Maths Scholars interview coming up? Here’s more advice

Nigel Walkey

VN: Communication is very important and schools are working hard to improve these skills so teachers need to be a part of this. Wouldn’t you say?

NW: My advice to anyone thinking of applying for a scholarship is to work really hard on their English if this is not their mother tongue before applying to the scheme.

VN: Do you try and help students during the interview process?

NW: Yes of course. We try and help ALL students because we want to hear what they have to offer but being realistic regarding language proficiency is very important. We do our best. In the interview process we certainly have had students where we rephrase standard questions in a format they can understand. We then do what we can and try to be positive regarding the response. However, it can be very tricky when you have to be fair. We need to balance maths and communication skills too. We only have 30 minutes and it can be hard to tease out answers as we have limited time.

VN: Do you think students are still lacking the confidence to apply for a Maths Scholars award?

NW: People need to bear in mind the scheme is not aimed primarily at the elite double 1st Tripos Cambridge mathematician. We have to stress this. Yes we do get some incredibly talented mathematicians, and so we should, but it’s about more than that. We are looking for candidates who have a good level of competency in mathematics but just as important is their ability to communicate passion and enthusiasm. Perhaps the term scholarship might well be misleading in that respect. Please note we have put through students with a 2(ii) degree if they have sufficient experience  ANDhave the qualities to make an inspirational teacher of mathematics.

VN: Is the level of candidates rising since the beginning of the scheme?

NW: We actually saw some brilliant candidates last year. 75%  of the candidates were very good and actually as good as we’ve ever had. In fact I would say they were some of the best we’ve seen in 4 or 5 years. This is important because the people who have already been through the scholarship program don’t want to see a dilution of standards and we are very keen to observe this too.

VN: Do you have any specific advice to pass on to potential Maths Scholars during the2016/17 application rounds?

NW: My advice is to ensure you fully understand the scheme

  • Ensure you have thought through the importance of maths to individuals and society
  • Ensure you’ve considered how you as an individual will inspire students to want to learn maths. I suppose a massive failing is the lack of realisation that there is great diversity in the mathematics curriculum in schools and this relates to the age and ability of the students.
  • One of the questions we ask is about the differences in teaching between KS3 and KS4. Some of the candidates don’t really know the differences in content and structure which is rather surprising. This is not ideal because candidates see these terms well in advance of the interview and should take time out to research everything and be thoroughly prepared.
    We have the lowdown regarding what to expect at a Maths scholars interview right here.

VN: Any other thoughts for potential candidates thinking of applying to become a Maths Scholar?

NW: More generally I would suggest:

  • They are secure in their own maths knowledge
  • They truly believe teaching maths is important
  • They believe that they themselves, with training, have the ability and the desire to teach maths very well.
  • In addition they should make sure they have a sensitivity towards the learning needs in maths of children. After all, the top end needs to be nurtured and served as well as those with difficulties. They need to combat negativity and also inspire. There are many school pupils who absolutely relish maths in all its forms and they need excellent support too!
  • An awareness that the subject itself is part of the teachers’ job CPD is vital, so is being on social media and engaging with maths teachers. It’s much more than just teaching a subject. Candidates also need to think this through.

VN: Do potential Scholars understand the importance of the Scholars Community as a whole?

NW: In many ways I don’t think they do. They can actually learn from and contribute to the scholars’ community. It would be nice to feel when trying to assess people that they would use resources from all the linked free resources such as those of the IMA…they should do this as it’s extremely valuable. They can contribute to these resources and they can contribute the resources they make for use in school. It’s very much about sharing best practice. They can also contribute articles and build up their own status as thought leaders and influencers. It really is a two way process.

VN: Finally have you noticed anything different about potential Scholars at interview recently?

NW: Actually, I have. We are seeing an increase in the number of students applying for whom English is not their first language. This is welcome but some students are exhibiting poor English Language skills unfortunately. Some applicants arrive at interview with insufficient language skills to achieve a HE degree level IELTS level. They need a minimum of around 6.5 and  they can be below this.  This is important, especially if people are contemplating teaching. English is the medium of teaching in British schools, after all, so therefore we can’t justify  scholarship requirements for students who would undoubtedly have some difficulty in communicating with their pupils and colleagues.
And finally…if you think teaching and  mathematics are  important I would encourage you to apply.