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Meet our alumni: David Hemsley (2002, PGCE Physics)

David Hemsley grew up in Rhyl, North Wales. After completing A-levels in Physics, Maths and Chemistry, he studied Astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh, followed by a PGCE at Hughes Hall. He is now Deputy Headteacher at the University of Liverpool Maths School, the third specialist maths school to be established in the UK.

David says of his time in Cambridge: “I loved the community at Hughes Hall and was heavily involved in rugby, cricket and a variety of social endeavours- all whilst not living in the college! Most of my academic sessions were at Homerton College and I had teaching placements at Cottenham Village College and King Edward VII College in King’s Lynn.”

Maths schools in the UK

Maths Schools are specialist 16-19 free schools that specialises in the study of maths and STEM subjects, to prepare students for university, research and careers in STEM. Each school has the support of a research-intensive university, which steers the curriculum and provides support. There is also a requirement for these schools to offer outreach to the local area to develop talent and increase uptake in the mathematical STEM subjects. This includes projects like Mathematics Education for Social Mobility and Excellence (MESME), maths circles that engage pupils as mathematicians from a young age and look to develop their skills alongside their studies.

David has been Deputy Headteacher at the University of Liverpool Maths School since September 2020.

“I was an assistant headteacher and head of sixth form at a large comprehensive when I saw the assistant headteacher role advertised at the maths school. Upon reading more about the school, and its objectives, it completely met all my hopes for a role in teaching. Both the academic challenge and the drive for social mobility convinced me to apply, and every step of the way from talking to the headteacher, Damian Haigh (Clare, 1990), reading the education plan that would shape the school, and the interview process left me in no doubt this was the place for me.”

An innovative approach to sixth-form education

 The University of Liverpool Maths School was the third Specialist Maths School to open (September 2020), after King’s College London Maths School and Exeter Maths School in 2014. There are now eleven maths schools, either open or planned, in the UK, making it a growing part of the education system. David tells us more about the benefit of this approach for his students:

“The students have a challenging and engaging immersive curriculum. They go beyond the specification in directions that interest them and there is frequent engagement with the university for activities within the university or in our school. They really build up a strong feel for university life and have frequent engagement with both academics and industries.

 “The school itself is a safe place where they can follow their passions, so they can share their love of maths, chess, dungeons and dragons and everything else. And for perhaps the first time there are plenty of others who share this passion, and the rest let them get on with it. The smaller sizes of the sixth forms this really has stood out to me as a massive positive too, giving a really personalised approach with plenty of opportunity to work with the students whilst the teachers learn something new too.”

 “The best way to hear this is from the students themselves. We recorded a video to give an insight into their thoughts and it can be seen on our YouTube channel here.”

I took 42 year 12 students to visit Cambridge in January, we walked a slightly different route from the Youth Hostel to Magdalene College so I could see the new gate on Gresham Road. I was of course wearing my 2002 vintage Hughes rugby shirt.

Opening a school during the COVID-19 pandemic – a serious challenge!

The school opened in September 2020,during the first period of the COVID-19 pandemic. This caused created many challenges for the school and for David himself.

“I was appointed in May 2020, via zoom interviews at the height of the covid outbreak, and started as assistant headteacher in September 2020. Because of the pandemic lockdown, in my interview I had to teach a lesson to over 100 pupils on Zoom. It was certainly a different time!”

“The first time all staff met in person was in late August when we got the keys to the building, two days before we opened. So a lot of time was spent moving furniture on those days before welcoming our wonderful first cohort of students.”

“Our Headteacher, Damian, had to create the school and its ethos in new ways. During the lockdown he delivered around 10 sessions of maths a week discussing high-level problem-solving in maths, sometimes based on a Victorian algebra textbook (Hall and Knight’s Elementary Algebra for Schools) which was picked up by The Times and then by
Hannah Fry on Have I Got News For You?

Collaboration and growth

The University of Liverpool Maths School is part of the {u}-maths network which unifies maths schools across England. This network provides opportunities for member schools to share resources and expertise, as well as promote joint opportunities. A new Maths School is also opening in Cambridge in September 2023.

David and the staff at the University of Liverpool Maths School are keen to work with others around the sector.

“I have visited Kings, Exeter and the newly opened (in 2022) Lancaster University School of Mathematics. All our staff attended the first in-person joint training day, and it was wonderful to catch up or meet our opposite numbers in the other schools. We have a rich and deep skillset and are very willing to collaborate.”

“I’d hope the teachers reading this would be eager for their schools to get involved with the outreach activities at the maths schools if they have one that is local. Our feedback clearly indicates students’ motivation and attainment improves as a result.”

Further information:

Liverpool Maths School – https://liverpoolmathsschool.org/

Contact the school – reception@liverpoolmathsschool.org