governors agreed to appoint a senior leader of maths and English and this investment led to a new dynamic strategy for improvements in maths and English.

As a fully inclusive college it was important that we ensured that individual students had access to a personalised transition pathway to ensure a successful destination.

It’s all about ‘Maths and English’

In 2017, the maths department at the college was the lowest performing department and the GCSE maths grade 4+ result was 11%.

As a response, the maths faculty launched an innovative ‘It’s all about ME’ project.

This initiative demonstrated high levels of innovation in learning and teaching using both technology- enhanced learning and ‘in-class’ approaches.

16/17 Year Olds on Level 3 Courses with a Level 2 who failed GCSE Maths and English

Our approach enables 16/17 year olds who have achieved a Level 2 qualification but failed GCSE maths and English to enrol on Level 3 courses (see diagram) because of the Targeted Intervention ME Programme.

16/17 year olds with a Level 2 but failed GCSE maths are able to enrol on most Level 3 programmes – A levels and vocational courses – except STEM pathways (A levels and vocational courses).

By comparison, those who passed GCSE maths but not English are able to enrol on Level 3 STEM courses as well as other Level 3 programmes (see diagram):

NCFE Shooters Hill Fig1

Increasing Level 2 Maths Attainment via GCSE Grade 4+ Maths

The main aim is to inspire and promote maths and English (ME) skills to all staff and students and to transform the learning experience of our students in developing their ME skills throughout their learning journey.

The project involved teams in Marketing, Senior Leadership and the governing body and ten ME student ambassadors, with the predominant focus on GCSE maths.

Wider Support

In addition, the College employed an Emotional Support Officer and a Behaviour for Learning Officer to provide targeted interventions for those students with mental health and wellbeing issues which sometimes led to poor attendance and a lack of engagement in maths and English.

As part of the project, the college established a very successful Maths Exploratory Lab (known as MEL). The idea of MEL was first researched by a member of staff of the college during his fellowship at the University of Cambridge and implemented in this project.

MEL provides free academic tuition, help and support for all students. Students have access to additional learning, technological instruments, resources and an independent working space.

Students can experiment and explore patterns and ideas and can find a collection of games, puzzles, and non-traditional assessment opportunities for example, online matching games, darts, and the use of board games.

This has developed relationships amongst staff, overcoming workforce challenges and raised the profile of maths in the college and across the region.

Impact – Foundation GCSE Maths

During the 2018/19 academic year attendance to foundation GCSE maths improved by 20% as a result of improved student motivation and aspiration to succeed and progress onto a level 3 programme.

In addition, results increased to 41.2% against the national result average of 17% despite the majority of students coming from disadvantaged and SEND backgrounds.


Our full Ofsted inspection under the new framework in October 2019 included a ‘deep dive’ on both maths and English. Ofsted recognised the personalised nature of our provision to ensure that maths and English is not a barrier for our disadvantaged students and that they can transition onto a level 3 course with the right support.

In addition to maths and English lessons and intervention sessions, Curriculum Leaders also have a relentless focus on ensuring that literacy and numeracy is embedded across all vocational programmes at every level.

Our OFSTED Report stated:

“Senior leaders have a coherent strategy for courses that are suited to the students who come to the college. They have put in place a curriculum that meets the diverse needs of their students. It helps students who may not have succeeded in their studies previously, for example, to find the right level programme for them to thrive and move forwards in their education. Leaders and managers work well with local business groups and partners to ensure that courses are relevant to the changing needs of business. For example, they developed a finance course to supply the skills that local employers need”. [Ofsted 2019]

Best Practice

Our experience at Shooters Hill Sixth Form College suggests that students with a Level 2 qualification but without a Grade 4+ maths GCSE can enrol on Level 3 programmes – except STEM subjects – and achieve them as long as a ‘targeted intervention support package’ is available to achieve a Grade 4 maths GCSE.

Jan Atkinson and Nathan Nagaiah, Shooters Hill Sixth Form College


No 16-18 Year Old Left Behind

The Spring Budget in March and Spending Review in the summer will be pivotal moments to see if the government will prioritise funding for the education and training of 16-18 year olds compared to other phases of the English system.

These will be against a background of reported 5% cuts in departmental spending and the apprenticeship budget facing overspend. The recent falls in the number of 16-18 year olds starting apprenticeships will also cause concern of a rise in the young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).

In this #No1618LeftBehind mini-series, leading authorities from across the education sector offer policies and measures to help the new Government level-up education and training opportunities for all 16-18 year olds in England: No 16-18 Year Old Left Behind – wherever they live.

 The authors are:


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