Grade boundaries time to change the system

This is my little rant about how grade boundaries are set, and comparability. It does not affect only maths but other subjects as well. It is a follow up to the announcement that ofqual asked Pearson to change the boundaries so the percentages passing did not vary too much, and a whole load of other blogs, comments etc. Also it is after the secret teacher article from the former head of history who a few years ago results dipped. 
I understand the logic behind making sure we do not have grade inflation hence why it is done. However this idea and the logic behind it goes against one of the core principles I believe in, the more you practice (meaningfully) the better you become. Over the past 10 years while I have been teaching I have seen the following improve students ability to gain marks on a maths paper.
More maths lesson a week surely this has had an effect lots of school have increased the number of maths lessons by 30% plus. Hence these students should be gaining 30% more marks

Technology, students get better feedback and are able to learn better on their own

QLA driven improvements to how teachers teach. Teachers look at what they teach less effectively and teach it better. 

QLA driven improvements in feed back, students given higher support on individual weaknesses

Tracking sheets and PLCs we really analyse what students can and can not do to teach them what they can not do.

Higher teacher collaboration Internet, Twitter, blogs etc.

This means students should be doing a lot better and getting a greater proportion of higher grades as they can do more.
So there has over the past 3 years a very subtle increasing challenge in gaining a certain grade for the young people I teach are this year I saw a few more students who were better at maths than previous peers measured by past papers, in class, effort and homework, achieve a lower grade. 

What ofqual does in comparing proportions with each board is becoming fairly  meaningless as some schools doing different boards for different students. E.g ocr foundation papers for c/d borderline students, edexcel higher for b/c borders and Aqa for a/b borders as teachers feel it is easier for some grades with some boards, due the proportion of grammar schools doing this board, London schools doing that board etc. An example is this was most prevalent with the end of the modular GCSE. as this increased the difficulty level of gaining a C on the linear as lots of sucessful C chasing schools used modular

What needs to happen in my opion
One exam board everyone does the same, 

No higher/foundation papers everyone does the same

Fix the assessment criteria and design the questions to test them properly, like the old sats papers. Each paper should then have the same amount of marks at each grade, fix the grade boundaries. Test the questions in small samples. 

Write the next 10 years papers (although context and actual numbers may need to change in AO3 questions) , leave it alone and see what has happened 

Please let’s alter the system to make it clear and visible so every knows what a young person must have done to succeed. 

Please let have no moaning about grade boundaries etc the current system is setup so that to tread water with your results you will need to work harder than last year, as other schools will also be improving, working harder, making their students work harder etc. So we need to alter the system. The system must be open transparent and fixed.


Key parts of lessons that should be planned centrally

Before discussing ways of implementing centralised planning I would like you to look at the key parts in most lessons, which i feel should be planned centrally, and why centralised planning is beneficial.

After my last blog I had a question from someone, which I would like you the reader to think about, with my answer

Q. By taking away the planning from the teacher are you taking an important skill from the teacher? Does the teacher then not loose their personality?

A. What I want to do is allow the teacher to develop the skills in teaching, such as questioning, behaviour for learning, classroom management etc. E.g. You do not need to be able to make a car, to drive a car well. The motivation behind this is to get the best for the students. The teacher personality comes from the teacher not the resources.
So what are the key parts of the lesson that need to be centrally planned
We all know that ideally exposition should be uninterrupted in lessons

This can be done through the use of skilled clips- the advantage of this is the students know they need to be concentrating on what is being explained, without worrying about a potential question. It removes the danger of a teacher breaking the student’s concentration by asking a question.

This allow ensures consistency of approach through a department.

It can be followed up by the teacher questioning however it means the exposition is always perfect. It can be planned centrally and played to the class, further modelling etc can be delivered by the teacher if required, however the need should be reduced as there  is a higher expectation on the student to learn from it as it is a model exposition.
The key questions can be planned centrally, however the teachers skill would be in adjusting and using these questions with their class, knowing the length of wait time, when to ask for more from a student. This is an example where centralised planning would give a teacher more time to develop a skill in teaching, as the teacher has time can focus on this for their lessons.
Starter/Do now-
As I believe these should be done in silence questions linking to previous learning to build and aid retention, this should be planned from an overview of the scheme of learning so can be planned centrally and shared. The only issue could be the more able in which case there should be challenge questions, however there is no reason tt cannot be planned centrally. It will also allow questions that deal with common misconceptions to be fed into the teaching.

A good homework should consist of 

1. Practice and developing skills from lessons. 

2. Learn facts 

3. Extension/challenge to extend thinking

Again these can be planned and shared centrally, ensuring consistency of approach and fairness for all students.


There are lots of these available which do similar things, a teacher can spend seconds to hours to find the right one for their class. Some of these activities we find are amazing and should be used by all, however some are fairly poor, so the best option is for there to be known resources of a department style, differentiated for challenge and support this way every student. By prescribing the activities to be used there is then an expectation that the teach should be able to use them, and that the student should be able to learn from them. Students need high consistent expectations and having inconsistent work means in consistent expectations. (Personally I do not like text books, they are very big, take up a lot of desk space, and normally the budget is only enough for one text book between two, removing a lot of independent work)
These are in the lessons and have to be used, if a teacher does not know how to teach with them or use the activities, then they need to be supported and trained to. If a teacher is never using these activities and thus is allowed to avoid using them, the teacher is never going to improve using them and the students get a raw deal. I know of teachers that ignore NRICH activities or the standards units in SOL, because they teacher does not understand them or have the time to understand them.
Hinge questions, plenary questions etc
Checking for understanding and moving on or not moving on, is a crucial part of a teachers role, and having pre planned resources for should make a massive difference to the students progress. So when we check understanding alot of thought, and planning should have gone in. There needs be quality activities to support, secure and deepen students understanding, after a hinge questio. By centrally planning you are ensuring you have quality activities planned for use after a hinge question.
Magic bits
We all have them in our lessons thing we feel really engage the students in learning. By having these magic moments shared every student will get them.
Marking and written response
For marking and thus feedback to be effective it needs to be part of the learning cycle, by nominating lessons which are feedback orientated it is clear to when the marking needs to be done, the focus for the marking, time is then spent properly on focused improvements on the key learning from previous lessons. It can also be timetabled so there is not a large burden on the teacher at anyone time in the year.
If I have forgotten a key part of a lesson that should be centrally planned let me know. Please feel free to pass comment, especially as the comments let me think and alter my view points. 
Also if you work in a school where central planning does take place and you all do really follow these lessons let me know how it works and how you feel about it

Who should plan the lesson- my changing view.

Since beginning teaching I have held a very simple view that teachers should have a scheme of learning, with suggested activities, suggested lesson plans, examples of lessons designed by other teachers, and the teacher should be left to plan and alter their own lessons for their students. However my view point is changing, this is because I am starting to believe that the standard of planning these lessons, not the teachers skills in delivering create the biggest in school variation of learning, and this needs to change for a school to allow students to be really successful.

In a future blog I will explain how I would like planning to works, I want to list the reasons why individual teachers planning their own lessons can cause a problem, and ask you for your opions and solutions so my future blog can consider your views as well as mine.

1. Time, teachers spend hours looking for “better” resources or designing their own.

2. Poor resources selected, teachers set in their ways select what they think works based upon what they like doing, which can cause death by …… Syndrome, and poor learning.

3. Quality resources (e.g standards units) not selected from the SOL because the teacher does not like them or does not have the skills to deliver them.

4. Teachers pace is determined to often by the teachers own ideas, due to time they ignore the aft they use or pretend to use in the class.

5. Expectations, teachers have different expectations for students, and students respond to these expectations in low sets through not making the progress they should, as they are not challenged appropriately, In high sets because the teacher expects students to understand and retain complex ideas without using them enough to solve problems, causing anxiety and a feeling of being lost as a teacher repeatedly moves on. 

6. Teachers sometimes do not teach a year groups for a long time and so their expertise drops in teaching specific skills.

7. Not enough time given by the teacher to making sure things stick.

8. Homework may not effectively planned to match learning as done as an after thought.

9. Departmental consistency of teaching approaches. For example how many different methods can you get to teach expanding double brackets. Even subject specialists teach using poor methods, e.g moving the decimal point, change the side change the sign etc.

10. Time, to plan and resource a good lesson takes approximately 10 to 30 minutes if not more (I am not talking about writing a lesson plan, the care that should go in the thought process)

11. Teachers assume students have had certain experiences when they get a class, when a previous teacher may have missed something that they felt was not important. E.g should a student get to year 11 without hearing of pi? 

12. Curriculum knowledge, teachers need to be fully aware of the assessment that the students will be doing when planning, as they may focus on non core curriculum to the detriment of the core. 

So please tell me me below why individual teachers should plan all their own lessons.

Posters, and Horses for Courses.

Yes I know and  thank you for saying it. Making posters (or a PowerPoint) can be a waste of time, unless you are learning about poster design (or using PowerPoint). Any decent teacher can tell you this. As it is about matching the learning and activity to ensure learning happens.

What happens in a classroom should about learning the correct content. For me the key part of planning learning is efficiently matching the task to the learning. Hence why we have learning intentions, learning outcomes, I can statements or success criteria, which we plan by.

There are some great tasks that involve cutting and sticking on to sugar paper in maths (The standards unit (The blue box in the corner), maths4life, tarsia). These used well can develop great understanding, the output can look like posters but are not posters. See Malcolm Swans excellent book on Collaborative learning in the classroom for an understanding of the learning that should happen.

I have found the use of these activities to be very effective in developing students thinking ability to link and make logical arguments. I would hate for someone to stop me using these as they make a “poster”, it’s actually maths done on sugar paper. So please let’s be very careful with the arguments in this educational debate. Make sure you know what needs to be learn and find the best way of ensuring the learning takes place for the group of students you are working with.

I hold a very similar believe when using tablets and or devices in the classroom. They can suffer a very similar problem to posters, unfocused learning. They can be used for quality focused learning however great care has to be taken with them. The danger becomes that the students learn how to use the software and thus do no the learning content if the learning is not planned properly.

If you attend and apple session on using a tablet to learn, the focus is actually on learning to use a suite of application not on learning curriculum content. I have observed a lesson where an ipad was used to teach students some content in 40 minutes which could have been taught in less 5 minutes, with no actually bonus to the learning like better retention etc, However the student has learnt to use the ipad.

However ipad scan be used very effective for differentiated instruction, so please be very careful that all planning is around effective learning in your classroom with your students

So my as always garbled message is plan well and plan to cover the correct content for your learners as efficiently and well as possible to ensure they learn.


Why all students should do Higher maths GCSE, with the current specification

There has and will always be debate about higher or foundation maths gcse, which student should do what etc.

3 years ago I said “I would only put students who can get a B or above into the higher tier paper, as the risk of them not getting a C was too great”.  In fact I was so insistent on this I ensured that my step daughter was put into foundation as she was a typical C/D border student. (She got her C thank god!!!)

During the 2013/2014, academic year while marking a set of PPEs (Mocks). I noticed that some of my students were picking up enough marks on the foundation paper c/d questions to get a d (if they had done higher) while on the foundation paper they were getting an E.  This caused me to consider what I was doing.  I kept most of the class on the foundation but there were 7 students who were confident enough as individuals and up for the risk, they went in for higher. I kept the classes prep on foundation C/D topics and revision of the lower topics, as the bulk were doing foundation. The result of this was the higher group students got 1 D, 5 C  and a B between them (The D would have been a D or E on the foundation paper) and some of equivalent foundation students D’s, some got C’s.  This was enough evidence for me to want to alter my strategy. This year we decided we would prepare the border line class this year all for the higher paper.

After discussions with a partner school and looking at the philosophy, a brave decision was taken that ALL would do the higher tier paper, as it was felt they all would have a greater chance of success. (We did monitor this throughout the year)

What did we get? (when I saw the grade boundaries this year I really worried about this decision)

Less U grades- this was always a fear with doing this that some students would not get a grade when they should have. Every student who got a U would have got a U on the foundation paper.

No F and G – Obviously – so all of these students must have improved their grade

E’s we had a lower proportion of E grade with student who would previously got f, and g s getting E’s

D’s we had student who would have getting E’s getting D’s, as well as some who would have got a D get  D’s as well as students.

Highers C’s

Higher B’s – some student really went for it and while we would have limited them with a C they now have a B.

Why do I believe this worked?

  1. Focused revision, students can focus on revising and learning the C/D topics. When feeding back a PPE paper you only need to focus on these topics, and test these topics
  2. Past papers “Foundation” students when given a foundation paper to revise or work though work hard doing what they can and feel that this is enough without really learning so you only feedback on what the student thinks they can do
  3. Stamina, some traditional F/G students on a foundation run out of energy after 30/40 minutes. On a higher they have 30/40 minutes
  4. There are some C/D topics that the “foundation” students are very good at, especially shape and statistics based which will get marks on the higher paper. So by tailoring the revision and learning to make sure they focused on the strengths of the students, they are able to practice these area so the students know they cannot get it wrong

This was  one of the many things we this year to improve the results of our students. However I believe it is one of the major reasons for a massive increase (over 10%) in the C plus count, increase in B plus count, and what will be a fantastic increase in the levels of progress for the “Low attainers”.

To people who are not sure about this do the following

  1. Download your QLA for the D grade students and look at the cross over marks.
  2. Think about how long you spent revising the G to E topics and consider if you had focused more on the c/d topics.
  3. Consider expectations my saying the best you can get is a C is that lowering expectations

Me – do a masters? Continuous Professional Development

There is talk about teachers needing to get more qualifications a masters, a PhD etc. I think people saying this are missing the key point about CONTINUOUS professional development, and Educational Research.

I have two points to make about additional qualifications.

The first point is a masters and PhD all end, professional development must be continuous. A teacher must be constantly keeping up to date reading research other people’s ideas, not getting a piece of paper and saying they are now qualified, they need to be always learning and improving. I believe that there are a collection of people with masters who are dated (learning styles springs to mind), these people need to be updating themselves.

The second point is that most qualifications are based upon learning and knowledge that happened in the past and are not always current. I know PhDs are research based however I believe a lot this research is “Jump on the band wagon research”, where you just effectively copy what someone else did in a slightly different way. This research in general does not make much difference to educational practice and improvements.

I have seriously considered and researched doing a masters three times, I will explain why I have not done them, to illustrate the points I am trying to make

1. The first time was when I worked in IT through the OU, the masters would have been computing based. When I looked at the course I can the conclusion there were 2 ways of doing it the hard way where I covered modules in things I knew little about, or the easy way where I did what I could do already. The hard way interested me, but I knew I would not have the time and may never get to apply the skills (Applying new skills is the thing I really enjoy), so I looked in detail at the easy way. From looking at the easy way I came to the conclusion it would be a questions of writing up what already knew. The result being the time (and money) spent would give me no real benefit except having MSc written beside me

2, The second time I was fortunate enough to be selected for a teacher leaders scheme (which could lead to a master in the end), which I was really excited about as I thought great this will give me more pathways to improve. I went off with a couple of other colleagues to visit the university where the course started. After a while it became apparent I would learn not much as the guidelines were basically research and write up something you are doing, after gathering the evidence. As I already do my reading, reflect and generate evidence, the net gain for me as a teacher would have been minimal. except I would have the discipline of writing it would and my evidence gathering would have been more complete. Conclusion I felt my time was wasted attending, so I dropped out.

3. The third time I was considering ways of helping myself progress in my career, the masters that interested me the most where subject specific, however when I looked at the content again I felt if I was going to apply the skills I had already done a lot of the reading, If I was not going to get a chance to apply the skills, why was I doing it. End result the qualification is tick boxing, and I came to the conclusion I could pick and choose my own readying depending upon what I felt I needed to learn to improve.

I feel that there needs to be a better way of monitoring and improving the learning in a classroom, other than the teachers ability to write a lot of paragraphs, and tick boxes while telling you what they think you want to hear. (Excuse my blinkered view on master and Phds but effectively you are measured by what you write and say you did/think, not what actually you did/really believe)

I believe most teachers are reading and looking at ways of improving themselves, their teaching and especially the learning of the young people they teach. The problem with this is my learning is undirected, and based upon what  we believe we need to learn (or what interests us on that day) not what we may need to learn. This is because we are professional, and you could argue that teachers that do not do this are not professional

So four thing that need to happen to improve teaching,

1. A National subject specific CPD for all teachers (and TAs) and LINE managers of subjects, (Basically anyone adult who is in a subjects classroom who is involved with the learning). There needs to be an expectation that key documents being read, studied and applied in classrooms, THIS MUST BE MEASURED. The national strategy it was read by some and applied by fewer, some teachers seemed to think they could pick and choose from it, some ignore it, (The decimal point springs to mind).  Maths is fortunate at the moment as we have the NCETM workshops which could be applied and used, however these need to be mandatory and done once a half term. I believe the master maths has this even more often. Do other subjects and do these session happen properly? I think a national program of study that is mandatory need to happen for this. It must be national so teachers moving between schools do not miss sections, and national so everyone is kept current.

2. A National Professional Studies – Teaching CPD, general teaching skills for all on behaviour management, questioning, AFL etc. These need to be part of CPD and refreshed regularly, just like child protection is. These also need to be measured and improved all the times in schools. The topics and ideas must be based upon hard really hard quality evidence and not upon a whim of someone’s pet project (Learning styles had a strategy document much to my disgust still). The key points need to be agreed by the correct people and schools told how what they need to cover and why. Again National so teachers moving between school do not miss sections

3. School specific CPD, each school has its own challenged and may need more skills developed, so some days need to be given up for this.

4. Research, all places of work should be researching how to improve, each school should employ a couple of people to research and implement the “new ideas” of teaching and then feedback upwards to the correct people so they can improve practice and pass it down.

Some of these things happen, some of these things we believe happen. However if they were forced to happen and measured, and implemented in every school teaching would improve. Where would the time come for all this cpd. I would reorganized the school year but that is another blog.

Mindsets and “Quality” graduates I do not understand

Growth mindsets and top quality graduates

Sorry this is a little rant because I could cope with “top quality” graduate comments coming from government but not from people in education I respect.

The principle behind these 2 statements, please correct me if I am wrong.

1. The harder you work the more you learn, and you should be looking to improve, responding to feedback etc.

2. Top quality graduates mean brighter people and better teachers.

I frequently read about these two things having a profound effect on students learning and outcomes. However to people who say they believe in both, STOP and THINK.

A person who attends a poor school, who is poorly motivated, who does the minimum required ends up at what sort of university? Gets what grades? What happens when this person wants to achieve, or decides to work hard, and wants to make a difference.

Now consider a quiet shy academically sucessful person who has highly achieved at school and university (has a masters) who chooses to be a teacher as they have not found yet what they want to do, and are nervous about the world outside education.

Both of these people I believe could make highly effective teachers. As long as they develop themselves properly, however I know which one I would want in my team, but only after talking to them

I believe people who talk about quality graduates and define it by their grades and the university has a fixed mindset.They are naive about the relationship between being a successful student and successful teacher. When looking at effective teachers people are mistaking correlation for causation.

The skills and experience I believe to be a teacher are in no fixed order

1. A passion for learning

2. A desire for everyone to improve

3. A belief in young people

4. Curriculum knowledge, then subject knowledge.

5. A whole load of inter and intra personal skills including resilience, self belief.

I will follow this up with a blog about recruiting people, but after I have listened to feedback on this.