Inside Dr. Andrew Blair’s Journey at Drayton Manor

Meet Dr Andrew Blair, the dynamic Head of the Maths Department at Drayton Manor High School. With a passion for numbers and a commitment to educational excellence, Dr Blair has been instrumental in transforming the way mathematics is taught and perceived by students. Under his leadership, the department has achieved remarkable milestones, integrated innovative teaching methods, and fostered a supportive learning environment. Dr Blair leads on training Maths teachers for the University of Cambridge and, for the last two years, St Mary's, Twickenham amongst others. He also regularly delivers training in UK schools as well as international schools in Switzerland and Slovakia. In this interview, we explore Dr. Blair's journey, his achievements, and the exciting plans he has for the future of mathematics education at Drayton Manor. 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in Mathematics education?

From the beginning, my dream was to become a teacher, a passion that has only deepened over the years. My affinity for Maths during my school days naturally evolved into a fascination with how mathematicians tackle practical problems and conceptual ideas. Observing the creative engagement in Art, the expressive writing in English, and the analytical work in history, I realised that Maths education often lacked the same depth of exploration. Many students merely practiced procedures modelled by the teacher without truly engaging in Mathematical thinking. I felt compelled to change that narrative.

What are some of the key achievements of the Maths Department under your leadership?

Our main achievement over the last three years is that students are learning to reason and solve problems more effectively. In assessments, they can still carry out the procedures, but they can also think better and apply their knowledge. There are other indicators that show we are on the right track - Maths is the most popular subject in the Sixth Form, the number of students doing Further Maths at A-level has doubled in two years, and the progress students make between years 7 and 11 is inside the top 5% in the country!

What innovative teaching methods have you implemented in the Maths Department to enhance student learning?

We believe in using different approaches so that students learn to think flexibly and in different ways. One innovative approach is to use mathematical inquiries that encourage students to ask questions, explore, make and test conjectures, and explain their results. Inquiry lessons involve students in developing their own ideas in mathematical ways and collaborating with their peers on a line of inquiry.

How do you ensure that students of all abilities are engaged and supported in their mathematical studies?

Our different approaches to teaching Maths help students at all levels of prior attainment. For example, we use concrete resources such as algebra tiles (which the PTA kindly bought for the department) to help students visualize and make sense of new concepts. We are committed to giving students access to the whole curriculum. We don’t follow the approach that students must master procedures before they can move onto reasoning and problem-solving, which, in practice, means that some students rarely or never do. Rather, we scaffold and support our lessons so that all students can solve problems and reason at an appropriate level.

What advice would you give to students who aspire to excel in Mathematics?

My advice is to ask questions in lessons (What if…? Is that always true? How could I prove that?) and explore ideas to answer your questions. Students who excel have a deep knowledge, but they also think flexibly by connecting different aspects of maths. Then they should also take advantage of the opportunities we offer – for example, the Maths Challenge in which we always have students who advance to the invitational rounds. There is the optional Further Maths GCSE that contains A-level content, and, for sixth formers, we run a problem-solving club.

What tips would you offer to new educators joining the field of Mathematics education?

Over the last 25 years as a head of Maths in different schools, I’ve learned that a new way to teach Maths comes along every five years or so. At Drayton Manor, we test new ideas, experiment with them, evaluate their impact on students’ learning, and adopt those that we think are effective. But underlying that is our core principle, which is that all students should have the opportunity to think like mathematicians in at least some of their lessons. This ensures that we continually refine our teaching strategies to provide the best possible mathematical education.

What is your vision for the Maths curriculum for the next few years? Are there any exciting projects in the pipeline?

We want to increase the connections we make during lessons to develop Maths, around the world. We already compare decimal numbers to the Mayan system of counting and look at the contributions of the Babylonians to Geometry and Islamic Mathematicians to Algebra. However, we can enrich the curriculum even more. I am also excited to teach in a new learning space – the Atelier. We can promote the school’s values of Character and Civic Virtue by developing collaborative ways of working, along with communication skills with regards to problem solving and Mathematical inquiry.


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