My Other Blogs

I do apologise for the lack of blogging in recent weeks. I’ve been a bit distracted by my other blogging related projects. Hopefully, normal service will soon be resumed. However, I thought I’d just mention those other projects here.

Firstly, I’m still editor of the Labour Teachers blog, so if you are a Labour supporting teacher who can write 700 words, please get in touch.

Secondly, if you are a blogger, please make sure that you are listed on the spreadsheet of blogs. This is a good way to make sure people know about your blog.

Thirdly, and finally, I have helped set up a series of Echo Chamber blogs on particular themes, to help people keep track of the blogs they think are relevant. These Blogs are (largely) automated and (usually) based on the spreadsheet of blogs mentioned above. They blog posts consisting of the first few words and a link to each new blog post from a selected category of education bloggers. The current list is below and a version that will be updated can be found here.

I hope you find something here useful.

The Echo Chamber Blogs


Subject blogs (i.e. collecting all the education blogs written by teachers of a particular school subject, or about a particular subject).

The Art Echo Chamber  Maintained by @pennyprileszky

The Business and Economics Echo Chamber Maintained by @MintSpies

The English Echo Chamber  On Twitter: @eng_echochamber Maintained by @pjmerrell

The History Echo Chamber  On Twitter: @HistEchoChamber Maintained by @teach_well

The ICT and Computing Echo Chamber  On Twitter: @CompEchoChamber Maintained by @eaglestone

The Literacy Echo Chamber  On Twitter: @LitEchoChamber Maintained by @ThinkReadTweet

The Maths Echo Chamber On Twitter: @MathsEcho Maintained by @Just_Maths

The PE Echo Chamber  On Twitter: @PEechochamber Maintained by @ImSporticus

The RE and Philosophy Echo Chamber  On Twitter @REEchoChamber Maintained by @iTeachRE

The Science Echo Chamber  On Twitter: @sciechochamber Maintained by @A_Weatherall


Sector Blogs (i.e. collecting all the blogs from a particular sector of the education system).

The FE Echo Chamber  On Twitter: @FEechochamber Maintained by @clyn40


Role blogs (i.e. collecting all the blog posts from bloggers with a particular position)

The Governor Echo Chamber  On Twitter: @GovEchoChamber Maintained by @5N_Afzal

The Headteacher Echo Chamber  Maintained by @bekblayton



The Echo Chamber International (My personal selection of blogs from around the world, not actually based on the spreadsheet.)  On Twitter: Maintained by @big_mean_bunny

Echo Chamber Uncut All the education blogs by bloggers in or from the UK. On Twitter:@EchoChamberUncu Maintained by @oldandrewuk

Scenes From The Battleground

Walking the tightrope.


Man on Wire. (Image via olivedesignblog.blogspot)

It’s been a strange and difficult few days.  I woke up last Tuesday night at 2am with the worst headache of all time; piercing intense pain.  I had to run downstairs for the pain killers.  This was stress, pure and simple; subconscious anxiety in anticipation of GCSE results download day.   I’ve only been there a year but Results Matter – and in this age of hyper-accountability, they assume meaning far beyond the limits of their validity and reliability as measures of our students’ experience.   It wasn’t good news; various factors had lined up to generate results at the lower end of the range I’d expected.  The KS2 profile of this cohort generates an expected figure of 39% on the national transition matrices for 5A*-CEM; that’s about where we are – in line with expectations, not even taking account of the 73% FSM factor.  Naturally, we’re not allowed to call that success and it doesn’t feel like it!

Still, I know this single data point has significance it doesn’t deserve.  We were 45% last year which had come as a shock to the school despite it representing Sig + Value Added on RAISE for that cohort.  The new GCSE regime had kicked in and there were no easy wins.  Everyone expects and demands improvement so, all year,  it has seemed to be more or less forbidden to contemplate openly that our results might go down again.  But they have. Every outcome has reasons.  They aren’t excuses; they are reasons:  Here are some of the ingredients in our outcomes:

  • It was our first year without the Speaking and Listening component in English GCSE – so, despite better exam performance, our results dropped significantly (84% to 61%).  (It’s remarkable that our 5A*-CEM outcomes were only 45% last year when English secured 84%. They were prepared super well! It’s no surprise to me that this component was withdrawn by Ofqual.)
  • We’re one of the schools with masses of students on the C/D borderline in Maths experiencing drops following the grade boundary change on the Edexcel Higher paper.  50 of our students got a D.  With outcomes virtually a zero-sum, a gain of 5% in School X must be accompanied by a drop of 5% in School Y. (Strictly speaking, 4.3% on average since Nationally maths went up by 0.7%).  It’s a fact of how our system works: not all schools can improve their Maths GCSE grades in the same year. It’s a contest for the allowed number of passes at A*-C; there are winners and losers.  There’s some comfort in hearing of lots of other schools in the same boat – but not much!
  • Despite real improvements in Science, History, Geography and English Literature and more A/A*s in French, Art and Music, our Maths-English alignment was unhelpful! 13 students with a D in Maths would have also secured 5A*-CEM if they’d gained a C; several of those are just a few marks away.  These are the margins.

Of course there were individual successes – students with hatfuls of As and A*’s and lots of other wonderful individual triumphs – as always.  But despite matching the average national trend for the cohort, no-one is jumping for joy. The week before, after our very positive A level results, I received lots of emails congratulating staff on their hard work; by comparison there’s been a conspicuous tumbleweed response on GCSEs.  As if the staff worked any less hard!?  It seems that some of the people who like to bask in the glory and get a piece of it when things are looking good – regardless of their contribution – are quick to distance themselves when things don’t look so rosy!  Sadly.  Inevitably.   It’s painful for some to accept that previous results were not based on a more deeply rooted learning culture; the success was too fragile and the exam regime has exposed that in no uncertain terms.

My job now is to remain positive, to project confidence and have faith that our plans will deliver on results.  In my heart, I know that we’re doing the right things:

  • We’ve got a raft of strategies to embed a deeper learning culture with less reliance on Y11 intervention.
  • We’re transforming standards of behaviour so lesson disruption is absolutely eliminated.
  • We addressing curriculum and pedagogy at a deep level with explicit emphasis on knowledge acquisition and retention and students’ capacity to express their ideas
  • We’re raising aspirations with more leadership from the Sixth Form and more opportunities to showcase students’ learning publicly
  • We’re investing in staff development in a very significant manner and doing all we can to retain our staff so that they have time to grow and gain the experience they need.
  • We’ve changed our pastoral leadership structure to strengthen the oversight of students’ academic and personal development
  • We offer amazing curriculum breadth and opportunities for personal development and enrichment – not least in music.

– the list goes on!  We’re hugely ambitious for what we can do and I know that students of all kinds receive a superb education at my school.  When I stand up in front of parents at our Open Evening in September I will be totally sincere when I tell them how exciting it is to be at Highbury Grove and how positive I am about their children’s pathway to success, regardless of their starting point.

However, in terms of exam outcomes, we need to be really clear that there are no easy wins or quick fixes. Not any more, especially for large established comprehensive schools with a culture to shift. (New schools and selective schools have it easy by comparison for sure.)  The schools I look to for inspiration are those where their KS3 is the engine room of their success; not their Y11 intervention programme. I know schools where they’ve already created a deep learning culture; where no student would dream of being late to an exam; where the default peer group position is an acceptance of the need to work hard, at home and in class; where the aspirations for success are sky high.  But it took them five years. That’s our direction of travel and I know we’re on the right road – parents, students and teachers reaffirm that every week.  For sure, our new Y11 is expected to achieve significantly better.

The tricky part is that all this takes time and patience.  There’s a real danger that at times of stress, when the public face of success (even if based on single data points) has been dented, that pressure for short-term gain deflects us from the taking the deeper long-term path.  I’m not immune to that pressure.  In fact, I’ve never felt as much pressure as I feel right now.  I’ve asked myself some hard questions – even though it has just been one year!  (Can I do this? Is it worth it? Should I be playing the game more? That kind of thing.)  I need at least three years to get this right and it already feels like a tightrope of expectations: The rewards of success are huge but if you fall off the wire, it’s a long way down.

I can tell you this: the thing you need the most when the pressure is on, is for people to say that they’re behind you.  Conspicuously. Don’t hold back people!  With the system going the way it is, we can’t be sure that success will come via improved exam outcomes on the same scale as before.  Securing good GCSE grades and adding value are still a zero-sum (and I remain to be convinced that P8 will change that).  In that context,  saw-tooth fluctuations are to be expected; they are normal – they happen in great schools with great heads and great teachers.  We need to develop more sophisticated responses to that and educate ourselves out of our system-wide delusion that everyone can be average or better.   It’s not complacent to accept this as the truth; it’s only complacent to stop striving for improvement, and you won’t catch us doing that.  Just give us the time and space we need!




The One About Structure – Part 1

Like many people at the moment, I am looking at the new GCSE in English and pondering the ‘how am I going to teach that’ that often follows a new change in education. I have already offered my general first impressions of the new AQA GCSE English Language paper here.

The question is: How has the writer structured the text to interest you as a reader?

The reassuring thing I have discovered from AQA is that the fiction extract will be from either the 20th or 21stCentury. Paper 2 will have the 19th Century component, but the remaining texts on the papers will be either 20th or 21stCentury. That means that the three centuries will be spread across the two papers. Therefore, when looking for examples for this paper we should look mainly at modern texts. I have already started raiding my bookcase for examples and I’d love others to recommend examples to me.

However, just for the purpose of this blog I am going to refer to the opening of ‘A Christmas Carol’ even though it is from a period that will not be featured in the exam.

Extract from ‘A Christmas Carol’

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot—say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance—literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

I think structure has been one of those underdeveloped aspects of English teaching. Until you get to A-level, it is a throwaway comment or something we explicitly tell students. Look, Shakespeare alternates between serious and comic scenes. Look how the poem at the end inverts what has previously been said. Structure all too often becomes the unlocking device for understanding. It hasn’t been the driving force behind the questions or questioning. If you look at most approaches to analysis, it is all about the words and techniques. Rarely do we see structure thrown in there. Why? Well, because words and techniques require, sometimes, a limited knowledge of the whole text, whereas structure involves whole text knowledge and engagement.
So, for me, the key to structure is whole text reading. Students cannot comment effectively on the structure of a text without reading closely the whole text. Yes, you could cheat and get students to focus on the opening and the closing of a text, but you miss the jigsaw piece in the middle. Therefore, students must read closely and thoroughly the text. The exam system promotes quick superficial reading and I think we need to actively work against this. The ideas on a structure question will not jump out.

Question 1: What is the extract about?

Marley is dead. Scrooge is aware of this.

Marley is definitely dead.

Scrooge was aware that Marley was dead. Scrooge is only person linked to Marley. Scrooge wasn’t upset.

Marley died before the story starts.

Scrooge shared a business with Marley and never changed the name after Marley’s death.

Scrooge is an unpleasant character.

Looking at the content of an extract is important when analysing the structure. It is too easy for students to jump and highlight what is repeated but a simple summary like this helps us to see some structural decisions.

It starts with Marley and then ends with Scrooge.

It repeats the point that Marley is dead.

It links the characters together.  

It shows us the consequences of the death of Marley in stages. The funeral. The business after the death.

So, I think that students need to develop the skill of summarising what happens in the extract. This, this and this happens. Ultimately, we are looking for patterns and looking at the shape of the extract. Starting with a summary allows for students then to develop ideas further by relating the idea to the whole text, the reader and the writer.

It starts with Marley and then ends with Scrooge so that the relationship between the two characters is clear. Marley is the image of how Scrooge will turn out. The two characters are linked closely and, in effect, they could have the same possible outcome. The fact that Scrooge doesn’t want to change the name of the business is not out of saving money, or a sense of loyalty or respect, but because Scrooge and Marley are one and the same person.

Question 2: What is really going on here?                                                                                   The Writer

One seemingly simple question has the ability to transform the analysis. On the surface, this is happening but what is really happening is such and such.

If we look at the likely extracts student will have in the exam, there are a few things students could look for when summing up what is really going on.

  • An introduction
  • A change
  • A reveal
  • A journey
  • A consequence

Students need to step away from the extract at times and look at the whole thing, but I don’t always think I, or we, prepare them enough with the tools for looking at structure. What is the writer really doing here?

We can easily apply this to the opening of ‘A Christmas Carol’. The extract is the introduction of a character. In fact, two characters. And, to be precise, the extract is actually the journey that one character has after the death of the other, prior to the story starting. The events that led to Scrooge being as cruel as he is now. I have struggled with the exam boards use of terminology for this question, but when you look at these phrases above, they give us appropriate terms without the need for blinging it up with some obscure Greek phrase to describe and even more obscure structural device. It would be far better for students to highlight that this extract is trying to introduce a character to us than spot an odd structural device. Then, this idea of introducing a character feeds into the rest of the ideas so far.  

How does this link in to what we have so far?

Marley is dead. Scrooge is aware of this.  Shows us that the characters are linked.   

Marley is definitely dead. Shows us that Scrooge cannot deny the death and that they might be a reason he doesn’t want it to happen.  

Scrooge was aware that Marley was dead. Scrooge is only person linked to Marley. Scrooge wasn’t upset. Shows us how Marley only had Scrooge and no one else, implying the same of Scrooge.

Marley died before the story starts. Scrooge has had some time to get over the death of associate.

Scrooge shared a business with Marley and never changed the name after Marley’s death. Scrooge worked with Marley.

Scrooge is an unpleasant character. Scrooge might be unpleasant as a result of these events or that is isolated and lonely.

How does each aspect work to introduce the character? Well, the writer builds up Scrooge in layers. He starts with his relationship to another character and then we get to understand him better. If we wanted to go one better, we could get students to think about whether this is a typical way to introduce a character. What are the other ways of introducing a character?

  • Physical
  • Speech
  • Comments made by another character
  • Actions

Then, this allows for us to develop the explanation further. Why chose this particular approach for introducing a character? Now, we are exploring the writer’s reasons behind his choices.

Question 3: How does the reader’s feelings change in the extract?                       The Reader 

I am sorry for not using a single technical term for analysis so far but I do think understanding the key ideas and concepts is far more important than terminology. Understanding that writers introduce characters in different ways is probably more important and clever than teaching the term foreshadowing. After all, character introductions always foreshadow the real character but knowing it is an introduction is more insightful than spotting something that links to later in the text.

Possibly, this question could be one of the hardest for us to teach and for students to get their head around. The writer wants the reader to feel something. Our feelings are structured by the writer. Therefore, we need to look at how texts are structured to evoke particular feelings. The extract will feature an emotional journey. We start feeling one thing, and, then by the end, we feel something different.

Look at the extract from ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Marley was dead…. and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

From the start to the end of the extract we feel several different emotions but there is a clear journey. It starts with sympathy and shock. Somebody has died. They didn’t have many people around them. Marley only had one person in his life. By the end of the extract, we lose some of that sympathy and start to dislike the character. He doesn’t like Christmas. There are no redeemable features about the character. No sense of humanity. No feelings. Just coldness.

The extract is structured to make us feel particular emotions. We need to teach students how emotions and a reader’s reaction is an important part of the analysis.  Why did the writer not start the story with Scrooge kicking a child? He didn’t because he wanted to show the complexity of the character’s emotions. He isn’t a truly evil character. There is a pattern of events that led to him being miserable. The circumstances build up in the extract to make the person. We see the layers of Scrooge built up over the course the description. The writer is either trying to build the sympathy or he is trying to shock us with the how inhuman he is being.

The more subtle the emotion discovered in the extract, the more insightful the comment from a student. Therefore, we need to work on the emotional vocabulary student have. They also need to define the difference between the reader’s reaction and the writer’s tone. They don’t always link and they are not one and the same thing.
Question 4: How does it all link together?

This is where I think students need to get a highlighter and look for connections within a text. They need to physically see how it is glued together.

I will use the following terms when looking at this aspect.

Repeated – it happens again  

Reflected -  it is connected in someway

Inverted  -  it’s opposite is used

Mirrored  - it happens  again or it is copied in a different way

Take ‘Of Mice and Men’. I think it is easy to demonstrate these things with the story.

Repeated – it happens again  

George and Lennie are chased out of a place – Weed / The Ranch

Reflected -  it is connected / symbolised in someway

Candy’s physical disability is connected to Crook’s physical disability

Inverted  -  it’s opposite is used

George and Lennie’s relationship / Curley and Curley’s wife’s relationship

Mirrored  - it happens again or it is copied in a different way

Lennie killing the mouse, killing the dog, killing Curely’s wife

Let’s look at ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Repeated: Marley is dead

Marley’s death is repeated several times to highlight the impact it has on the character.

Reflected: Wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching

All these verbs symbolise Scrooge’s determination not to share the precious things he has

Inverted: The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley.

The extract starts with only one person, yet the name of the business inverts this ideas. A constant reminder of the past.

Mirrored:  Scrooge’s life mirrors Marley’s death. There is nobody around him.

Again, it is not necessarily complex terminology that drives the level of thinking. It is more about the concept and the reason for the writer using the concept.


So, in a nutshell, this is how I am going to approach the structure question.

What is the extract about?

What is it really about? Or: What is the writer really doing here?

How does the reader’s feelings change in the extract?

How does it all link together?

There is a second part to this blog as I have missed aspects such as narrative perspective, narrator and use of time, but I will carry those on in the next blog. However, at the moment, this is my initial approach to teaching the structure question and I will explore the other aspects after I have gone through these questions.

Thanks for reading,


Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog

Back to School: My priorities for getting started.

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OK. Summer’s over….it’s time to get psyched up for the term ahead.  I’m joining the Maths Department this year, teaching Y10 GCSE; an exciting challenge.  I’m a science teacher with good maths skills and I have taught A level maths and KS3 several times.  So, whilst I have no concerns about my subject knowledge,  I’ve never taught a GCSE class so this is new territory and my pedagogical knowledge is rusty.

I had a great session with my new Head of Department today (thanks Sukhi) and here are my thoughts about what I need to get organised:

The students: 

I’ve got my class list and their prior attainment.  It’s a ‘bottom half of the top half’ set – all aiming to get Grade 5 and above on the new scale.  I’m going to be super-ambitious about their achievement so I’ll be looking to pitch it high from the very start.  I need to spend time early on making sure I know as much as I can about them, learning their names (obviously) but also their learning habits, matching them up with the data over the first few lessons. Some have identified SEN issues, some have well-known behaviour issues so I’ll try to be proactive in addressing those things.   A seating plan is going to be essential – but that might be fluid for a week or so while I get the configuration in the classroom that I’m happy with.

The first few lessons and homeworks will tell me a lot about attitudes to learning. I’ll need to make home contact with any one who shows the slightest sign of not being on board with me.  We’re going to be on a mission and I want to be sure they understand what that entails.  I anticipate that some will have issues with homework, access to computers, poor study skills – ie they really don’t know how to study well at home. I’m going to need to find a workable plan for each of them so that, when I set homework, I know it will happen. There’s no point leaving it to chance only to find out that half the class duck and dive every week way down the track.  (We’ve got a great structure linking text books to online homework and clear assignment sheets to spell out what is required. ).

The content: 

I need to get a grip on the material we’re going to cover.  Happily we’ve got a good text-book that forms the basis of the whole course.  The timeline is written out showing a rough plan for the pace we’ll need to keep if we’re going to get through all the material.  The unknown part is how this will feel in practice.  It’s always the case that you feel you need to move on before some students have fully  secured the learning…but my experience is that you can risk major pile-ups if you go too slowly at any point.  However, early on, I need to build confidence.  I want my students to feel that they’re succeeding, that GCSE maths is completely doable and all the more enjoyable for that sense of achievement.  So… pacing will be key but I’ll need to judge that responsively as we go.

Resources are a bit of an unknown; experienced teachers have an armoury – I’ll need to build mine. I’ll need to keep reminding myself to ask my colleagues for recommendations;  I’m in a team of people who know a lot more than I do.   The text-book seems to have tons of questions but where to go if they run out or if we need a change from time to time? At this point, that’s my biggest question: where is everything?  I’ve seen people using all kinds of fancy powerpoints with hidden answers and animations.  I can’t see myself making those – because I’m a natural chalk and talk person (he says unashamedly) – but I might borrow some.  I learned today that the Kerboodle site has material based directly on our text-book so that is handy.   All these things will come clear in time so my first priority is to worry about the first few lessons while I find my feet.

The routines:

I find that it’s crucial to invest time to establish routines early on, rehearsing them explicitly.  These will include equipment checks, routines for class communication – establishing my (very high) expectations – and for setting out work in books, including how to write out calculations.  We’ll do some redrafting to get the standards of presentation really high.  Then there’s all the business of where to put homework, how to access MyMaths and ShowMyHomework, and what they need to record when homework is set.  I won’t be afraid to stop dead to re-address the basics if I’m not impressed.

The pedagogy: 

This is the core business – but hard to focus on until the routines are established. Each maths topic has its own pedagogy; I know how to explain quite a lot of things but I’m looking forward to our departmental CPD sessions and meetings, as well as all the incidental chat, discussing how people deal with specific topics.  I’m keen to support the departmental approach to interleaving ideas so that we’re not just dealing with single topics…building knowledge cumulatively over time.  Starters and micro tests have a role here…but I haven’t worked out exactly how this will work in practice. To start with, I’m sticking to the text-book very closely, wielding my trusty whiteboard pen.  I’m going to explore how we can contribute to our whole-school approach on reading and rhetoric.  Early on, I’ll flag a future topic to a couple of students, asking them to prepare some worked solutions to go through with the class; I want that to become a routine expectation and experience for everyone so the first ones need to set standards and might involve a bit of extra coaching.   I’ve always been a big fan of mini-whiteboards in maths; they’re readily available so I’ll make sure we use them routinely without fuss or overkill.

The assessment

Finally, I need to familiarise myself with the assessments.  I’ve already got copies of tests of different kinds. It’s crucial in maths teaching, as in any area, to know how questions are framed, how the scale of difficulty manifests itself and to know which areas students often struggle with.  Knowing this in advance and anticipating the pitfalls is really helpful with the exposition of ideas.  Already, looking at the unit tests for the first few topics has sharpened my sense of where to pitch things early on.  (High, basically!)

And finally, I’ll need to know where to find spare white board pens when they run out mid-lesson.  This happens to me soooo often!

Good luck folks!


This much I know about…luck

I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about  luck.

I never wish my students good luck before their examinations. Examinations are where opportunity (to demonstrate what you know, understand and can apply) and preparation (for the examinations) coincide. Examinations are not about luck.

Do you salute single magpies? I didn’t until I read that Frank Skinner acknowledges the lonesome black & white signifier of sorrow. Now, whenever I see a magpie on its own I make a bizarre movement with my hand and mutter, Captain. I’m a logical individual but can demonstrate wholly superstitious behaviour. Some people call it cognitive dissonance and have turned it into a theory; I just think my behaviour is ridiculous.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all. That line by Tony Harrison, who, in his words, is a total atheist, comes from a poem about his deceased parents called Long Distance II. The last stanza is one of my favourite examples of cognitive dissonance.

Single magpies or four-leaf clovers? I bought a copy of Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare on my twenty-first birthday from the local Oxfam shop. Flicking through, I found within its pages a cache of four leaf clovers; forty-eight hours later I was in a fatal car accident and walked away virtually unscathed. Two completely unrelated events that my semi-colon has no right to connect.

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Five-leaf clovers are even luckier than their four-leaf counterparts. Years ago we found a patch of clover on the banks of the river Ouse which is rich in four-leafers. Two days before my son’s first A level exam I interrupted my pre-work run, fell to my knees and spent ten minutes rooting around for a four-leaf clover and found a five-leafer. As it withered I found a four-leafer to replace it. On A level results day eve I searched our lucky clover patch again; twenty-minutes in – just before I was going to give up – a four-leafer raised its head above the three-leaf blanket. We kept them in a Victorian ink bottle on a shelf above the kitchen sink.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez was an exponent of magic realism. The Fragrance of Guava is a delightful book of conversations with the Colombian author. He talks at one point about superstitions:

Marquez and superstition

My son is off to his university of choice, the consequence of hundreds of hours of dedicated study. I pressed his lucky clovers within the pages of The Fragrance of Guava.

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How do you get students to read for pleasure?

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.”

Marcel Proust

Reading seems to make us smarter. Here’s Keith Stanovich explaining why:

For most people, this is uncontroversial. We talk a lot about the power of books and the need to get more children to read for pleasure. But how do you get students to read for pleasure? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else, not really. This is an endemic conundrum which troubles all teachers and parents. But it’s a bit of an odd question when you think of it: how do you make someone enjoy something they don’t enjoy? There are lots of expensive ‘solutions’ out there, all trying to give students some sort of reward for the time invested in reading books. These solutions are great at producing graphs showing how much reading is being done but they’re hopeless at showing whether someone is enjoying reading. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question?

We know enjoying reading matters (or at least we’ve found some correlations between reading for pleasure and attainment. Take a look at this from the National Literacy Trust 2013 annual survey:

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Christina Clark , Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2013, Findings from the 2013 National Literacy Trust’s annual survey

But how frequently students read also correlates stongly with attainment:

Christina Clark , Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2013, Findings from the 2013 National Literacy Trust’s annual survey

Christina Clark , Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2013, Findings from the 2013 National Literacy Trust’s annual survey

If we have no control over what students enjoy, we do at least have some control over how frenquently they engage in different activities in schools. Maybe the question we should be asking is, how do we get students reading every day? In a packed timetable, his is still difficult for schools to deal with, but it’s a lot better than asking how we can make them enjoy reading. So, how long should we get them reading for? Does the length of time they spend every day with a book matter?

Apparently it does. It’s widely believed that 2o minutes a day appears to represent some sort of magic number. This paper by Nagy & Herman, is widely cited as a source:


I’m not really sure quite how The Children’s Reading Foundation extrapolated these figures, from Nagy & Harman’s 1987 paper. What the paper actually says is this:

If students were to spend 25 minutes every day reading at a ateof 200 words per minute for 200 days out of a year, they would read a million words of text annually. According to our estimates, with this amount of reading, children will encounter between 15,000 and 30,000 unfamiliar words. If 1 in 20 of these words is learned, the yearly gain in vocabularly will be between 750- 1,500 words, or between quarter and a half of an average child’s annual vocabularly growth. (p.26)

The argument is that although ‘just reading’ can appear inefficient, many more words are learned through ‘natural’ reading than through explicit vocabulary instruction. My view is that vocabulary instruction is important, but so is reading books. It shouldn’t really be an either/or proposition, but if you’re only able to do one, maybe 25 minutes a day of reading will result in more vocabulary learnt as well as the potential for enriching students’ cultural capital through finding out more about the world.

So now our question becomes, Ho do you get students to read for 20-25 minutes a day? This hard but now we’re on to something measurable. We can use this as a yardstick to see how we’re doing: are we managing to get children to read every day? Are we managing to set aside 25 minutes a day? The answer might be ‘no’, but at least you know what you have to do to improve.

A number of schools have opted for a Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) approach. Like many school programmes deigned to make children enjoy reading, this can backfire. Sitting in silence and reading at the drop of hat might be fine for people who already enjoy reading but it’s not so great for those who’ve learned that reading is boring and difficult. There’s always a group of children who spend most of the time looking for a book and then hold it upside down while teachers scurry round being the reading police. This is unlikely to foster a love a reading.

But, many years experience of teaching unruly children has taught me that when all else fails, reading aloud is the one thing that’ll pacify them; we all seem to love being read to. Now obviously this doesn’t have all the advantages of decoding practice Stanovich was discussing in the opening video – he’s absolutely right about the need for fluent, automatic decoding skills – but it does get children to enjoy a good story. So, here’s my idea: instead of trying to make children enjoy reading by making them read independently, why not read to them instead?

In several schools I’ve worked with over the past couple of years we’ve experimented with various versions of this. Bascially the formula is as follows:

  1. Decide on a rolling programme of reading slots to occur at different times over the timetable. So, for instance, on week one you could stipulate that that DEAR has to take place Monday P1, Tuesday P2, Wednesday P3, Thurs P4 and Friday P5. Then on week two the pattern might be Monday P2, Tuesday P3, Wednesday P4 etc. In this way curriculum time is not being taken from the same lessons week in, week out and resentments are minimised.
  2. Choose a book and buy a copy for all members of staff. In one school I worked with the book chosen was Treasure Island. The thinking was that this was a text with high cultural capital but would be likely considered too difficult or irrelevant for children to choose to read independently. You choice doesn’t have to follow the same logic but in a secondary school spanning students aged between 11-16 this was deemed appropriate for all.
  3. Break the book into 25-minute sections and let teachers know each day how much they are expected to read (e.g. pages 19-27) and every day everyone in the school will be reading the next installment of the story.

There’s a lot more you could choose to do if you felt it appropriate – you could point out key vocabulary to share with students or suggest a few comprehension questions – but I think just reading is a good starting point.

Here are a few teething problems schools have experienced:

  • Students aren’t interested in the book. This was a big problem with Treasure Island as the story has a pretty slow start. It took a few weeks to generate sufficient interest for students to want to know what happened next. Top tip: consider the choice of text very carefully, but don’t be scared by ‘hard’ reads.
  • Some members of staff can’t be bothered to read. For the first few weeks, some teachers couldn’t see the point and found excuses for not dropping everything to read the next section of the story. Initially, students weren’t that bothered either, but as the story gained momentum and it became clear that most staff were reading, students began to complain and demand that they got their reading fix. This pretty much policed itself very rapidly.
  • Some students bought copies of the book, read and ahead and spoilt the story for others. I really couldn’t see this as a problem – in my mind this was job done – but it’s amazing how seriously we treat these things. It’s important to remember that we’re trying to get children to enjoy reading, not punish them for their enthusiasm.

Over the course of about six months or so, every student in the school experienced having a classic book read to them and, almost universally, they really enjoyed it. It’s not a panacea, and it’;s certainly not a replacement for teaching students how to read fluently and accurately, but does help give them the knowledge that reading can be enjoyable when it’s give such prestige within the school community.

So, what do you think? Worth a try? I’d be really interested in hearing from anyone who’s tried something similar or is interested in giving this a go.

The post How do you get students to read for pleasure? appeared first on David Didau: The Learning Spy.

David Didau: The Learning Spy

What’s the point of parents’ evenings?

Earlier today I read this post on the purpose of parents’ evenings by David James. It’s an excellent exploration of some of the vagaries and oddness of being either side of the table, but ultimately it doesn’t answer the question: What are parents’ evenings for?

This is something my wife explained a number of years ago.

For some reason neither of us can remember, I was allowed to attend our daughters’ parents evening alone. Being a teacher I felt fairly confident of my role in proceedings: to hold the teachers to account. I scrutinised their books, looked carefully for the impact of feedback, and tried to understand how and why my eldest daughter had been awarded a 3a for writing. (To my secondary trained eyes it looked like it ought to be a good level 4.) I asked the teacher to explain how the level had been awarded and she proceeded to refer to particular pieces of writing and point out the features that made it a 3a. We then looked over the mark scheme and I pointed out the feature which made my daughter’s writing a level 4. The teacher thanked me and I swanned off, content in the knowledge of a job well done.

When, later that same evening I was debriefed on how the meeting had gone, I smugly set out how ably I’d championed our daughters. She groaned despairingly and said she’d write a letter of apology in the morning. Why? I howled. What have I done wrong? 

It turns out, as my wife patiently explained, that the purpose of parents’ evenings is not to hold the teachers to account but to get them to like your children. In that I had signally failed.

Who knew?

The post What’s the point of parents’ evenings? appeared first on David Didau: The Learning Spy.

David Didau: The Learning Spy

The Twitterartichallenge

Before I begin, I have to say thank you to the people nominating me for the challenge, including @DoWise, @clyn40, @HeadofEnglish and @MissLFrosty. I am humbled by their lovely comments and given the rules, sadly, I can’t include you now.

The problem with anything like this is selecting and narrowing a list down to five. There are not just five people on Twitter I go to for thinking. More like five hundred. The whole thing about Twitter is that it is a melting pot of ideas. Each person aids my thinking.

1. Mark Miller @GoldfishBowlMM

I find myself often popping back to Mark’s blog and I would say that he has helped me see vocabulary in a different way. As an English teacher, he sees things in a practical way and I love that. He looks at simple solutions which have a wide impact.

2. Jo Facer @jo_facer

I will be honest I want more female voices in English teacher blogging, and blogging in general. I love going to Jo’s blog and discovering the books she cites or uses in lessons. She know her books. She is passionate about her subject and someone who regularly makes me think.

3. Joe Kirby @Joe_Kirby

Joe has changed the way I plan and teach things. End of.

4. Andy Tharby @atharby

Andy goes for a really personal approach to teaching and I like the thinking that goes behind his teaching. I often read his blogs nodding my head and simply agreeing. Plus, I have shamelessly stolen his sentences for analysing texts.

5. Phil Stock @joeybagstock

I enjoy Phil’s blog as it is so varied. One week it is about a lesson. The next it is about something wider in school. I notice how some blogs are often reactionary to current Twitter buzz and I like Phil’s blog because it is him reflecting on things.

I could have included so many other people, but I am limited by the number 5.



P.S. Stuff it. I can’t count. Those were the challengers and these people are my support….


#Twitteratichallenge Rules:
There are only 3 rules…

  • You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life.
  • You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge.
  • You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and (the Rules and What To Do) information into your own blog post.

There are 5 to-dos you must use if you would like to nominate your own list of colleagues…

  • Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you regularly go to for support and challenge. They have now been challenged and must act as participants of the #TwitteratiChallenge.
  • If you’ve been nominated, you must write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blog post within 7 days. If you do not have your own blog, try @StaffRm.
  • The educator nominated must record a video of themselves in continuous footage and announce their acceptance of the challenge, followed by a pouring of your (chosen) drink over a glass of ice.
  • Then, the drink is to be lifted with a ‘cheers’ before the participant nominates their five other educators to participate in the challenge.
  • The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blog post and identify who their top-5 go-to educators are.

Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog

OfSTED Outstanding. The Grade Descriptors.

Slide1I’ve expressed my views before on OfSTED including the over-arching reliability question and the validity of judgements around the Outstanding/Good boundary.  In the real world OfSTED marches on but, thankfully, continues to reform and professes to operate in a more enlightened fashion.  Sean Harford explains key changes applicable to Good schools here:

“The best way to prepare for an OfSTED inspection is to run a good school”.  Sean Harford.  (3 mins in)

I’m happy with that idea.  I think it is important not to be explicitly OfSTED driven and that’s been my approach at Highbury Grove so far. However, if I want it to be true that our standards and expectations are as least as high as OfSTED’s it’s important to know what they’re saying.  Here I’ve simply compiled all the Outstanding descriptors taken from the September 2015 Handbook as a handy self-evaluation tool for me to use.

It’s helpful and important to note the list of clarifications from Page 10 – the things that OfSTED does NOT expect schools to do is spelt out.  Also, it’s important to absorb the statement that is repeated throughout the handbook: Note: Grade descriptors are not a checklist. Inspectors adopt a ‘best fit’ approach that relies on the professional judgement of the inspection team.

Grade descriptor for overall effectiveness

 The quality of teaching, learning and assessment is outstanding.

 All other key judgements are likely to be outstanding. In exceptional circumstances one of the key judgements may be good, as long as there is convincing evidence that the school is improving this area rapidly and securely towards outstanding.

 The school’s thoughtful and wide-ranging promotion of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and their physical well-being enables pupils to thrive.

 Safeguarding is effective.

Grade descriptor for the effectiveness of leadership and management

 Leaders and governors have created a culture that enables pupils and staff to excel. They are committed unwaveringly to setting high expectations for the conduct of pupils and staff. Relationships between staff and pupils are exemplary.

 Leaders and governors focus on consistently improving outcomes for all pupils, but especially for disadvantaged pupils. They are uncompromising in their ambition.

 The school’s actions have secured substantial improvement in progress for disadvantaged pupils. Progress is rising across the curriculum, including in English and mathematics.

 Governors systematically challenge senior leaders so that the effective deployment of staff and resources, including the pupil premium and SEN funding, secures excellent outcomes for pupils. Governors do not shy away from challenging leaders about variations in outcomes for pupil groups, especially between disadvantaged and other pupils.

 Leaders and governors have a deep, accurate understanding of the school’s effectiveness informed by the views of pupils, parents and staff. They use this to keep the school improving by focusing on the impact of their actions in key areas.

 Leaders and governors use incisive performance management that leads to professional development that encourages, challenges and supports teachers’ improvement. Teaching is highly effective across the school.

 Staff reflect on and debate the way they teach. They feel deeply involved in their own professional development. Leaders have created a climate in which teachers are motivated and trusted to take risks and innovate in ways that are right for their pupils.

 The broad and balanced curriculum inspires pupils to learn. The range of subjects and courses helps pupils acquire knowledge, understanding and skills in all aspects of their education, including linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technical, human and social, physical and artistic learning.

 Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and, within this, the promotion of fundamental British values, are at the heart of the school’s work.

 Leaders promote equality of opportunity and diversity exceptionally well, for pupils and staff, so that the ethos and culture of the whole school counters any form of direct or indirect discriminatory behaviour. Leaders, staff and pupils do not tolerate prejudiced behaviour.

 Safeguarding is effective. Leaders and managers have created a culture of vigilance where pupils’ welfare is actively promoted. Pupils are listened to and feel safe. Staff are trained to identify when a pupil may be at risk of neglect, abuse or exploitation and they report their concerns. Leaders and staff work effectively with external partners to support pupils who are at risk or who are the subject of a multi-agency plan.

 Leaders’ work to protect pupils from radicalisation and extremism is exemplary. Leaders respond swiftly where pupils are vulnerable to these issues. High quality training develops staff’s vigilance, confidence and competency to challenge pupils’ views and encourage debate.

Grade descriptor for the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

 Teachers demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach. They use questioning highly effectively and demonstrate understanding of the ways pupils think about subject content. They identify pupils’ common misconceptions and act to ensure they are corrected.

 Teachers plan lessons very effectively, making maximum use of lesson time and coordinating lesson resources well. They manage pupils’ behaviour highly effectively with clear rules that are consistently enforced.

 Teachers provide adequate time for practice to embed the pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills securely. They introduce subject content progressively and constantly demand more of pupils. Teachers identify and support any pupil who is falling behind, and enable almost all to catch up.

 Teachers check pupils’ understanding systematically and effectively in lessons, offering clearly directed and timely support.

 Teachers provide pupils with incisive feedback, in line with the school’s assessment policy, about what pupils can do to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. The pupils use this feedback effectively.

 Teachers set challenging homework, in line with the school’s policy and as appropriate for the age and stage of pupils, that consolidates learning, deepens understanding and prepares pupils very well for work to come.

 Teachers embed reading, writing and communication and, where appropriate, mathematics exceptionally well across the curriculum, equipping all pupils with the necessary skills to make progress. For younger children in particular, phonics teaching is highly effective in enabling them to tackle unfamiliar words.

 Teachers are determined that pupils achieve well. They encourage pupils to try hard, recognise their efforts and ensure that pupils take pride in all aspects of their work. Teachers have consistently high expectations of all pupils’ attitudes to learning.

 Pupils love the challenge of learning and are resilient to failure. They are curious, interested learners who seek out and use new information to develop, consolidate and deepen their knowledge, understanding and skills. They thrive in lessons and also regularly take up opportunities to learn through extra-curricular activities.

 Pupils are eager to know how to improve their learning. They capitalise on opportunities to use feedback, written or oral, to improve.

 Parents are provided with clear and timely information on how well their child is progressing and how well their child is doing in relation to the standards expected. Parents are given guidance about how to support their child to improve.

 Teachers are quick to challenge stereotypes and the use of derogatory language in lessons and around the school. Resources and teaching strategies reflect and value the diversity of pupils’ experiences and provide pupils with a comprehensive understanding of people and communities beyond their immediate experience. Pupils love the challenge of learning.

Grade descriptor for personal development, behaviour and welfare.

 Pupils are confident, self-assured learners. Their excellent attitudes to learning have a strong, positive impact on their progress. They are proud of their achievements and of their school.

 Pupils discuss and debate issues in a considered way, showing respect for others’ ideas and points of view.

 High quality, impartial careers guidance helps pupils to make informed choices about which courses suit their academic needs and aspirations. They are prepared for the next stage of their education, employment, self-employment or training.

 Pupils understand how their education equips them with the behaviours and attitudes necessary for success in their next stage of education, training or employment and for their adult life.

 Pupils value their education and rarely miss a day at school. No groups of pupils are disadvantaged by low attendance. The attendance of pupils who have previously had exceptionally high rates of absence is rising quickly towards the national average.

 Pupils’ impeccable conduct reflects the school’s effective strategies to promote high standards of behaviour. Pupils are self-disciplined. Incidences of low-level disruption are extremely rare.

 For individuals or groups with particular needs, there is sustained improvement in pupils’ behaviour. Where standards of behaviour were already excellent, they have been maintained.

 Pupils work hard with the school to prevent all forms of bullying, including online bullying and prejudice-based bullying.

 Staff and pupils deal effectively with the very rare instances of bullying behaviour and/or use of derogatory or aggressive language.

 The school’s open culture actively promotes all aspects of pupils’ welfare. Pupils are safe and feel safe at all times. They understand how to keep themselves and others safe in different situations and settings. They trust leaders to take rapid and appropriate action to resolve any concerns they have.

 Pupils can explain accurately and confidently how to keep themselves healthy. They make informed choices about healthy eating, fitness and their emotional and mental well-being. They have an age-appropriate understanding of healthy relationships and are confident in staying safe from abuse and exploitation.

 Pupils have an excellent understanding of how to stay safe online, the dangers of inappropriate use of mobile technology and social networking sites.

 Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development equips them to be thoughtful, caring and active citizens in school and in wider society.

Grade descriptor for outcomes for pupils

 Throughout each year group and across the curriculum, including in English and mathematics, current pupils make substantial and sustained progress, developing excellent knowledge and understanding, considering their different starting points.

 The progress across the curriculum of disadvantaged pupils, disabled pupils and those with special educational needs currently on roll matches or is improving towards that of other pupils with the same starting points.

 Pupils are typically able to articulate their knowledge and understanding clearly in an age-appropriate way. They can hold thoughtful conversations about them with each other and adults.

 Pupils read widely and often across subjects to a high standard, with fluency and comprehension appropriate to their age. Children in Year 1 achieve highly in the national phonics check.

 For pupils generally, and specifically for disadvantaged pupils and those who have special educational needs, progress is above average across nearly all subject areas.

 From each different starting point, the proportions of pupils making and exceeding expected progress in English and in mathematics are high compared with national figures. The progress of disadvantaged pupils matches or is improving towards that of other pupils nationally.

 The attainment of almost all groups of pupils is broadly in line with national averages or, if below these, it is improving rapidly.

 Pupils are exceptionally well prepared for the next stage of their education, training or employment and have attained relevant qualifications. Compared with the national average for all pupils, higher proportions of pupils and of disadvantaged pupils, progress on to a range of higher and further education establishments, apprenticeships, employment or training. These destinations strongly support their career plans.


A Levels Matter. Amongst other things.

Slide1There have been some great blogs about A level results:

Here’s John Tomsett: This much I know about A level results day – the liberating power of doing well – having choices, moving away from home etc.

Geoff Barton: Worrying about results won’t help – great advice to students who don’t get what they hoped for; you still have options.

And James Theobald: JT Airlines – We’re a Great Way to Fall – the annoying trend for successful people to tell students that their education didn’t matter, as if their path is typical or reproducible.

James’ post starts off with this tweet from Jeremy Clarkson:

Discussing this at home, we agreed that there are different ways to interpret this message.  A generous interpretation would be that Jeremy is reaching out in a caring way to students who’ve been disappointed to tell them not to feel that all hope is lost – there are other ways to find success.  Obviously a villa in St Tropez is the ultimate symbol of success! But, having looked into Jeremy’s career path, he’s glossed over quite a few details: (not that you’d expect him to include his life story in one tweet.)

According to Wikipedia, Jeremy went to Repton School – an Independent boarding school.  This is the kind of school that breeds that sense of entitlement (to villas in St Tropez etc); he’d have left school with the swagger of self-confidence that is really what school fees pay for.  Not everyone get’s that.  To be fair, he’s not from a wealthy family – his family ran a business selling toy bears and devoted their earnings to school fees.  However, Jeremy was able to join his family business selling toy bears after he left school. So, having stuffed up his A levels, he had a family business to fall back on.  Not everyone has that. Still here, he’s sold himself short; it wasn’t an easy job, selling bears door-to-door.   Most interestingly and impressively, Jeremy set up an agency for car reviews when he was 24 – and the rest is history.  He had to work through the ranks of the car review trade, persevering for many years before he found the level of success he now enjoys.  He didn’t tweet that bit.

This would have been a more complete story: If your A level results aren’t great, you can still find success by working really hard over the next twenty years like I did.  The message is different. Not ‘A levels don’t matter – so don’t give up’ but ‘working hard and persevering can lead to success – so don’t give up’.

This distinction is important.  I have a couple of close friends who didn’t go to university and/or did really badly in their A levels who have had massively successful careers – in advertising and in the oil industry.  They did well because they worked hard, doing jobs early on that weren’t glamorous but that gave them the opportunity to develop industry specific knowledge and skills.  Do they dismiss A levels and university now? No, they don’t – they encouraged their kids to be as successful in their education as possible.  Why? Because it was bloody hard to get where they did, via the route they took.  In fact, both have children heading to university this year with top A level grades.

Post-results processes in the last couple of years seem to have been far less brutal  – now that university places are not capped as they were. We’ve had some great successes with students getting onto really good courses having dropped a grade or two from their offers, students offered AAA getting in with ABB, for example.  We’ve also had great success through clearing and with students getting excellent university places via L3 Diplomas.  Students with D*D*D or triple D* on a BTEC or OCR Diploma can secure a good range of courses and their success is almost entirely absent from media coverage – a scandal given the numbers involved.  There is also another layer altogether that is under-represented.  Students with CCC/CCD or DMM are going onto university to study a wide range of courses, (eg Pharmacology, Graphic Design, Product Design, Business). These students have not failed and these progression routes are important.

Clearly it’s a mixed message we need to give.  There is no doubt that students with the highest grades get the best choices.  I got AAAA in my A levels – and it always helped me to get interviews.  My daughter has 4As for AS – that’s going to open doors.  That gives her options. We both achieved success by slogging it out over months of revision in our bedrooms before the exams. There is no question that at school we need to promote the highest level of academic success as the ultimate goal and the hard work required to get there.  But, at the same time, in subtle ways, we need to be careful not to devalue the other routes and pathways and other levels of success.  Even though we’d be foolish to promote BBB as ‘good enough’ for a student aiming for As, it pains me to see students in tears with three Bs at A level feeling that they’ve failed given how many options still remain open.  It’s complicated!

There are added complications with measuring success in life in general: happiness, fulfilment, enlightenment, making a difference, financial success, status symbols….etc.  Let’s not pretend there is a neat definition of success.  Beyond the grades, there is of course a whole world of other things that matter.  Jeremy Clarkson and my two friends have been successful because of their character, their ability to mobilise people, to be methodical and persistent in varying degrees and crucially, learning to be experts in their fields over time.  That’s a message we can give to everyone.  No-one ever finds success comes easily; they always have to work hard and use attributes that are not measured by their A level grades.  Here is something I wrote a couple of years ago – and I’m optimistic that the National Bacc movement that is now growing, will change our perspective in a very healthy way.

Essex Chronicle Thought for the Week June 6th 2013

Students across the country are now in the full swing of the annual exam hall rituals, testing their ability to recall and apply their subject knowledge.  In August all will be revealed when students receive the grades that define their achievements, opening or closing doors, and schools are held to account.  The stakes are incredibly high.

It seems a good moment to reflect on the value we place on examination results relative to all the other elements that constitute ‘a good education’.  Exams don’t capture the extent to which young people contribute to their communities; their capacity for moral leadership; their commitment to artistic and sporting excellence; the empathy and support they give to people living in poverty across the world or their willingness to tackle prejudice.

Exams don’t provide a measure of how effectively someone works in a team; their ability to take initiative or to respond calmly in a crisis; their ability to undertake a long-term in-depth study; their skills in dealing with people from different backgrounds or their powers of persuasion or to be thoughtful, kind and tolerant.  Obviously enough, exams only measure what can be measured in exams!

Meanwhile, as a society, we place considerable value on all the other attributes.  I think we need a system that takes greater account of this bigger picture and allows young people to show more clearly what strengths they have and the full extent of their personal achievements.  I’m currently working with people from across the education sector to devise an English qualifications framework that gives greater weight to these other dimensions; that gives credit for aspects of learning that are not included in exams but that employers and colleges value.  I hope to be able to give more details in due course  – so watch this space.

In the meantime, let’s all remember when the exam results come out, that however important they are, they only tell a part of the story for any student and for any school.

Here’s the most recent post on the National Baccalaureate – with more to come very soon.

And here is me talking at the RSA in July – the case for a National Bacc for England: from 2 mins 40.


Employment figures for 2014 in the UK

Employment is the most basic requirement for the development and growth of an economy and United Kingdom is not an exception in this regard. From the past few decades, the world economy is in the grip of unemployment and even the economically developed country like UK had to face the brunt of this situation. However with the arrival of the year 2014, there seems to be a lot of improvement in the employment situation of UK. In the recent report drawn by the Statistical Authority, it was found that the unemployment rate in UK has reached its all time low of 7.1%. It is pertinent to know that this rate was 7.4% in the last three months of 2013 and economists around the world had anticipated for a decline of merely 0.1% which is very low as compared to the current reports.

According to office of National Statistics(ONS), there is a fall of 167000 people who’ve been affected by unemployment in the current year. Now there are just 2.32 million people in UK that are devoid of employment. The decrease in unemployment rates in the present year even indicate that now maximum number of people in the UK are having work and are capable of supporting their families. This value even indicates the biggest ever quarterly increase in the employment levels of UK. Despite of all the predications made by labor markets around the world, today Britain is experiencing an economic revolution that certainly needs more fuelling from the government.

This rate of unemployment at 7.1% is the best so far, ever since the economy of UK has started recovering from economic depression. According to ONS, following statistics relating to employment in UK in the year 2014 have been generated so far:

  • The rate of unemployment among the active population in UK is around 7.1% in January, 2014.
  • The total number of people that have a job and are actually working comprise of the 30.15 million of the total population.
  • UK government grants certain allowances to the unemployed population and it is astonishing to know that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s allowance in January 2014 fell by 27600 people. So now the total number of people claiming such allowance is just 1.22 million.
  • The ONS conducts employment and unemployment survey every month but compares between data of three months i.e. quarterly comparisons are made.
  • In 2014, the economy of UK experienced a major change because the employment rate jumped by 280000 points to reach the biggest quarterly high of all times to record a number of 30.15 million. An important thing to note down is that such an increase in employment was last seen in Britain in the year 1971. The employment though increased well, it was the wage growth of people that drew attention of various governmental agencies. The wage growth in UK is going flat at 0.9% from the past 5-6 months which is not even at par with the current inflation rate of 2% here. Thus much of work is required to be done in this regard and a lot of major policy changes could improve the same numbers.

    There are many learning based employment apprenticeships schemes in Birmingham available for young people (aged 16 - 19 etc) - one provider of apprenticeships (Gordon Franks)