Thoughts on Large Data Sets

One of the thoughts that came out of my most recent meeting with Simon was that the choice of exam board will be influenced by the large data set. I had previously been of the opinion that I could leave the choice until January 2018, seeing if any more specimen/mock papers became available and analysing question types. However this would mean not spending as long familiarising students with the specific large data set for whichever exam board we choose. As a result of this I have downloaded the data sets for AQA, Edexcel and both specifications of OCR. I should point out that I am not a statistician, I have taught S1 once and try to avoid it if I can!

I have started to look at the data sets to see which is most useable, and which students will be able to best gain insight into for reproduction in their exams. We want to be revisiting the data constantly, so that students are really familiar with it. This means that portability is important as we will not always be able to access computer facilities.

AQA – Purchased quantities of household food & drink by Government Office Region and Country

The data given is split into 10 regions (under separate tabs), with the average amounts of various foods and drinks per person per week. There is also a tab with averages for the whole of England. Having spent some time in Excel playing around with the data it is possible to fit each region onto a single sheet of A3 paper (total of 11 sheets).

AQA 1Looking at the questions in the specimen paper, students are expected to be able to recall information about the average amounts of certain food groups from different regions. This is something that could only be known by someone who has done extensive work with the data set before, and given the sheer scale of the data is unlikely to be something that you could repeat for all of the different food groups.

AQA2Later questions involving the data set give a small excerpt and ask questions about these. These are much more accessible to students who do not have as much familiarity, but will be easier for those who are aware of the context. For example there is question about the total amount of confectionery purchased, which does not state that it is based on averages.

Total Marks based on Large Data Set in AS Spec Paper: 9 (Out of 80 on paper 2, 160 across the AS)

OCR A – Method of Travel / Age Structure

The OCR A specification looks at the methods of travel to work, broken down into regions, taken from the national census in 2001 and 2011 (separated into two sheets). There is also data about the ages of the residents of the regions (2 further separate sheets). Each tab can be set to cover three A3 pages, so a total of 12 will be needed for a portable copy.

OCRIn the question pictured here it would be advantageous to be familiar with the data set, particularly for part (ii), as there are different codes for the authorities based on their type. If you knew this then you would know how to separate the authorities further and would merely have to explain this.

For the other question based on the data set (not pictured), a summary table has been created. It is not as obvious what the benefits to knowing that data are here, although general familiarity and having looked at possible summary statistics will help.

Total Marks based on Large Data Set in AS Spec Paper: 8 (Out of 75 on paper 1 and 150 across the AS)

OCR B (MEI) – Population data and Olympic success

The first thing to note here is that the MEI specification (OCR B) has taken a very different position to the other boards. There will be three different data sets that will be used in rotation. The data sets that will be used for ‘live’ specifications are not available yet.

MEIThe data set that is available for the specimen papers is far less ‘large’ than the others, reducing to two A3 sheets. The question included here really grabbed me as being interesting – what were the outliers in Sub-Saharan Africa? On inspection, the data that stood out was that from islands, rather than countries on the continent.

This data set seems much more manageable than the others, and over two years I would expect students to be able to become very familiar with it.

Total Marks based on Large Data Set in AS Spec Paper: 7 (Out of 70 on paper 2 and 140 across the AS)

Edexcel – Weather Data

Edexcel’s weather data consists of 5 weather stations in the UK and 3 from abroad, with readings from both 1987 and 2015. I have been able to fit the data for each station, for a single year, on one A3 sheet (total 16 sheets).

EdexcThe questions based on this data set again seemed to not require much detailed knowledge of the readings. In the question shown here it is only the fact that there is one reading per day that will help with part (b).

Of course, as Edexcel has not been accredited yet, this may change.

Total Marks based on Large Data Set in AS Spec Paper: 11 (Out of 60 on paper 2 and 160 across the AS)


While the use of the data set will only form part of my decision on which exam board to use, I have found the process of sifting through the data sets, and the questions that relate to them, extremely useful. It has also shown me the benefits of this approach. In starting to look at the data sets it is already noticeable how the data is starting to feel familiar. I think that this will develop much more ownership of the data and make structuring easier. Now students know they are expected to know the data set, they are more likely to see the value in using it as part of exercises.


Initial Thoughts

Initial thoughts on the changes to A-Level Maths that are on the way for first teaching in September 2017


From September 2017 new AS/A level Maths and Further Maths qualifications will be taught across England. This means that during the next 9 months mathematics departments will be need to think carefully about how they will implement the changes for their teachers and students.  Simon Clay (MEI TAM Coordinator) approached the mathematics teaching team at Tudor Grange Academy Redditch, to see if they were interested in working together to think through the issues which are raised by these forthcoming changes.  This blog will therefore document one department’s journey as they navigate preparing for the new A-levels through the eyes of the Curriculum Leader.

Over the last few years a number of teachers from the school have participated in professional development and other activities run by MEI, including the Teaching Advanced Mathematics (TAM) and Teaching Further Mathematics (TFM) courses. The school is part of the Tudor Grange Academy Trust and has 440 students on roll. Until recently it has been a high school, teaching students from years 9 to 13. This year it welcomed its first year 7 pupils. The maths department is made up of 6 teachers, all of whom teach some A-level maths.


Bruce’s thoughts:

In this initial blog I have recorded where we are as a department now and the initial thoughts I have for moving forward with the new A-level. This has been prompted by being approached by Simon Clay and MEI to work with them as we begin our journey towards first teaching in 2017.

As the Key Stage 5 coordinator for maths some key decisions need to be made over the next 6 months regarding the new A-level specifications. At this stage, with none of the specifications having been approved, I have not thought too hard about this. This is not a position I want to continue with as I am keen to start rebuilding our scheme of work while there is still time to do a good job with it.

We normally run two A-level classes in each year group plus a small further maths group and all members of the department teach at least one module. In our current scheme of work we have tried to include the use of activities which promote deeper thinking, such as those that are available through MEIs Integral website. However time pressures mean that these are rarely used. I see the change of course, coupled with the changes to structure, as an opportunity to totally rethink the way we are teaching and to promote this sort of activity further. This fits into the way the structure of the A-level is changing, with the new over-arching themes of problem solving and the increased use of technology – this is our opportunity to tear up what we have done before and start afresh.


AS levels, Specifications and Applied content

One possible barrier to a total rethink of the current scheme of work structure is that the school currently has a policy that students sitting the new specifications of A-level will all sit AS-level examinations at the end of year 12. If this policy continues it will impact on the amount of time we have available and the order in which we teach content.

This feeds into our need to think about which examination board we decide to use. We have offered Edexcel, which was the course that was offered when I joined the school last year. With the change to curriculum I thought it was unnecessary to make changes twice in quick succession. I have previous experience of teaching both AQA and MEI, but everybody else in the department has only ever used Edexcel. I have been reading specifications for all of the examination boards and have also attended an OCR Maths Network meeting. I am not in any rush to make a decision due to all of the content in A-level Maths being core, and again that specifications have not been finalised so we don’t know what the final examinations will look like yet.

Another consideration is how we split the teaching in the new courses. Historically we have run the A-level courses with a separate teacher for each of the modules. This has allowed everybody to build their own specialisms, but makes linking between content in the core modules more difficult. It does mean that we are in a position that we have somebody confident with all of the different areas required by decision to make all of the A-level content compulsory as we have offered mechanics and statistics in one or other of our courses previously. This is tempered by the huge change in the emphasis in the statistics module with the large data set.


In conclusion, the key questions that we need to address in the short term are:

– Do we continue to offer AS examinations for all students?

– Which examination specification should we use?

– How should we structure the course in light of the new linear format?


Bruce Hampton is the Curriculum Leader for Sixth Form Maths at Tudor Grange Academy Redditch. He has been teaching for 12 years, initially at a school in Birmingham, moving to Tudor Grange Academy Redditch in 2015. He completed the Teaching Further Maths course in 2014-15. He studied Mathematics at the University of Birmingham and has a Masters in Teaching and Learning from the University of Warwick. In his spare time he is a keen rugby fan and likes to get out on his bike.


Simon Clay is part of MEI’s Professional Development team where he is involved in a number of different aspects of MEI’s work including working with teachers on the Teaching Advanced Mathematics (TAM), Introduction to Mechanics and Head of Mathematics courses. Before joining MEI in 2012 he had taught Mathematics in schools and Sixth Form Colleges for 12 years, during which he had been a Head of Department for 5 years.