My experience of University

I had no idea just what a massive debt of gratitude I have towards my parents until I went to university. Having read blogs about other people’s negative experiences inspired me to write about mine.

My parents both had working class upbringings and were very well educated and well read. They both went to university and then worked in the public sector. They were both well traveled and multi-lingual. They had friends all over the world that would regularly visit us. When they came they taught us a bit of their language and culture. I regularly got to stay abroad with these friends to experience their cultures and learn a bit of their language. This took the place of family holidays which we couldn’t really afford.

I did some sort of sport most days. Cricket, tennis, football, basketball, athletics were my main sports. I also got dragged round a lot of galleries and museums. I went to the opera and the ballet a fair bit. My parents insisted that I read as many of the classics as possible so I had read 69 of the books on the 100 books everyone is supposed to read list by the time I went to university (although I have to admit I didn’t enjoy or fully understand all of them. I also hate reading Thomas Hardy with the fire of 1000 suns). He also got me hooked on Greek, Roman, Norse and Babylonian mythology. My dad was obsessed with correct grammar, punctuation, good writing and speaking “correctly”.

The end result of this was that I turned up at university able to speak 3 languages well, with a decent knowledge of Greek, Latin (not brilliant but good enough to blag it). I was very well read and very well traveled for my age. I had a lot of cultural capital (although I didn’t know it at first and had no idea what cultural capital was).

I had the good fortune to make some wonderful friends that I am still good friends with now, over 20 years later. Some of them told me about difficulties they were having with feeling excluded (particularly the ones from the midlands and up north on reflection) but I didn’t really understand where they were coming from because I had not noticed anything of the sort. Once it was pointed out to me and I started paying attention I noticed things that I had not previously paid attention to because they did not upset or affect me and didn’t make me feel excluded.

When people talked about their holidays somewhere exclusive I would simply say things like “That sounds lovely. It’s a shame it’s so touristy. If you want to see the real “insert country” you have to go to “place where my friends live which is not touristy at all”. Have you ever been there?” and then hold forth at great length about how wonderful, down to earth and real everyone there is.

When someone chucked a bit of random latin into the conversation I would talk exclusively in latin until someone asked me to stop. I’d say things like “I do apologise. Perhaps we should all stick to speaking languages everyone here understands.”

For me there were few conversations or environments from which I felt excluded. I would have breezed through university without really considering that other people might be finding it difficult for a variety of reasons (had I been less drunk I may have been more observant I suppose) had some of my friends not pointed things out to me.

While I didn’t always enjoy the reading, ballet, galleries or opera I’m glad my parents exposed me to them and made me pay attention.

I fully intend to annoy my kids in a similar fashion and I’ve already started.

My daughter is a prolific reader and has already started on some of the more appropriate classics. She’s read The Iliad and The Odyssey but she prefers David Walliams and Roald Dahl.

She’s had a good go at football but got fed up with being excluded for being a girl. She’s now into her martial arts, tennis and cricket. She also likes walking and climbing.

She’s been to loads of galleries, museums and plays.

I’ve not done so well on languages so she only has a smattering of Italian, French and Spanish but not as much as me at the same age. That’s because we don’t have the procession of foreign visitors coming through our house.

I hope I send her to university with as much cultural capital as I had when I went.


Me and Brexit-My views before and after

While I was depressed I considered writing about Brexit repeatedly but I couldn’t face it. I also suspected that my views might not go down to well (particularly with the tone police) and I couldn’t be bothered with the argument.

My view on Brexit before the referendum:

I didn’t really care one way or the other. I had no strong feelings about Brexit. I strongly suspected that Leave would win but I didn’t really care.

I looked at the claims being made by the Leave camp. A bit of research led me to the conclusion that most of their claims were nonsense. I found most of their claims of what would happen following Brexit unlikely. I was highly skeptical about whether they could or would do most of things they were saying they intended to do.

My personal viewpoint has always been that the EU is institutionally racist, impoverishes the poorest countries in the world as a matter of policy, puts the needs of finance and business above the needs of poor people and workers time and time again and is pro-austerity. Thus it, at the very least, needs significant reform. The necessary reform is unlikely to happen given the mechanisms for change and thus it probably should be dismantled and replaced.

I looked at the claims of the Remain camp and was highly skeptical of the doomsday predictions. I think there will be short term pain due to uncertainty in the markets but because markets can change so quickly I have little confidence in the long term predictions regarding the economy. That being said the benefits of free trade to the UK economy should not be understated and I think it will hit the UK economy hard in the short to medium term if a good deal is not negotiated. I have little faith in the government to negotiate a good deal.

I then looked at who was leading the campaigns and found the people leading the Leave campaign marginally more objectionable. Pretty much everyone in both campaigns was pretty terrible in my opinion.

I concluded that the referendum was essentially about deciding which thoroughly objectionable bunch were making which decisions and about whether increased sovereignty was worth taking a possibly massive hit to the economy in the short/medium term.I decided that I didn’t know enough to make an informed decision and that I was unlikely to any time soon as neither campaign was saying much that was plausible to me. I was concerned that if the Leave campaign won there would be an increase in racist nonsense but I hoped it wouldn’t be too bad.

I eventually decided that I came down on the side of Remain (barely). This was mostly because of the race-baiting from elements within the Leave campaign. There was sensible arguments on both sides and I didn’t feel equipped to weigh them in the balance. The news was no help at all. What I did know was that I didn’t fancy my kids going through what I went through as a child where racist abuse and violence were very real. I strongly suspected that racists would be emboldened by a Leave win and that life would get worse for visible minorities as a result.

My view after the referendum:

What I feared would happen has happened. If there is a positive so far I must have missed it. Markets have fluctuated and a lot of waffle about what that means has been written and spoken. I’m none the wiser as to whether this is good or bad. So what has happened that I do understand?

  1. I have either been personally involved in or witnessed over 20 incidents of racism. Most of these have involved verbal and physical aggression. Ordinarily it’s 3-4 each year. (I am not including minor irritants like people assuming I’m a Muslim or assuming I’m an immigrant and the many other things of a similar nature that I deal with as a matter of course in those numbers)
  2. Anecdotal evidence suggests I am not unique in experiencing and witnessing increasing levels of racism.
  3. The number of people I can’t abide has grown enormously.

Number 3 is probably the most problematic for me and the reason I have given some thought to the possibility of leaving the UK.

You see I am angry now in a way that I wasn’t before the referendum.

I am angry with;

  1. Racists
  2. All the people witnessing the racism and doing nothing about it. Every single incident I have seen and been involved in has been very public. When I have witnessed abuse I have been the only person that has intervened. When I have been abused nobody has offered any support during or after the incident.
  3. The people who told me to “calm down” and “stop being so aggressive” when I got angry with the 2 guys screaming abuse at me. I was more angry with them than the main racists. Each and every one of those people that treated me like I was the problem can go **** themselves.
  4. Anyone who thinks the increase in racist incidents is made up or not a thing.
  5. Anyone who thinks the increase in racism is not important, nothing to do with them or nothing to do with Brexit.
  6. Anyone who lectures immigrants and visible minorities on how they ought to feel or what they ought to think.
  7. Anyone who tells me or any other visible minority or immigrant that they are wrong to feel the way that they feel about this.
  8. Anyone who gets defensive and feels the need to give a lecture establishing their “not a racist” credentials. I know not everyone that voted leave is racist. I know lots of people that voted leave that are staunch anti-racists. I don’t want or need yet another tedious lecture on who is and is not racist.

For me the bottom line is simple. I feel less safe now than I did before the referendum. I am hyper-vigilant now in a way I haven’t been since I was much younger. Despite being born and raised in this country I feel less like this is my country now then I did before the referendum. I feel that it’s a matter of time before my kids are faced with racist abuse and I hope that it’s not violent when it comes. I feel that too many people do not or cannot empathize with people like me who have experienced a fair bit of racist violence in the past and find the recent rise in racist incidents anxiety provoking because they are too busy lecturing us on what we ought to do/think/feel or going on about how not everyone that voted Leave is racist or going on about how they aren’t racist at great and tedious  length to actually listen. I feel that things will get worse before they get better because when article 50 is triggered I think the economy will take a hit in the short to medium term. As usual immigrants and anyone who looks like they might be an immigrant will get the blame from some quarters.

In short my view post referendum is that I have no idea whether Brexit will be good for the country or not but I can say for certain that, thus far, it hasn’t been great for me. I still don’t have strong feelings about whether leaving or remaining is the better option. I simply don’t know enough to know which will be better long term. I do wish that the government would get on with it whatever they decide to do.

Rant over. If you made it to the end of this post then thanks for reading my stream of consciousness and apologies for the length of the post.

I’m better now. Hopefully for good

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on Twitter for any length of time or blogged. I thought I would write about why that is. This probably won’t be the best written thing I’ve ever produced

I decided to write about my mental health because I have worked with colleagues over the years that have suffered from problems and been afraid to say anything or ask for help. It remains difficult for many teachers to admit that they are not coping. Some believe it will be used against them in some way or that they will be judged. I have seen this clearly through my union work over the years and it’s as much the case today as it has ever been. I would argue more so.

So what brought on my depression?

Having too much on my plate is the simple answer.

One of my kids was critically ill for weeks when they were newborn. They had to be fed through a nasal-gastric tube for over a year. On one occasion they stopped breathing for 5 minutes and had to be rushed to hospital. We spent a lot of time in hospitals worrying but we managed somehow. The school was very supportive at that time. I was enjoying my teaching and I thought I was doing a good job.The school seemed to agree. It was around this time that my partner (who suffers from anxiety anyway) went through a period of crippling anxiety that is ongoing. It results in very controlling behaviour and frequent angry or upset outbursts.

The results that year both in the department as a whole and my Year 11 class specifically were not what the school wanted. I had been given an under performing middle ability group and while they had made good progress that did not make enough to get the C grades we were looking for.

OFSTED came in and criticised the department (somewhat harshly in my opinion. 76% A-C is hardly a disaster). As a result we had a horrible year of constant observations, scrutiny, changes in policy and increased workload. I felt that the school had a low opinion of me and my teaching during this time. I felt that I was blamed unfairly for the results of the class when they had been hugely underachieving when I started teaching them.

Learning walks became more critical and more focused on compliance with things I view as trivial and not relating to learning. During this period my youngests health improved but multiple special needs started becoming more apparent. Global delay, language delay, behaviour problems, ongoing feeding problems and more. We managed to get through that year with enormous difficulty. The combination of my partners anxiety issues and the special needs was and remains extremely challenging. My inability to make this situation better led to my thinking I was a bad parent and/or a bad partner. I started to blame myself for not being able to solve the problems we faced.

The results were much improved though and I thought things would look up. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching. All of my classes were great. Sadly the learning walks got worse. The feedback more critical and negative. I didn’t and don’t understand some aspects of the marking policy. I don’t feel that I can do it properly because I don’t understand it. Towards the end of last year I was informed that because the school was not happy with my learning walk feedback I would not be teaching the key class I had been given and in fact would not be teaching year 11 at all this year. Nor am I teaching year 12. This is the 4th time in the last few years the school has decided, having given me something to do, that the something is too important for me to do and thus should be done by someone else.

I spent the whole summer wondering if they were right. Wondering how I had become a bad teacher that can’t be trusted to do anything important. Wondering if my inability to understand and follow certain policies meant I should do something else instead of teaching. Wondering what that might be.

During most of this time twitter and facebook were my escape. That ceased to be the case when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party. You see I know Jeremy Corbyn. I know him well. He was my MP growing up. My parents were very politically active and he supported every cause we were involved in when I was growing up. I would say he became a friend of the family. I found the personal attacks and vitriol towards him taking up a huge percentage of my timelines intolerable so I largely stopped going on twitter and facebook. I didn’t mind the reasoned arguments why someone else would be a more effective leader. I found the abuse flying around in all directions depressing. This is especially true because the people hurling abuse my way are going to expect me to support and/or make common cause with them when the dust settles after Corbyn is gone. Whereas before I had ignored things I didn’t like I started taking denunciations of “Corbynistas” quite personally. That’s when I stopped engaging with twitter.

The good news is all of my exam classes got fantastic results. The school has repeatedly assured me that I am a valued member of staff. My teaching is going well this year. I still don’t understand several of the school’s policies and I’m pretty sure I’m not doing them properly but I no longer doubt my ability to do a decent job.

Things are going better at home now. We are working towards getting a full diagnosis and an EHCP so the much need support will be there in reception. We have had several referrals and have a much better idea of what to do and how. I feel much better. Life is still very hard but I feel more able to deal with the ups and downs and more importantly I feel like things are going well and looking up.

What was interesting to me was that I have worked in much worse schools and situations before without becoming depressed. I’ve faced far worse criticism without becoming depressed. I’ve faced down bullying for a number of years without becoming depressed. I went through capability without becoming depressed (and without doubting for a second that I am a good teacher). I think I was tougher back then. I didn’t take everything so personally back then. All of the stuff I’ve had to deal with at home has made me very thin skinned so I’m going to have to work on that.

Can a pupil (or a small group of pupils) ruin the chances of the rest to do well?

Recently I read a blog by @iQuirky_Teacher which I thought was interesting. During the ensuing debate someone said something along the lines of “No student ever takes too much”. In response I gave some examples of students that I thought “took too much”.

That phrase is open to interpretation so I should explain what I mean by that. I mean that the presence of those pupils in my lessons took up so much of my time that the education of the other students in the class was significantly damaged.

It was then implied that the behaviour of those pupils was my fault, the schools fault and that if a pupil was damaging the chances of others then either the teacher or the school was rubbish.

I then had a brief sensible discussion with @JulesDauby and @rachelrossiter (both of whom I really like) about whether the “1 child ruins 29 others” happens and why it might.

I said I would blog about it so here is my blog…

First of all I should say that the person who implied that the behaviour is my fault, my responsibility, that if that occurs the teacher is rubbish and/or the school is rubbish could well be right. I make no great claims to being a brilliant teacher. I have worked in some awful schools. Some of the things I will describe happened in schools with awful inclusion policies (in my opinion). All of that is besides the point. The point is that in those schools, in those environments, in that context the presence of those pupils in lessons was hugely damaging to the other pupils in the class. Should it have been? Probably not but we must deal with the world as it is not as it ought to be or as we would like it to be.

If someone says the presence of some pupils is damaging the education of the rest then there is little point in telling them that they’re wrong. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe they are rubbish. Maybe their school is rubbish. Maybe it would all be different if they were different or worked somewhere else or perhaps they are a good teacher doing their best in trying circumstances who does not need someone with no awareness of their situation judging them. Being unpleasant to them certainly adds nothing to the sum of human happiness.

Secondly I should say that most pupils I have taught who have significantly damaged the learning of the other pupils in the class have not had any diagnosed special need or disability. It has mostly been the schools behaviour management systems that have been at fault in my opinion. Of the pupils who have had a special need in the opinion of the school many have not been statemented and in my opinion have either been misdiagnosed or labelled special needs when they should not have been (as challenging behaviour is not always indicative of a special need or disability). I blogged about this previously here:

This does not change the fact that their presence in lessons has had a significant negative impact on the learning of the other pupils in the class.

So, on with the blog…

Recently a young man was moved into one of my low ability classes from a higher ability class. This was done as part of the school’s strategy for dealing with his behaviour and was done at his parent’s request. His statement was for ADHD. The reasons given to me for this change were:

  1. He has an appalling attitude to women and his teacher at the time was a woman.
  2. He doesn’t listen during explanations. In his current class this means he is unable to do the work causing him to misbehave. In a lower ability group he might be able to do the work without having listened thus minimising his poor behaviour.
  3. Of all the teachers he could have moved to my style of behaviour management was best suited to dealing with him.
  4. His current class was a large class and he was damaging the learning of all pupils in that class. All attempted strategies to change his behaviour had failed so they wanted to move him to a smaller class.

He knew about the change in advance and had already told the other pupils in my class before he moved. The came to me to complain before he had even been in the class once.

  • If he’s in the class I won’t learn anything.
  • He’s in all my classes and just mucks around all the time
  • None of my teachers can control the class if he is in it

are some of the complaints the pupils made. I told them to wait and see and have confidence in me.

I was told that he had an exit card which allowed him to leave the lesson and go to the SEND department if he felt he was not coping in lessons or was about to get into trouble. This was a strategy that was supposed to allow him to pre-empt difficulties with his behaviour in lessons. I was told to challenge his poor behaviour, to suggest he use his exit card if I judged him unlikely to cope in the lesson and to send for a senior leader should his behaviour be unmanageable if he declined to use his exit card.

In most lessons one of the following things happened:

  1. He would arrive late, enter the room rapping at the top of his voice and when challenged use his exit card.
  2. He would arrive late, enter the room rapping at the top of his voice and what challenged either verbally abuse or threaten me. He would then attempt to use his exit card and when informed that the purpose of the exit card was not to get him out of trouble when he had misbehaved threaten or abuse me some more before being taken away by a member of the senior leadership team.
  3. He would arrive late, forego the rapping and instead wind up or abuse other students until he was either set detention or asked to leave the classroom. If either of these things happened he immediately became abusive and/or threatening. He would then be removed by a member of the senior leadership team.
  4. He would arrive late, do some work but spend most of the lesson either singing or winding up other students. If set detention the inevitable response resulted in him being sent out. If not then he would ignore all warnings and requests to stop singing and stop disrupting others until it was suggested to him that he might wish to use his exit card.

Why was he always late? I quickly discovered that before coming to my lesson he was going to disrupt the beginning of the lesson of his old class (presumably to upset his previous teacher and/or see his mates).

I also found setting him a detention to be difficult. You see he didn’t turn up to detentions. His form tutor couldn’t get him to attend or keep him behind. Nor could his head of year. All the escalations achieved nothing in this regard. It took quite a few attempts to establish this. Getting him to actually do a detention invariably involved getting a member of the senior leadership team to collect him. I would then go to their office, tell him why he had detention and then leave immediately before he had the opportunity to start arguing or being abusive. The leader would take it from there.

He did have a teaching assistant with him some of the time. He did not want one. He was appalled by the notion that he needed one. He was invariably abusive towards them if they tried to support him in any way. I put this partly down to his attitude to women and partly down to his attitude to special needs students.

There are a lot of pupils that I could have used an example but I have chosen this one because he joined the class part way through the year and thus how his presence impacted on the learning of the class was very visible to me, the other pupils and the school.

Could the school have dealt with this pupil differently? Absolutely. Would the impact of his behaviour have been lessened if he had been dealt with in a different way? Possibly. That is beside the point.

There are far more extreme examples I could have used as shown by my tweets but for several reasons I think this example illustrated my point better. However if anyone is interested in the context of the schools where I was frequently dealing with sexual assaults and confiscating knives then they can find several posts on this blog relating to those schools. These are probably the most relevant:


Our new marking policy makes me feel stupid

When OFSTED came it was a bruising and unpleasant experience. This was particularly so for the Maths department. We were singled out for criticism because the Maths results were not as good as the English results. Enough about that because that’s a subject for another post/rant. What’s relevant to this post is that they said the quality of marking/record keeping and the systems for demonstrating progress was inconsistent across the school.

This resulted in our new “one size fits all” marking policy.

Before I continue I should say that this is not intended to be a rant about SLT. I like my current leadership team. They have been very nice to me. They run the school pretty well and are generally competent and well intentioned. Whenever I have had personal problems I have got a very human and sympathetic response. I would say that there are 3 members of SLT that are excellent. The rest are what I would call “a safe pair of hands” in most regards (damning with faint praise perhaps but then I would describe myself similarly).

I also do not completely hate the marking policy. It suits some departments very well. It is a genuine attempt to reduce workload and for us in some regards it has (Ks4 for example) in Maths. Some departments say it has made an enormous difference to their workload.

I’m only going to write about the problematic bits of the policy as it applies to Maths.

There are several problematic areas for me. The first is the sheet on which the pupils are supposed to record the evidence of their progress. Imagine an APP grid on which pupils are supposed to record what they can and can’t do and write where the evidence that they can do these topics can be found. On these grids they are supposed to record their test results, transfer or summarise my written diagnostic feedback from their book to the record sheet and RAG each topic.

My first issue with this is the time consuming pointlessness of most diagnostic marking in Maths (blogged about here: )

This is compounded by expecting pupils to copy this feedback onto a separate sheet (although it does, I suppose, ensure that they have looked at it).

The second issue with this is pupils recording with RAG what they can and can’t do. The problem is that this is not set in stone and is fluid over time. Let’s say for the sake of argument that all pupils do their best to fill this in properly. If they record something in green at the time of learning it there is no reason to assume they can still do it when they come to revise for a test. There is no reason to assume they will still be able to do it when the inevitable learning walk or book scrutiny comes round. In my experience there is no compelling reason with a lot of pupils to assume they will still be able to do it next lesson.

The Head of Maths to his credit has decided that the best way to address this is to test pupils on a topic a few weeks after the topic has been taught and fill the grids in on the basis of those tests. This does rather go against the intended workload reduction element of the policy and does not address all  the problems but it’s better than nothing. SLT said that 1 question can constitute an assessment. This my well be true in some subjects but personally I would find giving  meaningful grade or level on the basis of one maths question problematic.

Different people in the department are filling in these grids in slightly different ways so we have had several meetings to try to get some sort of consistency across the department.

My classes end up with a grid containing:

  1. A list of the topics they have studied this year broken down by term- useful
  2. Where a revision resource for that topic can be found- useful
  3. Where the evidence that the pupil can do this topic can be found along with my feedback- not sure what the point of this is
  4. RAG for each topic- merits of this are dubious in my opinion.

In the meeting I asked who these grids were supposed to be for. Initially I was told that they were to benefit us as teachers. When I queried this I was told that the grids would make it easier for teachers to show all the good practice they are doing when SLT or inspectors observe them. I pointed out that if the purpose of this is to benefit me then I ought to be able to opt out if I can’t see or don’t understand these benefits. Apparently not. I asked if I could opt out if I don’t really care about showing observers my amazing practice. No. I asked if I could opt out if I felt that the benefits were significantly outweighed by the extra work. No.

The meeting then moved on to how these grids benefit the pupils. To be perfectly honest I didn’t understand this bit either. I understand why having a list of topics is beneficial. I understand why having where to find revision materials would be useful. I have been through the arguments for why it’s beneficial for pupils to fill in the rest of the grid several times now. I still don’t get it.

I asked what the minimum effort I could possibly put into grids without anyone hassling me is. I was informed that if I did the minimum it would look bad when I was observed as I would inevitably be compared to people doing their best. I did not get an answer though.

In my experience of using this a significant minority of pupils struggle to read, understand or remember what the topics are based on the list. This means they either don’t fill it in correctly or it requires a significant amount of my time to get them to fill it in properly. The pupils could be spending this time learning something. On top of that I have checked pupils understanding of previous topics during lesson starters and found what they can and can’t do does not match what they have recorded.

Only a tiny proportion of pupils appear to be benefiting at all from this. It takes up quite a lot of lesson time for very little benefit as far as I can see. It is also deeply tedious and results in unnecessary confrontations with pupils as they have to be made to fill it in (and often made to do it again when they yet again fail to do it properly). Despite my efforts lots of pupils have not filled it in properly.

The obvious beneficiaries of this new system are observers. They can look at the front of any book and see pages of assessment results and diagnostic feedback. This seems to be used as a proxy by which whether people are doing their jobs properly are judged.  They can also see whether teachers are doing what they’re told or not. One box given to them by OFSTED can be ticked.

Every time I get feedback from a learning walk or observation the grid not being filled in properly is one of the main opportunities for improvement. I’m doing it wrong. I can’t do it right because I don’t understand the point of it. Having used it I understand it even worse than I did when it was hypothetical because it quite clearly is not doing what it is supposed to.

The people pushing this policy are intelligent people. Maybe my inability to understand this marking policy means I’m not as smart as I previously thought.



How I’ve voluntarily changed my teaching this year and the impact this has had on low ability pupils

I’ve had to change certain things about the way I teach many times over the years to suit the many and varied policy changes, whims of OFSTED and vagaries of the many leaders I have worked for. I have recently changed my marking as we have the joy of a new marking policy for example.

Not many of those changes have been voluntary though and the longer I have taught for the fewer have been the voluntary changes I have made to my practice.

One change I have made this year is to get a lot more use out of things like the excellent diagnostic questions website.

The other is the one I am writing about in this post.

For most of my teaching career I have employed different methods to teach low ability pupils and SEN pupils than my brightest pupils.

This is partly because I have always been told to. It is partly because I always viewed this as a necessary part of differentiation. It is partly because I thought the different groups would learn better if I taught them differently but it is mostly because I thought the lowest ability pupils would not be able to cope with the way I teach my more able pupils.

This year I am trying something different with classes of all abilities. Not in every lesson but just where I feel it’s appropriate. Initially it was an idea I had for getting more out of the lowest ability pupils but then it occurred to me that it would be interesting to see what would happen across the board.

I put everything they need to know for a lesson on the board. This is what their working out should look like at every stage of the solution. I talk them through it.

While this is hardly revolutionary I have to plan in more detail because I am not intending to give further help if a pupil gets stuck. That means I have to think in more detail about what I am asking of the pupils and what I am going to put on the board than I usually might to ensure that everything fits together and that the level of detail is right. I also had to rethink the seating plans.

I then tell all the pupils who feel able to to start their work. They start in silence initially. Generally the first thing they do is copy the key examples. This is because I ask the class if anyone would like 1 or 2 more examples before getting started and require silence if anybody would like further explanation. Once the further explanation has been given I tell them that will get no further explanation because they now have all the information they need to answer the questions. The most they will get from me is a prompt.

Once everyone has started. I go round the class marking and prompting. Should someone ask for help I refer them back to the examples on the board. They have to tell me specifically which step they need help with. I get them to show me where they are up to on the model solution. If they are not sure I prompt them and ask them from looking at the examples what they think they should do next. They key is that I don’t tell them anything that isn’t already on the board. I often find that when someone puts their hand up someone sitting next to them goes through it with them if they are waiting for more than a minute or so. I still check to make sure they know what they are doing when this happens.

The outcomes have been quite interesting. Initially none of my classes really liked these lessons. There was a period of training them into it. The more able classes got used to these lessons pretty quickly. The least able took a little longer to get used to the idea (as expected) but I persevered and now they really like them.

I am very pleased with the progress the least able pupils are making and the way in which their confidence is growing. I have also been pleasantly surprised by how much they can do on their own and how much more willing they are to try than they used to be.

When I asked the low ability pupils why they like the lessons better they said things like:

  1. When they figure things out for themselves it makes them feel smarter.
  2. When I tell them that I know they can do it without help I make them feel smarter.
  3. Needing help all the time makes them feel dumb
  4. Not understanding what to do makes them feel dumb
  5. Being told the answer makes them feel dumb
  6. Being taught in the same way as top sets makes them feel smart
  7. When they do all the work on their own they remember it better
  8. It’s not fun exactly but maths is better than before (damning with faint praise?)
  9. It’s still boring but at least I’m learning more

I’m beginning to think that in the past I have asked too little of my low ability pupils. By giving them too much support and scaffolding and by helping them too much at too early a stage I may have held them back. By not allowing the low ability pupils to be stuck for any length of time and by intervening at a very early stage if they were struggling I may have inadvertently hindered their ability to work effectively.

That’s not to say they haven’t made progress and generally done ok but I can’t help wondering how much better they might have done had I asked a bit more of them.

This had led me to ask myself why I have scaffolded so much for them and why I have not expected them to figure more things out for themselves.

  1. I have been concerned that if they can’t do the work it will put them off maths (more than they were already)
  2. I have been concerned that their behaviour would be awful if they could not do the work.
  3. I have been reluctant to ignore all the advice on various IEPs and school documents and training sessions about teaching low ability pupils and pupils with SEN.
  4. What I’ve always done has been quite successful and so I didn’t particularly want to try something that might not work.

The downside of these lessons is that I spend twice as long thinking about what questions I am going to give them and what examples I am going to put on the board. I put a lot more time into structuring the examples in a way all the pupils are highly likely to understand.

I also look through their books in more detail to make sure I have good grasp of what they will understand which also takes time. I found that without doing so these lessons don’t really work.

I am yet to be observed teaching in this way so it remains to be seen what the leadership of the school think.

I also employ the Bigkid Taxonomy which helps things along 🙂



Key stage 2 results advice on Starterforfive- Some thoughts

The advice offered was here for those that have no seen it.

I wrote this a while back about KS2 SATs and I think it is still relevant.

I will go through the points in the advice one by one:

1: Don’t treat them as accurate, especially if you don’t teach Maths or English.

The reason why it matters if someone teaches Maths or English or not is because the Maths and English KS2 results are often used to generate targets in all subjects (much to the annoyance of every teacher of MFL, Music, Drama, Art and DT that I know). This often result in targets that are insane.

In my experience around 50% of students arrive with a KS2 level that I do not agree with and that they do not achieve in our baseline test. It might not be a million miles off but it’s not the same. It’s very unusual to find students that have KS2 levels that are too low in my experience.

There are reasons why a student might have a KS2 level that does not reflect their ability when they arrive on day 1 of year 7:

  1. They have been well drilled and prepared for their KS2 exams. They have probably not done huge amounts of English and Maths between their SATs and their arrival in my classroom. That’s certainly long enough for them to forget stuff and get rusty and some stuff.
  2. The KS2 SATs are not great tests of mathematical ability. They are at best, in my opinion, a way of crudely ranking pupils in how good they are at KS2 Maths tests. The level pupils arrive with tell me very little about what they can and can’t do. Anyone who makes any assumptions about what pupils can and cannot do based on their KS2 SATs is almost certainly going to be wrong.
  3. The KS3 curriculum is broader and deeper than the KS2 curriculum. A Level 5 at KS3 does not mean the same thing as a Level 5 at Ks2
  4. Levels are a nonsense of the highest order. Giving pupils a level that supposedly reflects their ability is and always has been fundamentally flawed. Giving pupils sub-levels is taking that nonsense and wrapping it in some top level insanity.

None of this is the fault of primary school teachers. In the last three schools I have worked in primary teachers have done an exceptional job in getting the pupils to get the results they have. That doesn’t mean that the levels generated tell us much about the pupils maths ability though.

2: If the child had a reader, the results will be even less accurate.

If a pupil has a reader in their KS2 Sats it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will have one in my lesson. It may therefore appear that they are less able than their KS2 level suggests. On top of that students with scribes, readers, prompters etc getting more help than they technically should is not a new issue or one restricted to primary. Given the unlikely results that some SEN pupils arrive in Year 7 with (The student with a level 5 in maths that could neither read nor count springs to mind) it is ridiculous to suggest there is no issue here.

3: Baseline assess your students on entry, so you have an argument come performance review time.

Given that large numbers of pupils arrive with levels that do not reflect their ability this is sensible advice. The last 2 schools I have worked in have done baseline tests. The results, as I mentioned above, are frequently a bit lower than their KS2 level. Sometimes they are much lower. Without the baseline test my colleagues and I would not have a leg to stand on when the pupils fail to achieve the target grades they are given based on their KS2 SATs.

4: If it’s a teacher assessment, it’s inflated further.

Teachers have PM targets to meet. This inevitably impacts to a greater or lesser extent on the levels they give when doing teacher assessments. This is particularly true if there are sub-levels involved. Sub-levels are a made up nonsense so if someone has a target of 5a and in my opinion they are level 5 then I’ll have no qualms about giving them a 5a in my teacher assessment. Why would I make a rod for my own back by saying they haven’t met a nonsensical made up target by giving them a different nonsensical, made up level instead? Why would anyone? Every class I have ever inherited from another teacher has had inflated end of year teacher assessments. I expect it and I don’t let it bother me greatly. After all someone is inheriting the pupil I gave a 5a to.

5: If you don’t teach Maths or English, assume they’ve been taught almost nothing about your subject.

I genuinely have no idea if this is the case or not. I would assume it is more true in some subjects than others.

I don’t see the advice as an attack on primary teachers so much as an attack on a system that makes no sense at all. However I can see how some might see things differently.

My experience tells me that if points 1-4 were liberally sprinkled with the word “probably” they would be reasonable advice.

I have no idea about point 5.