How To Get People Who Fail GCSE Maths and English To Pass

Pat Harrison, of Bolton College, explains in an interview with BBC Radio4 PM how Bolton College enables students who have failed GCSEs to learn and pass.

Here is the interview.

What do you think of the interview? Here is a transcript

I felt a mixture of encouragement and depression.

Encouraged there are people who are successfully getting students to pass maths and english GCSEs, despite previous failure.

Depression as if this can be achieved in further education colleges why not in schools?  Surely it should be a matter of urgency whatever techniques being successfully used at FE colleges be immediately adopted in schools, if only for those who are not succeeding under the current school regime.

Or is it better for students to spend a few years (2? 5? 10?) not understanding what they are being taught?


It seems to me many of the points made by Pat, I have made in StartingArithmetic using different words.

Many others have also made similar points (e.g. John Taylor Gatto, Michel Thomas).

Here are some examples.

Pat Contextualisation

Once they understand the relevance of english and maths in the subjects
they want to learn, then the learning will take place somewhat quickly

John Gatto Where the colonists geniuses? No, the truth is reading, writing and arithmetic only take about 100 hours to transmit as long as the audience is eager and willing to learn.
Me It’s curious how speed and accuracy increase along with the “Whats in it for me” factor.

you need to know where they are at (as the californians say)

Expectation and Aspiration
Pat But a lot of the priority is to ensure that we do raise their aspirations and they are clear that there is an expectation they will achieve their GCSE.
So it’s the positive attitudes and role models of our staff are really important.We raise aspirations, we make sure the learners do know they will achieve but clearly what the main thing is to make the learning relevant to the subject that they’re studying.

Once they understand the relevance of english and maths in the subjects they want to learn, then the learning will take place somewhat quickly.

Michel Thomas Give students an opportunity to experience success that is all the motivation that’s needed.
Me As Henry Ford said

If you think you can
or you think you can’t
you’re probably right

Small Steps – Working One To One
Pat we work at the pace of the learner, but we make sure that it’s small steps of achievement. And once they get these small steps of achievement in the vocational area of their choice, and the english and maths is contextualised within that learning then there is a positive achievement and pathway towards the GCSE.
Me Little and Often

In the long run it can be more productive to have short sessions where just a few facts are learned at each session. Followed later by some short revision sessions to ensure the knowledge is locked in.


Some of John Gatto’s ideas are explained in

Jonathan Solity describes Michel Thomas method


This entry was posted in Maths and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Anti-Spam Quiz:

CommentLuv badge