The Top-Top Set Maths project has been running since 2016, and is currently running a pilot in 32 classes across eight secondary schools.
The project encourages schools to create a Top-Top Set, in addition to their standard setting, to cater for the top ~10% of students.
The aim of the pilot is to maximise the potential of ambitious students (starting in Year 7), by nurturing and challenging them until the end of Key Stage 4. Students involved in the project will be developing a set of mathematical skills and a passion for the subject that will enable them to earn places on STEM degree courses at the best universities.
The pilot has helped us learn a lot about what works well with regards to stretching the most dedicated and talented young mathematical minds. Hence, we have had a number of new schools expressing interest in becoming part of the project. Although we are not looking to expand currently, we are happy to share some advice based on our experience of establishing top-top sets:
1) Most schools split their year group in half, and then divide each half into sets based on ability, running from 1 to 4 in one half, and from 1 to 4 in the other half. Therefore, the brightest students in the year are split between two equal top sets. In our experience, better results can be achieved if, instead, the whole year is split into ability groups running from 1 to 8. This way, set 1 (the ‘top’ set) contains all of the most dedicated and talented maths students, effectively creating a top-top set within your own school.
2) While we are not expanding our Top-Top Set Maths Project, we are offering free maths tutorials to the best young mathematicians from non-selective state schools, as part of our Maths Masterclass Tutorials programme. Teachers can nominate their best students to become part of these free weekly lessons by visiting: https://www.talent-ed.uk/maths-masterclass-tutorials
3) Each week, we release a new worksheet of puzzles, problems and maths enrichment materials, as part of our Parallel website. These worksheets are available for years 7 – 11, and student’s answers are automatically scored, with their results available for their teachers to keep track of. More than 5,000 students take part each week, and we have received excellent feedback. Participation in Parallel is mandatory for schools in our Top-Top Set Maths Project, and we believe it can be very beneficial for other schools. The key is to ensure that a few students take part every week through the school year, rather than signing up a whole class, who then lose interest after a few weeks. You can find out more about Parallel here: https://parallel.org.uk/
The Top-Top Set Maths project was started by author Simon Singh and the charity Good Thinking.
We are very grateful to our donors – John Lyon’s Charity, Winton Philanthropies, London Mathematical Society and Emmanuel College (Cambridge University) – for their generous support.