Easy amalgamation of key department focuses



As Heads of Department begin thinking beyond pure Corona adjustments, and towards other ways of improving their provision, I thought I’d share an amalgamation idea we’re planning to use from September in Key Stage 3.

Teachers are likely to be asked to remember a number of department initiatives that under-pin writing and reading development within a module, but how do we provide a system that brings these initiatives into one place? With the focus of the module content itself, sometimes things like spelling, vocabulary, knowledge organisers, etc can be forgotten about.

We needed to ensure we have an easy system for teachers to implement, and an effective method of ensuring students practice all the things we want them to regularly, so they are embedded.  The document below is our planned solution.

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Our plan is that every student does a different one of these every week as a starter in Year 7, 8 and 9. We anticipate about 15 minutes being spent on these. Differentiation would come through expectation. Students would be encouraged to complete as much of the sheet as they can in that time, with teacher direction towards areas of weakness for individuals if time is pressed.

There is no marking involved. Teachers wouldn’t take these in at the end. Instead teachers would circulate, and support during this time.

We are busy preparing around 120 of these to span each week across three year groups!

Here’s the rationale behind each of the five focuses:

1. The Terminology/Vocabulary Challenge

This is a link to the content from the knowledge organiser of the unit being covered at the time, and gets students to complete activities designed to learn terms, and practise their own examples in school, as well as at home.

2. Five Star Sentences

We are taking the lead of @MsCaldwell1 who was inspiring in her implementation of practice sentences over time -we’ve called these ‘5 star sentences’ and have five different types within Year 7,8 and 9 that we want students to become comfortable in using regularly in their writing. Our practice box provides a scaffold to remind of the structure, then removes that scaffold.

3. Spellings

We want students to improve their spellings knowledge, and set them 20 words at the beginning of each term, comprising homophones, and commonly misspelt words. We have a test at the start and at the end of the module, and the expectation is that they have improved their score. In our practice box here, a selection of the 20 are put in for them to check their knowledge of the spelling patterns regularly.

4. Grammar Focus

Each term, we have a single grammar focus. We have tried to focus on the most critical grammar areas and our practice box allows an opportunity to identify errors and correct usage.

5. CAS (Concise Analysis System) Challenge

We have refined a system for ‘good analysis’ which we want to implement from Year 7. There are 8 steps we have identified in this regard and here we practise one of them -‘selecting evidence’ using a standardised phrase: ‘This is evident in the line’.

I hope this can be of use to KS3 leads and heads of department, and would be interested to read about other similar ideas for amalgamation.

Finally, I would like to thank the brilliant  @miss_thinks  for her innovative ideas, challenges, support and hard work in our whole KS3 redesign project, of which the above is only one small, but important element.





Targets guide booklet

One of the most important things we can do as teachers is ensure students understand what their next steps are for improvement. Sounds obvious, right?

But on those critical post-assessment lessons when we ask students to engage in some improvement work based on our guidelines, how effective is this work? Often, as teachers, we give over maybe half a lesson to this magical process known as DIRT to many (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time), and despite thinking we’ve identified what the issues are already, still end up rushing around to different students, trying to explain what the problems are and how to improve.

This is often compounded when students receive work back, and they haven’t achieved highly. It’s then a struggle to make them see the point in any further effort.

I’m hoping I’ve found a solution -it’s not ground-breaking, but it does utilise a lot of key principles for working with feedback, and offers you, as English teachers, a fairly comprehensive, individualised resource covering the majority of issues we encounter in assessments.

Right, skip to the end if you just want the resource now!

Or stick with me, for a little longer, and I’ll explain the rationale.

Ok, firstly, I’ve been meaning to put this resource together for years and I’m pretty proud of it! In a nutshell, it’s a page guide to each of the main 10 reading and writing targets I set when I’m marking English work. I’m sure they will cover your most popular ones too.

The thinking is as so:

  1. Students have a page guide to their target that explains it (saving the teacher a job), and gives them strategies to help, and tasks to practice with.
  2. Teachers’ marking/feedback time is reduced as they simply have to write down R1 or W4 on the student’s piece of work.
  3. Each student’s level is held back until the end of the lesson to avoid the emotional response blocking effective reception of the feedback.
  4. The guide is part of their main English booklet for the year, so they can return to their targets easily in class whenever they, or the teacher wants.


Here’s a breakdown of how I decided to structure each page:

  1. Firstly, I have given an explanation of the issue I’ve identified for them, keeping it as simple as possible, with an example of what’s wrong. I’d hope time was allocated for this to be focused on in silence. I’ve added an early, ‘discuss with their partner’ task.

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2. Next, I’ve given an example of what success looks like, when the issue is addressed.

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3.  Thirdly, I’ve offered some strategies for use in the future.Screen Shot 2019-09-08 at 9.36.34 AM


4. Next, I’ve set up a metacognition task to get them to reflect on their current understanding of the issue. Then, I’ve given them a new example to have a go at.

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5.  Finally, critically, I’ve asked them to look back at their assessment at the end of the DIRT process. I’ve done this because I believe very much in the maxim that feedback should be a ‘medical, not a post-mortem’ (Sorry, can’t remember who first coined that lovely phrase!) I want students first to look at a new example, a new task associated with their target, that gets them looking to the future (the medical), before looking back at the old assessment (the post-mortem). To conclude, I’ve encouraged students to show their newly found level of expertise (hopefully) with their targets to look back in their work throughout their book and see if they can spot other examples where they have made errors. This level of independent addressing of the target would be amazing to see!

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So, that’s it really, apart from to urge people to give more than half a lesson over to improvement work. I encourage my team to give at least a lesson to this process, usually homework too. I hope the resource helps, and finally, apologies for the formatting. If you play about, you’ll probably get each target on one page, which we’ve done in our booklets. I just couldn’t for  some reason with the dropbox sharing purpose here.

Here is the resource then! Click here

Enjoy, and any feedback welcomed.

Consistency of Approach with GCSE students – Mini Book Style!

Ever become frustrated with Year 11 students not using a single quote in a 15 minute extract practice? Perhaps their incessant wandering away from the question haunts you at night? Maybe your class love a nice helping of waffles – with a default response to those tension questions of ‘It makes the reader want to read on’…

Maybe the mini-book is the answer.


‘Get your mini-book out’ is the call my group have heard at the start of probably 1 in 4 lessons this year. The very fact they use a different book to their normal book, matters. They know the drill; they know the approach to use… after at least 20 practices this year.

I give them a short extract (Think Eduqas -Qn 3 (Character) or Qn 4 (Tension) in Paper 1 Sect A). I give them the same 5 criteria every time, and I give them a model of one piece of analysis in the same format every time.  We discuss the criteria and how the model fits it every time. I read through the extract, and they highlight 5 quotes (I sometimes nudge them towards some good ones). They write for just under 15 mins.


I make no bones about admitting that I have adopted this approach to make a difference with my lower GCSE set throughout Year 11. They’re a fantastic bunch of young people, but a tough group behaviourally, and one with a multitude of learning issues – not least with retaining things from one lesson to the next, let alone longer term.

My aim?

Through repeated practice of the same exercise, I hope to get students to adopt a method that will lead them to success, not only in the English Language Reading exams, but in many parts of the Literature exams too. I see my five fundamental criteria as probably the most critical procedural knowledge to be aware of in our entire subject:

Link to the question, Short quotes, Technique, Analyse meaning and effect, Writer’s intentions.

With Eduqas, and I’ve written about this before, it’s definitely an issue of quantity with many students. Less than 5 quotes covered in the 15 minutes, and they’re risking their 5/10 target mark. I want to get my group towards consistently achieving a minimum of 5/10 (or what we believe should equate to a Level 4).


At the start of the year, I had students who retold the story, who didn’t know what were good quotes to choose, who would use 6 lines to analyse one quote and their 15 mins would be up, who would reel off 10 quotes with no analysis. You name it, we had it. We were averaging 3/10 scores.

By the constant repetition of this approach, we’ve seen progress during the course of the year. It’s not always been linear; sometimes an extract has stumped them, but mostly there’s been a noticeable improvement in many of my group’s performances, their understanding of the approach, and our marks have gone up:

Further Steps

From there, I used the phrase ‘mini-book style’ for many different components of the exam papers. If I’m honest, there’s not a lot of point exploring the subtle differences between Qn 5 Evaluate and Qn 3 Character in Language Paper 1 Section A; between exploring the single poem in the first part of the Anthology exam, or the Shakespeare extract;  the mini-book basic approach is, in my view, their core approach that I want them to implement every time in several places.

I shared this overview with them, below, that outlines all the places the ‘mini-book approach’ is needed:

2 Capture

Repetition, practice, consistency, avoiding cognitive overload – Maybe ‘mini-book style’ might just make the desired difference in a few weeks…

Thanks for reading.

In defence of fun, and the 7/10 traditionalists

In my early teaching career, in the now much maligned 2005-2010 era, I once delivered a lesson on writing about the senses for my little Year 7s.  For smell, I put some fir combs and some flowers in a bag, and invited a student to take a whiff and describe what the smell conjured up to the class. They wrote down with interest what he announced: the woods and flowers. For hearing, I asked them to close their eyes and write down what they heard and felt, as I put some audio of a stormy night on. They added to their notes: wind, loneliness, rain against the windows. Finally, for sight, I asked one student to open the door (unbeknownst to them I had bribed at break time three Sixth Formers to burst in on cue with crazy masks and mock swords and jump on the tables.)

What did those students remember from that lesson? The madness of it all.

Did they remember any specific strategies for writing about the senses? Probably not in that particular lesson.

Did they write some of the most imaginative work that lesson, and the lesson after, I had seen that year? Yes they did.

Four years later, when I spoke to the lovely girl who I gave the chance to open the door, did her eyes light up at the memory of that lesson? Yes.

Seven years later, this was the moving message I received from that same girl via FB messenger randomly:

‘Just wanted to send a quick message to thank you for the genuinely incredible job you did teaching me in year 7. I’m in my last year of sixth form now and am going on to do art in college but I don’t think my love for English would have survived this long if you hadn’t made it as engaging as you did in those first years.’

Don’t get me wrong people, I’m a huge convert to traditionalism, but I’m not a 10/10 one. I have shaped my department’s vision towards embedding learning over time, use retrieval quizzes most lessons, have built in interleaved weeks, have knowledge organisers coming out of my ears, and ensure every student who comes into an English classroom is au fais with the Learning Scientists’  work about effective retention strategies. I know you actually can’t begin to be ‘creative’ without the pre-requisite knowledge in your locker. I’ve read ‘Make it Stick’, ‘Memorable Teaching’ , ‘Why don’t students like school?’ and all the seminal edu-works of recent years; they’ve blown me away. But, and it’s a big but, I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable lately with the mocking of the concept of fun and engagement; with the way many edu-tweeters dismiss many creative lesson efforts as ludicrous and an utter waste of time. Sure, I am in agreement with Rebecca that many of these ideas were indeed nuts – I despised Thinking Hats and Brain Gym with a passion.

However, as an aspiring senior leader, I can see many of the Arts HOFs glazing over when I talk passionately about the knowledge agenda. If we are to get some of these people to 3/10 Traditionalist, we need to not lose sight of their world.

There is absolutely a way knowledge and fun can co-exist in this brave pseudo Dickensian new world…

What is wrong with a crossword now and again for learning, or a mad, competitive game of articulate to review material?

Where’s the harm in asking your students to try and imagine themselves in a war zone for ten minutes? (Yes, Yes, I know, if they haven’t got adequate pre-requisite knowledge of a war zone, they’ll struggle, but still, let them have a go! Empathy is a core value we should seek to nurture every day.)

What’s the problem with taking 15 mins to insert your students’ names and their interests into a grammar activity to make it that little bit more ‘fun’?

To follow some silent poetry analysis skills practice, let’s give students the opportunity to create a poster that amalgamates some of the main images and key words from a poem together. Hey, that’s a schema right there, isn’t it?

Let’s continue to create our own amusing acrostics to help us remember persuasive techniques in the upcoming assessment. Here’s my favourite         (S -Short sentences, F -Flattery, etc) :


Let’s dedicate some time to confident speaking in our Public Speaking Unit, and give students choice to talk about anything they want, even fun stuff like ‘Why Justin Bieber should not be allowed to sing on this planet’. I want our students to be able to write well, but I also want them to deliver with aplomb, and if that takes up a couple of weeks just focusing on hand gestures, eye contact, and dramatic pauses, so be it. I wish I could dedicate more time to catching up those Public Schools who do it so well.

Don’t be afraid to take 2 lessons out to get students acting out the plot of texts with some props. We’ve had a lot of fun with this over the years, and students always remember the lines they delivered in front of the class! Here’s the famous Marco scene from A View from the Bridge!


I love the way our Knowledge Organiser homework learning tasks are open to creative interpretation, and that students can do funny little artistic things with them to help them learn.

KO Model 1

Our Knowledge Organizer starter recap quizzes actually get a cheer, as the students love the fun competitive element I have introduced. Those 5 or 6 students who achieve the highest scores each time earn rewards, and believe me, it’s not always the same people or the highest attainers who earn those rewards.

We give over 2 lessons at the end of a module to creating inventive board games to recap knowledge from the previous term. Students came in at break time to finish these -they were so keen to get them just right. The creative pride was tangible and the fun they had playing them was wonderful to see.

KO Fun

As I draw to a close, I think about my own children who are 4 and 6 respectively. Do I want some liberal provision where they get to choose whatever activity they think is the most fun? No, that’s utterly misguided in my view. I want them led to practice hard in all areas of the curriculum. But, do I want them now and again to come home with their eyes full of excitement regaling me with the Tudor battle they re-enacted, or the 3D model of Mars they’ve admirably created out of a plastic yoghurt cup? Do I want that buzz to continue into secondary school? Damn right I do.


*Not my kids, by the way!

10/10 Traditionalists forget we learn through emotion too… ‘Things that create an emotional reaction will be better remembered’ -Daniel T Willingham.

Jon Gustafson – a blogger I’ve followed recently mentioned the power of repeated practice when playing the piano. I fully agree. I’m a pianist too -however, growing up, the chance to be able to play Star Wars to impress my mates, rather than chromatic scales, was what drove me forward to WANT to learn.

To conclude then, of course we should get our students to engage in deliberate practice; we should ensure our lessons use all the evidence based components that point to progress: modelling, recapping, interleaving, silent reflection time, whole class instruction… but we sure as hell should ensure they smile now and again, and laugh now and again, and compete now and again, and be creative now and again, and say ‘Hey, that was pretty fun’ now and again, because if they don’t, I might as well be back in my bloody office job doing dull admin. every day.

The work below is from the girl who I spoke about at the start of the piece. Let’s not mock this, eh?


7/10 Traditionalists I salute you!

Dedicated to MK – we miss you mate!



Faculty Leadership – Tips for those starting out on the journey

Seven years in, and what a fascinating role being a Head of Faculty is. It is an incredible opportunity: to be able to directly shape the direction of how your subject will be delivered, to build and motivate a team, to deliver results that can make or break a school. I’m ready to move upwards now and hope to secure a SLT position in the not too distant future, but I will look back over these middle leadership years extremely fondly.


I’d like to acknowledge some people who have been major influences on my leadership journey since taking it up 7 years ago: my headteacher, Chris Hildrew for his individual guidance and clear sense of vision, my line managers, Fran Dawes and Mark Branch for their continual encouragement and support over the years, Mary Myatt and her book ‘High Challenge, Low threat’ which has so many positive annotations in from me it’s unreal(!), Katherine Birbalsingh, Head of Michaela school, for being inspiring in her single-mindedness and unashamed quest to break the mould, and Tom Sherrington and his book ‘The Learning Rainforest’ for a range of highly effective systematic approaches to teaching and learning.

Here are 17 things I’ve learned about leadership that may be of use to new or aspiring Faculty leaders.

  1. Lead by example

Don’t ask the team to do anything you are not going to do yourself. Simple, really. It gives you a sense of integrity that it is vital in the role.

2. Have a vision, share it, work closely with the team to turn it into a reality, and give it time


As a leader, you need to provide a vision regarding what you believe the team should be aiming towards, and a clear sense of direction on how to get there. My lightbulb moment came around 3 years ago when I began reading about the science of learning, and the critical nature of recapping and an interleaved curriculum model. I presented my vision strongly, and didn’t shirk from the message that things needed to be done differently if we were truly going to engage with how students learn most effectively. The vision was that if we get things right, students should be getting to revision season in Year 11 with many, many skills and schemas of knowledge embedded in their working memory, as automatic to recall and utilise as 2+2=4.  I really like the three stonemasons leadership anecdote with the most attuned stonemason of the three knowing he’s not just chipping away at a stone all day; he’s building a cathedral!

A vital part of this process was engaging the team at the crafting stage. I presented the vision, but emphasized how I needed their input to shape the vision into a reality. What are our potential hurdles? What are our solutions? How will our context specific needs be met? Without engaging with the team on a project in the early stages, buy-in suffers. I admit, with certain initiatives in my early years of leadership, I didn’t always get that part right. With the embedding learning vision a few years ago, I ensured I did and have checked in with them regularly since.

Give it time too. I’m a strong believer in providing sufficient time for major initiatives to be rolled out, if they are to have a chance at success. Work with the dissenters to understand reservations, harness the positive influencers, and reiterate both the overall purpose, and the smaller logistical steps constantly along the way.

3. Build strong, professional relationships

Take time to get to know your team. Check in with them regularly on a 1 to 1 basis with no agenda other than to see how they’re doing, and if you can offer support or advice for any concerns they may have, provide it. Challenge will be much easier if you have invested time in support. I think it’s important to maintain a professional distance though too -I’m not sure nicknames, or Facebook links always help.

4. Empower others


I think a key role of leadership is to empower others. It is natural at first to want to keep hold of things, but learning where and when to delegate responsibilities to others is part of your new role. Give people opportunities to take on organisation of Faculty events, to present in Faculty meetings, and more, and celebrate their efforts not only with them directly, and in front of the team, but also with Senior Leadership. I regularly encourage my SLT to have an extra word to my coordinators to reiterate how pleased I am with their work.  Look for their strengths and talk to them about possible next steps -courses, CPD opportunities – this shows that you are interested in their career, and believe in them to take on further challenges and risks. Make sure you are happy with the set-up of your leadership team too, and that it works for you. If it doesn’t, find ways to change it to suit if possible. Typical set-ups may involve a second, or heads of Key Stages. Are their roles clearly defined? Are they evenly weighted in terms of responsibilities?

5. Listen hard, consider, act


It’s something I’ve worked hard to get better at over the years, and I think to be an effective leader, you need to get this right. There are 8 different levels of listening quality apparently and many of us don’t get beyond stage 2 or 3 which is where we’re acknowledging but basically waiting for our turn to speak! Many people want to simply vent; they don’t necessarily want solutions which is hard as a leader to resist. It’s vital also not to take challenges personally, but instead try and help, where needed, to rationalise concerns and maintain perspective.

If it is something that you are being asked to consider, then always take time to do so before acting. Knee jerk responses are rarely the best ones.

6. Remember you won’t please everyone. You will be spoken about.

This is par for the course and can be hard for a new leader. Decisions will need to be made that will get people talking about you, and that tough exterior will need to develop. Not everyone will agree with you all the time. Provide your rationale for what you believe is the right way forward, give people the opportunity to  discuss, raise queries and feedback, but if you believe it is the way to go, be strong and stick with it. Continue to check in with major dissenters, listen, and look for the best ways to support them in moving forward.

7. Evaluate regularly but look to identify the strengths

It’s vital as leaders that we consider regularly whether things are working, whether they need to be refined, replaced, or given more time. In order to continue on an improvement path, you need to make time to reflect on what’s happening. Evaluating properly too is crucial; are we paying lip service to a quick student survey, or are we really engaging with a large sample, and engaging with the findings however painful?

However, it’s all too easy to focus on the tweaks needed. I look to regularly identify and share the strengths of our practice, something crucial for team morale..

8. Be prepared to apologise but don’t be an apologetic leader

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s too easy to hide away from them. I will be honest, humble and hold my hand up if I’ve got something wrong, but I will always come equipped with a solution.

As leaders, it can sometimes be easy to get swayed by people and I’ve learned to not be afraid to hold firm if I believe my decision is right. Equally, you don’t have to preface comments with ‘Sorry, but…’ and allow for sidetracking. It is expected of you to lead meetings and be prepared to steer discussion at times. This can be done kindly but firmly. People need to have a voice, but you need to provide the direction or nothing gets achieved.

Also, on this point, I would advise not under-playing pointers in an apologetic way -e.g. if there is a new direction that is needed, and you soften the message with ‘we’re doing all this already really so don’t worry’ -nothing will change; people won’t take you seriously. There’s nothing wrong with making clear that we’re going to do things in a different way, and there are now different expectations.

9. Trust until sufficient reason to distrust, then be prepared to challenge the work not the person

I think it’s vital to build mutual trust, letting people know it’s ok to take risks, to praise and encourage, and to check in with people regularly reassuring them about their progress. I also think it’s important you start with everyone from a position of trust rather than suspicion. If sufficient reasons are given to lead you to a position of distrust, then they need to be challenged. As a leader of teachers, it would be easy to bury my head in the sand with certain issues; ultimately, it’s not going to matter that much, is it? It does. What you ignore will shape the culture in your department. You need to be selective of course with what you challenge, but when needed, you’ve got to be prepared to ask those tough questions, and challenge directly. This can be done in a spirit of kindness, and any challenge should always, always be focused on their work, not them as a person; ‘People should be treated like people’. Support should be offered, and then follow up points are crucial.

10. Positivity and gratitude – ‘You make the weather’


Every day I walk into work, I recognise how fortunate I am to be doing a job I love, and I try and be relentlessly positive with my team. I think as leaders we set the tone, and if we are too prone to moan, it quickly seeps into the fabric of the department. I must use the word ‘thanks’ 10 to 20 times every day, and I never miss an opportunity to recognise and thank people for what they’re doing. Something my headteacher has said before that has stayed with me, is to thank us for ‘all the little things that happen that no-one sees’. This profession can sometimes be a lonely one, but if you feel like you’re appreciated and someone always has your back, it can be empowering.

11. Build a team ethic

Always use the collective ‘we’. Everyone wants to belong and feel part of something bigger. Find ways to celebrate the ‘we’. Encourage the team to share resources and create time for people to work together on things. Sounds simple, but not every department does this.

12. Create effective systems (Relationships aren’t everything!)


Yes, of course people and relationships are important, but systems are absolutely critical too. If your systems are poor, and putting people under undue strain, then relationships will break down. It’s very easy to mock those who are systems focused, but the underlying motive behind systems is that they make working life manageable and effective, indirectly building positive working relationships between people. I have worked hard over the years to establish work monitoring, quality assurance, T&L, and behaviour support systems that are highly effective.

Another example: I don’t go to voluntary CPD because of my ‘relationship’ with our Teaching and Learning lead (lovely as she is!). I go because I’m self-motivated, and because the system of provision in place is excellent. If it wasn’t, I’d wouldn’t bother.

13. Don’t be afraid to seek out advice from others

Speak to other Heads of Faculty, Heads of House, Senior leaders. Many of these people have been in the game for longer than you, and basically it’s utterly unwise to suffer in silence just because of some perception that you’re ‘weak’ for asking for help.

14. Don’t forget the role below you, and get to know the role above you

Just because you’ve got a few more frees in a week, your team won’t have. I think it’s vital as a leader that we don’t lose sight of the workload pressure that comes from being an ‘ordinary teacher’: the planning, marking, tutor responsibilities and more. When considering a new step, we need to ask ourselves: Will it create more or less work? If more, what can we remove to compensate?

Equally, you need to quickly understand the role of your line manager, likely to be a member of SLT. Their time is even scarcer than yours. Can you cut to the quick in meetings? Can you select the information they need or are you drowning them in data and other documents? Have you considered their wider responsibility -that you’re not the only Faculty they will be caring about?

15. Drop the perfection drive. Sometimes your lessons will suffer. Get over it!

It’s 8.30am, two staff members have called in sick and the cover needs sorting out. There’s another member of staff at your door, asking if you can take a student in your lesson due to their behaviour last time. Your own lesson may have to wait. As a leader, you need to prioritise the needs of the team, and your wider responsibilities.

You’ve had to spend 3 hours preparing a report the night before; your lesson may not be 100%! The students can simply count themselves lucky that they’re being taught by an excellent, experienced teacher, if the powerpoint is not up to scratch!

Equally, if a member of SLT wants to speak to me during my lesson about something pressing (and this only happens occasionally) I’ll speak to them and help them out. The lesson will have to wait and that’s just the way it is.

16. Reiterate, reiterate, reassure and reiterate

It’s always an eye-opener to sometimes see how instructions get lost in transit. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to make explicit, for busy teachers, the key things you’re looking for from them, and then reiterate at regular intervals. Check in with people, reassure they’re nearly there with it and reiterate again. Reiterate some more. If it’s important enough, it needs to be reiterated consistently until you’re genuinely worried you’re on the border of patronisation. Even then, reiterate again. No-one dislikes a well placed reminder!

17. Finally, don’t denigrate the manager part of being a leader too.


In middle leadership, you will need to have an excellent eye for detail. SLT will expect your data reports to be spot on. You’ll also need to have the eagle-eye to spot upcoming potential workload crunch points, to identify quirks and patterns within book monitoring and observations, not to mention getting the all important stationery orders right. Running out of marker pens or exercise books too early in the year won’t go down well!


To conclude, it’s a wonderful job, being a Head of Faculty, and I wish you every success with it. Thanks for reading.


A Level Literature – Five tips on getting students writing quality essays quickly

I’ve been working hard with my Year 12 and 13 english Literature classes recently to refine their essay writing skills. Here are some fundamentals we’ve been working on that may be of use to teachers new to A-level. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but the foundations are always the trickiest to get right for students, as bad practice is often embedded.

  1. Stepping outwards / Linking to writer’s wider intentions


Students who are used to zooming in on words and techniques, will often look at a poem or text and think that’s all that’s required of them: the word ‘diamonds’ suggests something precious, sparkling, etc. However, students need to recognise their essay question will usually ask them, ‘How does the writer present theme X?’ therefore they need to ‘step outwards’ and answer with reference not to the language in the poem, and not just about the character in the poem, but to the wider point that is being made about people in society.

Here are ways students often struggle to ‘step outwards’:

  1. Analysing exclusively what the character is doing: The metaphor of ‘paranoia for lunch’ conveys how the character is feeling guilty.
  2. Analysing the language in isolation: The metaphor of ‘paranoia for lunch’ is interesting because ‘paranoia’ is a guilty feeling.
  3. Automatically assuming the poet is the character: ‘Paranoia for lunch’ conveys how Duffy is feeling guilty.

Here’s an example of what they should be doing –stepping outwards more regularly and linking to the writer’s wider intentions:

Duffy here may be conveying the danger of infidelity in relationships and how it can cause guilt and intense suffering for people.


2. Identifying clear argument points, and sticking to these


Marking A-level coursework recently has really opened my eyes to this major danger we need to alert students to.

Firstly a clear topic sentence needs to be established: ‘Women are often helpless victims of the patriarchal society of the time’ then it needs to be stuck to. Two, possibly three quotes might be used to develop an argument around that point, but by the end of the paragraph, it should still be crystal clear that we are considering the same point. Many students stray from this which causes big issues in terms of their overall argument coherence. The key words of ‘helpless’ or ‘victims’ should be returned to at least twice in the paragraph.

3. Being tentative


Look to quickly stamp out the following: – This means / this shows / this is saying / here the poet is telling us

Encourage a style that explicitly acknowledges their reading is not the only one: This implies/ this indicates / this could suggest / perhaps /

4. The art of linking well


Having focused on a point about ‘identity’ from one poem, there are different ways students might start a link in our second poem. We need to get them towards the third example as quickly as possible, but it’s amazing how many are stuck on 1 or 2 for ages:

  • Implicit link   –In ‘The biographer’ identity is seen as…
  • Basic link identified – Identity is also an interest of Duffy in the poem ‘The Biographer’
  • Link established with clear comparison connective and subtle distinction between the two made –


Similarly, intrigue and fascination regarding another’s identity is also clearly shown in the poem ‘The Biographer’, however, while in ‘Before you were mine’ we see a daughter intrigued and inspired by her mother, ‘The Biographer’ looks at the way a writer is intrigued by his subject, almost to the point of obsession

 5. Engaging with rather than bolting on critics/context


In A-level study, students need to incorporate critical opinions, and contextual factors into their essays.

However, they need to be careful not to let these inclusions construct the arguments for them (don’t put them in at the start of a paragraph), sidetrack them from their main argument (make sure they fit with what is being said about the poem), and finally not be plonked in and left with no comment (they should be engaged with)

Here’s how:

Larkin is seemingly depressed by the focus on consumerism in society, and in ‘Here’ his structural use of a list and a caesura at the end of the line- ‘toasters, washers, driers –‘ indicates his overall frustrated perspective that these are never-ending in their production. Swarbrick mentioned how Larkin focused on ‘a society pursuing its fantasies and illusory satisfactions in material possessions’ and this seems certainly true as he views such goods as ultimately throwaway items and not something to spend one’s life hankering after.


Good luck out there, but overall, isn’t it such a joy to teach A-level? Thanks for reading.




Embedding Learning Year 2: Simplicity, Consistency, Impact

Much has been shared about embedding learning, knowledge organisers and the like on Twitter, and I wrote about the start of our journey here. Many departments are moving into the refinement stage now, and that’s where we’re at currently, having evaluated the process carefully with staff and students. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few things we’ve done this year to consolidate, tweak, remove, and overall –improve.

  1. Refining the consistency of our Knowledge Organisers


Myself and the coordinators shared our KOs once again with the team, and asked for suggested tweaks and amendments. We removed terms and concepts that were not being used by teachers, and kept the ones that were. We moved towards assessment specifics over general guidelines.

KO specifics

We kept a focus on broadening students’ vocabulary but didn’t make this dominate our KOs.

Finally, we checked very carefully that the same definition given for a simile in a Year 8 Narrative Writing KO was the same as the one given for a simile in Year 11 Narrative Writing. That seems obvious, but it wasn’t in place. One thing we recognised as absolutely vital for embedding knowledge effectively was that the core knowledge would be reinforced consistently by every English teacher across every year group.

2. All in one place


Last year they were separate loose sheets. This wasn’t ideal and didn’t work as well as we’d thought. This year, they’re now in a lovely pink booklet which students keep in their books and have easy access to in the lesson and for homework.

3. Provided a variety of Knowledge Organiser starter activities ideas for staff to use


These ranged from Bingo to quizzes to picture tasks and more! The team have been brilliant in continuing to send specific examples round for each other. Here’s a couple of quick examples:

KO Ideas

KO Fun

4. Using Interleaving weeks rather than individual lessons


One of the concerns raised at the end of our 1st year was that interleaved lessons felt weird, disjointed, and disrupted the flow. Having studied this area closely, I was aware that this is a common complaint: interrupting a module seems counter-intuitive, but the research tells us that this deliberate forgetting period then a spaced return is actually highly effective. We agreed that a compromise could be struck, and that rather than just saying ‘in Term 3 you need to offer a recap lesson around work from Term 1 and 2 for example’, we thought it would be easier in Term 3 if we built a set week into our curriculum model where these interleaving lesson took place. This helped teachers remember when to run them, and students got the clear sense that they were ‘pausing’ and recapping for the week. The team have also been fantastic in collaborating on lessons for these weeks to reduce planning time.

5. Continued to make the procedure and rationale explicit with staff and students


Everything takes time, and has its teething problems, and checking in with members of the team to clarify understanding and misconceptions has been a vital part of making the process work.

Our rationale is simple: If students get more core knowledge embedded early, they will be in a stronger position when it comes to assessments. The basics will have become automatic, and they can use their working memory instead to dig deeper and refine their responses.

Our process is below:

Embed Process

Recognising the power not only of KOs as starters, but of regular KO learning homework as a low teacher input/ high student impact activity is clear now within the team.

We also identified that some students thought they needed to ‘just learn’ sections of the KO. As teachers we have continued to make explicit the strategies contained in the sheet below has now been included in all students’ KO booklets, and sharing this with them has been a revelation in many classes:

KO Revision strategies

Gone is the writing stuff out, in is the proven self-quizzing, match ups, dual coding and even more exciting activities.  Imagine if every one of our students was regularly learning things effectively each week for 5 years! That’s the dream, but it’s starting to happen… I’ve shared the pics of homework below with students in my classes who ‘don’t get it yet’ and with members of the team who needed a reminder on the process.

KO Model 3KO Model 2


Technology was a tricky one at first, and making the quiz procedure explicit has been vital, but putting everyone’s quizzes all in one place in GoogleDrive has been really welcomed.

KO Quizzes organised


6. Ensuring quizzes strike the right level of challenge


We’ve gone for a series of multiple choice questions, ones that are not extremely complex, but also make students think and weigh up at least two similar options before deciding. These have all been checked and refined for this year:

KO Qn example

I started this blog with 3 words: Simplicity, Consistency and Impact. The final one is seen below in recent learning walk evidence. I see embedding learning as an exciting 5 year journey for the department, with KS5 our latest tricky focus to integrate in the future.

Year 2 is going well. Thanks for reading.

Key Stage Strengths
  • Clear evidence of KOs being engaged with and made digestible for students
  • Good understanding of different students’ needs and tailoring of task to suit this
  • Self-reflection used well by students and this promoted progress
KS4 ·         Best practice was seen where teachers were adapting the concept of embedding learning to their own pedagogical style and the needs of their students

·         Clear evidence that this strategy has been embraced throughout the department

·         Lots of evidence that prior learning is being retained by students, even some time after the initial teaching of content




Analysis by numbers

Is there a way of quantifying how many marks a piece of analysis should earn?          What is the optimum number of words for a good piece of analysis?                                  Can we use our answers to either of the above questions to help boost the metacognition process with students?                                                                                                                 Finally, and most importantly, can we achieve consistency in our analysis approach across 12 teachers, improving the coherence of hundreds of students’ daily experience?

Despite my English leaning, I love numbers. I like data and statistics (both football and work related!), give students marks/10 for effort sometimes, and enjoy trying to quantify things not normally quantifiable like the wonderfully rich, academic discipline of analysis.

Let me share my disclaimer at the start: none of the following is set in stone. My figures are subject to many other subtleties that teachers and examiners will have to juggle, but I do think some of the aspects below could be useful for teaching purposes. Humour me!

In our first Faculty meeting of the year, it seemed like an opportune time to come together to refocus on our bread and butter: analysis, and as a team, we looked together at some of our analysis principles and how they work, with a curve ball thrown in -namely, my use of numbers.

We started by reminding ourselves of the fantastic system we established last year called the ‘CAS’ -Concise Analysis System, basically a far more useful advancement on PEA. See below:

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 10.13.16 PM

A question for you now:

How does the writer present education in the line ‘School is a prison‘ ?

I set the team the task of writing 30 words of analysis on and including the quote above. We then allocated 1 mark for each of the 8 components of the CAS system we used. We reminded ourselves that our ‘red 3’ (Qn link/Quote/explanation of meaning&effect) were the foundation and without them, any analysis was effectively useless. 5/8 seemed to be a typical score from teachers within the space of 2.5 minutes that I set them and that this would therefore become the target for our students.

Why not have a go with your students?

We recognised that 8/8 was simply not consistently sustainable, as it would lead to 60 words+ and straying over the 2-3 minute recommended timeframe. Therefore our ‘green’ aspects like overview, zooming in, terminology, linking in a related quote, needed to be hit with some quotes, but not all. This was an important learning point to clarify. If students think that by covering all our 8 principles every time they consider a quote, it will equate to top level success, as many often do, they are in for a real shock, as a sufficient quantity of quotes is unlikely to be covered as a result, and their marks will invariably tumble.

The magical analysis figure? 30-40!

Why 30-40 words? Well, you’ve got enough words capacity there to get a technique in, reference to the writer’s intentions, quote, link to the question, and consider the meaning/effect of the quote content itself, potentially even offering more than one interpretation.  Also, for top marks, most of our Eduqas Language and Literature exams require us to aim for 7-8 quotes in 15 mins (Fiction Reading Paper -Qns 3,4,5 / Non-Fiction Reading Paper -Qns 2,4) or 7-8 quotes in 20 mins (Literature Paper 1 -Romeo and Juliet extract, Anthology Single poem, Unseen single poem). No more than 30-40 words for each quote should keep students on track for this.

Here are two Literature examples of succinct 30-40 word analysis that hit at least 4 of our CAS system each time:

In the line ‘Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace’ Shakespeare’s use of the adjective ‘rebellious’ emphasises how the Prince feels they are challenging the law that he has laid down, and they are almost out of control.

Shakespeare’s use of the rhetorical question in the Prince’s line ‘Will they not hear?’ indicates to the audience that he is losing patience, and is determined to take steps to ensure they will be unable to ignore his warnings again.

Here’s one from Language Paper 1 – Qn 4- Tension/Drama:

The writer creates tension through the description of the ridge in the line–‘dropped steeply on either side’. The adverb ‘steeply’ highlights a possible danger as the sheer drop indicates one step in the wrong place may be fatal.

Making the drive for succinctness explicit

Our next challenge was to reduce the number of words in a piece of analysis to 30, something that works really well with students. (No adding in words, just removing words allowed!) This has been a powerful learning experience in my classes before as we discuss what and why things are superfluous, and on the flip side, where exactly the ticks are likely to come from the marker (after ‘angry’ and ‘animals’ if you’re wondering!)

The audience could become almost fearful and worried in their seats and they have questions in their mind as the Prince becomes angry when the writer, Shakespeare uses the line ‘you beasts!’. This is a metaphor because people cannot be beasts of course. It is also a short sentence which makes it impactful and stops the audience in their tracks making them want to think more. The metaphor indicates that the Prince sees the fighting families as no better than animals, and that he views conflict in this powerful way.

Can we ever award a numerical mark for how a student deals with a particular quote?

From my experience of teaching the Eduqas spec. so far, and looking at recalled exam papers, we can, and are likely to be accurate. It’s my belief that a piece of analysis where the quote’s content is dealt with sharply earns a tick and invariably a mark. A piece of analysis that offers something extra: referencing/exploring a technique, offering overview, offering an alternative reading – is probably worth roughly 1.5 marks.

Therefore 8 quotes where the content is sharply analysed = 8 marks/10.                                               6 quotes with sharp analysis + something extra = 8 or even 9 marks /10

Most importantly for our verbose top students -3 quotes dealt with beautifully, even with the ‘Wow factor’ will struggle to scrape to 5/10. We need to warn them explicitly about this.

Have a look at the examples below. Which of the 5 analysis examples would you give 1 mark or 1.5 marks to?

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.09.20 PM

I have used this exercise as a really powerful peer assessment activity in class, crucially ensuring they are able to justify why they have awarded 0, 1 or 1.5 marks each time. Writing poor models is something we so often forget to do as teachers, but I sometimes feel the learning experiences are even richer than with the good models, as we are trying to explicitly point out the lack of reward for certain analysis foibles, and pull students out of ingrained bad habits.

So to conclude, we’re not Mathematicians, but sometimes grappling with the numbers we’re facing, particularly with the Eduqas exams where quantity, in my opinion, seems almost as highly regarded as quality, may help successfully refine your students’ analysis approach.

Hope it can be of help!

Narrative Writing Top Tips – Summer 2018

Hand holding a pen over paper.

I thought I’d share a brief overview of my personal top tips from marking many stories over the last year.

To prepare or not to pre-prepare

So, narratives – I blogged about my belief in the wisdom of students preparing plans/stories beforehand here last year, and it has been clear from my experience this time round that there is a far improved array of structures being employed by students, so good work everyone!

If you’re still sceptical, my advice would be not to worry too much about the danger of tweaking; I would simply encourage students to practice writing convincing tweaks from a host of possible question titles, and you’ll be fine.

Major areas where students can improve

  1. Tense control

My major tip here is to simply not let students write in present tense. I know it is en vogue at the moment in Literature, but it is only the most amazing student writers that can maintain control of the present tense throughout their story. Most mess up after a couple of paragraphs – we then have ‘tense inconsistency’ and the Vocab/SPAG side has quite a few marks knocked off.

2. Editing

We all tell students to check for errors at the end of their writing. Few do by the look of it.   This is so critical for marks as if it is riddled with errors, marks are knocked off for coherence in the Content section of the mark scheme, AND for sentence control/punctuation in the Vocab/SPAG section.

I am going to set specific editing starter activities next year  where students look for errors in both tense, word omissions, and punctuation. Where punctuation errors are not spotted due to a lack of understanding, then a discussion is obviously needed.


Things to encourage

Speaking to the reader (Asides) – e.g. She was the irritating, know-it-all (You know the type, right?)

When done well (and no doubt better than my example above!) it offers a sophisticated, knowing, self-aware, self-deprecating style which is really endearing.

Humour / Embarrassment

Stories are great that involve embarrassment, often as a potential love interest falls by the wayside as a result of said embarrassing actions of the protagonist.

Things to avoid

Fancy punctuation. Forget over-promotion of semi-colons and colons as top marks guarantors. If there is control over speech punctuation and complex sentences, then students should be well on for the top band ‘a range of punctuation is used confidently’.

Any stories involving the following that leads to excess action focus, and insufficient craft: Sporting events, exam results day, War (SO DULL!), Basements, Dark alley ways or woods. For further tips beyond this blog on Do’s/Don’ts -see Component 1 Section B-Creative Prose overview document-DHG and also check out a colleague of mine’s Narrative tips too -there’s some great interactive resources – here

Structuring story writing with lower attainers through providing a range of basic story plots that just ‘work’!

This has proved incredibly useful with my lower set students. In recent years, I have discussed the plot structure -Hook/Exposition/etc and then basically said -off you go. I then had to go through countless revisions to the planning before we even had a workable plot to begin drafting. NOT ANY MORE! This year, I provided students with a lesson to consider their own ideas as normal. 2/20 came up with ones that were goers; the rest didn’t, so next lesson I provided them with a list of 13 plot structures for them to choose from with the brief ‘to make it their own’.

This was a revelation.

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 9.55.52 PM


They instantly became more engaged with the ideas and actually offered some lols at a few of my ideas, some of which I invented, some of which I have adapted from students’ stories over the years.

I also told them all that they would all be writing in 1st person. Again, my experience is that this enables better descriptions of feelings and emotions.

Next step was crafting each section. I talked through a model of different narrative hooks/problems then asked them to write it. Holding them back from ploughing on was torturous for some. One student literally had written the entire story in a paragraph. Making explicit that we would literally only be working on one section at a time -a few sentences, and they were not allowed to go further, was a battle…but it worked!

We then moved on to the different sections, and I made clear to them that we were all going to be looking at the model, crafting, crossing out, redrafting each section in turn for a couple of lessons at a time, and that they were all going to be producing an excellent story that they could learn and then deliver in the exam. Here’s the document I’ve been using with guidelines, complete with extra challenges like the sentence I’m about to awkwardly christen as a ‘triplet-positive-positive-negative-cliff-hanger’.

e.g. He would always come first on Sports day; he’d always come first in Spelling Bee competitions; but something that had proved beyond him thus far was girls. 

Narrative Plot Ideas 2018

Alas, we have had to break for summer before they hit the Dramatic Peak section(!) but all the signs are promising for finishing them on our return.

Hope this has been some use. Happy holidays everyone!

Exhibition of Progress Evening

Which students have made phenomenal progress this year for you? How have they done it? How can we share their work?

These were questions that I had in mind in my early planning for my ‘Exhibition of Progress’ event at my school. Inspired by the great man, Ron Berger and his wonderful book ‘An Ethic of Excellence’, I set about creating something similar on a small scale. However, whilst Ron seemed more about exemplifying the absolute top level work, I was keen to celebrate simply ‘significant progress’. That might have been from a Level 3 to a Level 5 in a piece of work; it might have been major improvement in a sporting skill, or simply a substantial positive change in a student’s attitude and workrate over time.


How were the students selected? I simply asked all staff to nominate any students that stood out as making ‘significant progress’ in their subject. I got about 30 names across all Faculties which was a good starting point – but I’d like to increase that number next year!

Next, I got these students off timetable for a morning to really try and drill down on what they thought their reasons were for being nominated. Worryingly, many didn’t really know at first(!), which made me consider hard whether as teachers, we need to much more frequently make explicit to students the steps they have taken that have led to achievement. We are quick to return to targets, but celebrating those specific steps to success too would definitely help to build motivation as well as understanding.

I tried to get them to consider what they were like ‘before’, the things that had made a difference to achievement/attitude, and the ‘after’ -with the start and end point often being exemplified with comparative pieces of work.


I also got a specific quote from each teacher about their progress which was lovely – Here’s one: ‘Consistent effort and focus in English. She listens carefully… and her ability to take on advice has led to her going up 4 grades and is the result of a motivated mindset. Her resilience is inspiring.’  

Well done to Becky in my team for inspiring this young lady!

I also set them a questionnaire to rate different things that contributed to their progress.

What did we learn?

Some fascinating stuff:

  1. Managing to break out of one’s comfort zone has a huge impact

‘If I contribute more, it boosts my confidence and helps me to understand.’

‘I wasn’t afraid to try new things’

*We were pleased with this one as it directly links to our core school value of determination!

2. Self-discipline is a major driver

‘I started to ignore distractions’  , ‘ I started concentrating more’

3. The power of metacognition

‘I started taking on advice’ , ‘I started thinking about how to get better grades’

‘I know what to do to get to the next level’, ‘Before tests, I look back at my targets’

Survey results of which factors rated most highly in the progress journey

  1. Effort in classwork
  2. Personal determination to get better
  3. Positive relationship with teacher
  4. Effort in homework
  5. Personal understanding of the work/how to improve
  6. Enjoying the subject


What was the overall impact on the students as learners, as a result of their new approach?

‘I see the bigger picture’

‘I make people around me happy and energised’

‘I’m improving because I enjoy it’

I think the final quote can, importantly, be reversed too. It’s interesting that the majority of students enjoy the subject where their progress is substantial, but fail to recognise enjoyment comes often as a result of hard work and success first. (Can they apply this learning to other subjects I wonder?!)

Hard work/Challenge —Success— Confidence— Enjoyment

I talk more about this element in an earlier motivation blog here

The event itself was a really fantastic experience for all concerned. I displayed all the students’ posters around the room and invited parents of all the students along. Students were asked to explain to any visitors to their ‘stand’ what the contributing factors to their success were (basically talking through their posters). I encouraged parents to go round and not only listen to their own son/daughter’s progress ‘story’ but other students too.


What was really moving for me was to see several students who are no ‘angel’ shall we say, and not normally commended for their work, suddenly brimming with pride as they explained how they had turned the corner in a subject, and were now enjoying the buzz of feeling like a success.

Next steps

I want to share some of these students’ progress journeys with staff, and look at ways of honing in on the ‘secrets to success’ within our teaching, and perhaps in our efforts to engage with those under-performing in our subjects.

I gave all students a ‘Learning Ambassador’ certificate which acknowledged not only their progress, but also their work in understanding the steps that took them there. My plan is to seek to pair these ambassadors up in the future with students who are ‘passive’ or ‘disengaged’ in their learning in the same subject, and look at perhaps peer mentoring them towards a change in direction, and an improvement in attitude and achievement.


Thanks for reading.