So … 32 new hubs have been announced and let’s just say I was underwhelmed with the response to this evenings #mathscpdchat where they were the main discussion topic.  A post on the NCETM – unless their maths is wrong suggests that there will be 35 hubs in all, yet only 32 have been announced … (“hub maths leads x 7” and there are 5 of the circle “things”)


At the moment I would compare them to the whole “teaching school” thing (before you have a go I know they’re different but bear with me)  … until recently I didn’t even know who our local one was but I still have no idea what their remit is. This is outrageous I know, yet I consider myself to have “my finger on the pulse” and quite forward thinking but at no point in 5 years (yes 5!!)  have I had a need to find out about them. A maths hub however could be a totally different ball game, but I have some major concerns:

  •  I do wonder how much of being a hub, stems from ego / career progression rather than a true willingness to share and I wonder if there a danger that we are creating some sort of minor mathematical aristocracy who are flattered to be involved, and in awe of the “powers that be” and so may be wary about asking the right questions. The fact that some school websites are already boasting of being one of the “elite” doesn’t bode well. This genuinely worries me.
  • Teacher recruitment remains an issue. The school where I have my day-job (until September anyway) was the “most improved school” in England (2013) and for two years running was a Finalist for Secondary School of the Year at the TES Awards you wouldn’t imagine we would have an issue with recruitment. Yet in February we had 3 applicants and only interviewed 2 for a maths position … this hasn’t changed since I joined the school when it was me and another applicant who spoke very little English. The situation is dire and Maths teachers up and down the country are being offered AHT positions, retention payments and TLRs to stay at a school. My concern is that these “elite” schools will attract local talent away from schools where it is really needed and thereby form a vacuum around them as teachers will want to work at a hub school?
  • The prime focus of the school has to be their own students and their own results (after all that’s their core business so it’s only right!) but how will they balance the workload and/or their priorities when push comes to shove (whatever it is they are going to be doing?)
  • The scale of the project in my mind isn’t big enough. There should have been more of them and according to some kind geographical rationale – it is nonsense that my local hub is miles and miles away … and if you are in Grimsby you are knackered!
  • map 2I am also not convinced that the profiles of the schools involved is diverse enough. I would like to see a précis of the type of catchment that each school deals with, and in my mind they needn’t have all schools with 85-90% C grade pass rates (I haven’t checked them all) but I would have insisted that they get exceptional results from the cohort that they have and for some schools getting 75% would mean 3 levels of progress from the vast majority and 4 levels for a large chunk of their cohort and for them that would be exceptional. It is these type of schools that some will want to learn from.
  • In my ideal network each school will have it’s “house speciality” i.e. the thing it is particularly good at and along with more hubs I would have liked to have seen a number of  key schools in each geographical region (you know the usual: North East, North West, East Anglia, etc) each of which would have their own speciality, so for example I would have 4 -6 schools in the Midlands that were considered “centres of excellence” each with a different flavour, so that if I was interested in KS5 I would contact School X or if it was SEN in Maths it would be School Y. But hey ho .. I’m not the one making these kind of decisions and if I’m brutally honest who even cares what I think!?!?

Finally, this obsession with Shanghai also worries me – what works in one context, isn’t necessarily transferable. Let’s get one thing straight: Shanghai isn’t China!– it is just one city in the massive country, yet some people and the media insist on misusing it as a shining example and something we should be aspiring to.  I have no issues with that, but I take it all with a pinch of salt. No-one and nothing operates in a bubble, and that includes education – we cannot separate our school system from the culture within which it is run and I genuinely believe they are interconnected and cannot be split into constituent parts, and the idea of picking up “the good bits” from Shanghai and transposing them onto UK schools is a red herring – I am convinced that there is so much more talent closer to home, and that’s why I welcome the idea of hubs but the fact that I have seen tweets this evening saying along the lines of “we’ve done so much publicity and been to Downing Street and now we’ve got to write the action plan!”. Really! NOW?? … talk about cart before the horse  – why are we giving you a pat on the back and all the fireworks and pizzazz when the action plan isn’t written? You can’t wing something like this, not with my money! –  there are £millions being ploughed into this and I’ve worked hard for some of that money (even if a VERY small part has come out of my pay packet!).

Before I go, as I have cover lessons to plan for our transition day tomorrow there are a couple of things (from all the stuff I’ve read about Shanghai) that  I want you to consider: In Shanghai, education is highly valued and it is expected that the students will work hard – schooling is something that they value and teaching is a highly respected profession and training is a continuous part of a teachers career. Can we say the same?

I do remain open-minded and look forward to seeing how this develops … open-minded but cynical. There’s nothing wrong with that is there?