Innovative specialist maths schools around the UK praised by Ofsted

Staff and students at the Exeter Maths School in 2015

Innovative specialist maths schools around the UK have been praised by Ofsted for their pioneering work, which is boosting the number of young people with STEM skills.

The judgements are further evidence of the impact of the state sixth forms on young people’s lives and local communities. They have formed a network which is helping to develop science and maths education leaders across the country.

Inspectors have rated the Exeter Maths School and the University of Liverpool Mathematics School as outstanding. The Lancaster University School of Mathematics, given a monitoring visit as a new school, was judged to have made significant progress, the highest rating possible prior to a full inspection.

All the schools offer A-levels in STEM subjects, including further maths, which are taught in more depth and rigour than in other schools. Pupils also get industry experience and complete university-level extended academic projects.

Inspectors praised the quality of teaching and leadership in all three schools and noted how pupils thrived thanks to the supportive environment created by teachers which raised their aspirations.

At Exeter Mathematics School the 127 pupils come from across Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Cornwall. Those who live too far away to commute can live in the school’s residential provision on weekdays.

Headteacher Kerry Burnham said: “We are pleased Ofsted recognised the value in being a place where the ambitions of our staff and students extend beyond the academic, and we are grateful to our industry partners who provide wonderful work experience opportunities.

“As well as achieving academically our pupils grow in confidence thanks to the safe and inclusive environment we provide, and it was wonderful to see that praised by inspectors.”

Inspectors said students were exceptionally motivated and highly valued their learning. They regularly produced work of a high standard which significantly exceeded what is expected of them at this stage in their education.

The Exeter Mathematics Certificate curriculum was praised for helping young people to develop their mathematical interests by producing project work of exceptional quality. This has included statistical modelling of sports results to predict outcomes.

Ofsted praised the school’s careers advice and the use of the latest education research by teachers. Inspectors said leaders and teachers are innovative in the way in which they enhance the student learning experience and are highly ambitious for their students. They place significant importance on the development of a student’s character, resilience and independence, as well as achieving high academic outcomes.

Inspectors said students thrived in the aspirational learning environment and relish the challenges that they are provided with by teachers. They said teachers, who provide exceptional support, plan and teach the curriculum expertly and in a way that highly motivates students to learn more. Students are excited about their learning and become highly effective at forming and solving problems, often applying the skills they develop, across different curriculum areas.

The University of Liverpool Mathematics School was formed in 2019 and opened to students in September 2020. The curriculum includes the Aspiring Mathematician Programme.

Headteacher Damian Haigh said: “We work hard to ensure students become confident and curious mathematicians and scientists while also developing self confidence and collaboration skills.  Our students      almost all come from state schools across      Merseyside and we provide financial support to ensure that all students can access things like educational visits and other activities.”

Ofsted said students are highly motivated and exceptionally keen to achieve well in their studies. They consistently demonstrate positive attitudes to their learning and attendance is very high. Students enthuse about the nurturing culture fostered by staff. They say they can be themselves and grow as an individual. Students benefit from studying in a highly inclusive environment.

Inspectors praised the school’s focus on equality and diversity – in the relationships between staff and students and within the curriculum – and the wide range of activities run to help children’s development. These include interhouse competitions, sports, dance and music clubs. There are “women in STEM Saturdays” to attract more female students into the STEM subjects.

Ofsted have said students grow significantly in confidence because of being at the school. They access an exceptional personal development curriculum that swiftly develops their communication skills. Students learn how to find their voice and how to produce writing that is compelling to read.

Inspectors said leaders and staff were passionate about their school and the community they serve and praised the carefully-planned and challenging curriculum designed to support students, some of whom are from the most deprived areas, to achieve their aspirations. They also praised the high quality impartial careers education, information advice and guidance.

The Lancaster University School of Mathematics, in Preston, is part of The Rigby Education Trust, and was set up by senior leaders from Cardinal Newman College and Lancaster University. The first cohort of students started in September 2022 and will sit their exams this year.

Inspectors, who visited the school in February, said pupils were flourishing in a distinctive mathematics environment where they can be themselves. Almost all students in Year 13 have applied for and received offers at Russell Group universities for STEM-related degrees.

Ofsted also praised the “extremely ambitious curriculum” and the focus of school leaders on continuously improving the quality of education, including running highly effective and challenging curriculums with degree-level work. They ensured teenagers developed a wealth of skills and behaviours beyond the A-level subjects that they study and offered a range of development and enrichment activities.

Students take part in the LUSoM Award, in which they collaborate with their peers and a mentor from Lancaster University. They research and present on a subject that is related to their chosen career.

Head of School Pete Tiltman said: “We were delighted that the monitoring report recognises the difference we are making, even so soon after opening. With our students securing offers from the top universities and competitive degree apprenticeships, it shows just how great it is to study at a maths school.”