Lessons in Lockdown – Reflections of a Mathematics Teacher

The year of change

It was with some nervousness that we in the Key Stage 3 mathematics team at St. Andrew’s Prep School, Turi awaited the results of the latest round of GL assessments for our students. The news had recently been full of stories of governments’ plans to make up the shortfall in education as a result of lockdown. How would this shortfall be evidenced in our students’ learning? Our switch from a summative Common Entrance assessment to continuous formative low stakes testing had only happened one and a half years before the first closing of schools in Kenya, and while our first cohort had shown impressive growth, what would the impact be on these year groups, whose learning had been so disrupted?

Learners not crammers!

We were confident of the rationale for our switch. Moving to more frequent low stakes testing was something we felt allowed us to adjust our teaching with data driven decisions. It would build student work habits that would create life-long learners rather than last minute crammers. It would allow us to recognize all the aspects of being a mathematician: problem solving, accuracy of classwork and prep, class engagement, investigative work and growth over time. It would not boil two years of work down to one letter grade. But, would the results reflect our belief?

Mathematics at Turi

photo: Sussex Maths Hub

We had made significant adjustments to our mathematics programme. We had adopted flexible setting, using testing data to group our students for one lesson a week where the focus was numeracy. This allows teachers to target key areas for growth, while being in mixed ability groups for the other lessons giving opportunities for peer teaching and modeling at all levels. We had incorporated a weekly investigation session focused on developing problem-solving skills and mathematical thinking. We had introduced (along with all other subjects) a credit-based system where students were given criteria for success and guided on how best to achieve these. They were rewarded for consistent effort as well as accuracy in classwork and prep.

New learning resources

The final change was completed this year with the adoption of the White Rose Key Stage 3 resources for our Year 7 and 8 students to continue the good work done by our Key Stage 2 colleagues and hopefully build greater collective teacher efficacy. The students had been very enthusiastic about the new resource particularly appreciating, the interleaving, the video tutorials and the extremely high-quality question development on each worksheet, allowing clear differentiation; starting with questions accessible to all and leading to questions to stretch even the most able.

We have a winner!

When the results were in, the conclusions were obvious. We had undoubtedly made the correct choice. Rather than wondering how we would make up a shortfall, we were celebrating students massively exceeding expected levels of growth. The numbers only tell a small part of the story, but average Standard Age Score for our Year 7 cohort saw a 7-point growth this year. For our Year 8 cohort, who had spent 2 terms away from school and more time in hybrid learning over the course of the two years we saw growth of 9 points over the two years. This equates to a full GCSE grade higher in the GL prediction algorithm. Both Year 7 and Year 8 class average was over 108 for the Standard Age Score (see insert for G.L.’s explanation of what SAS is and how it is calculated).

Great Results

In both Year 7 and 8, 94% of students had made expected or greater than expected growth over the period of disrupted learning. In Year 8, 58% of students had made more than expected or much more than expected growth. In Year 7, 65% of students had made more than expected or much more than expected growth. These would be exceptional results at any time. To have done this while our school community had been learning new platforms, developing new learning habits in new and unfamiliar environments and coping with all the challenges that the last 14 months have presented is truly extraordinary.

Enthusiasm for learning

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the changes we made came from the enthusiasm for learning that was evident from our students through the time they were away from school. We received emails from parents telling us about students ‘hotspotting’ off mum’s phone data to complete assignments, working from covid isolation wards, getting up in the middle of the night to access lessons while on the other side of the planet. The commitment our families showed in overcoming the power and connection issues, we all normalize living in Africa, was truly humbling and these exceptional results are just reward for that commitment.

Seeking The Highest

We are very excited about the opportunities we can exploit when we have a more settled year. Our challenge now is to do even better when our students can be in school for the whole year.

The writer is Mr David Spragg, Head of Year 8 Mathematics and House Parent of the Senior Boys (Year 7 & 8) Dormitory.






Summative testing– Evaluation done at the end of a course that are used to determine how much one has learnt. Examples include end/midterm exams, KCPE, GCSE, SATs. Summative tests are used to certify a student’s competence in a particular subject matter.
Formative testing- Assessment carried out while still learning to determine a student’s comprehension, progress and learning needs. Examples are quizzes and tests.
Key stage 3– Three years in British Curriculum schools for students aged 11-14. Normally Year 7, 8 and 9.
Key stage 2– Four years in primary for British Curriculum schools between Years 3 to 6.
GL Assessment– Assessments from Experts and providers of formative assessments for UK schools.
Hybrid Learning– A mix of in-person learning and virtual learning. Combines traditional classroom experiences and digital learning.
GCSE– General Certificate in Secondary Education- Exams taken at the end of year 11. Academic qualifications in various subjects.

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