Monthly Archives: October 2014

How do you solve a problem like…..accountability?

I have to admit that in my 35th year of teaching, I actually am becoming far more excited about the discussions and changes constantly occurring in the world of education than in the previous 34. Granted, before my colleagues point it out, that I can’t recall much of what actually use to happen and tend to forget about defining moments in education as easily as I forget the names of colleagues in our morning briefings! I do recall that although I have always read my own subject literature and listened to education programmes on the wireless; I could for many years never find anyone to talk to about them. I foolishly mentioned such a programme that I had listened to on a Sunday evening in a staff briefing some 20 years ago-there was general derision and hooting of abuse! I’m braver now of course but still don’t mention the fact that I enjoy #sltchat on Sunday evenings at 8.00pm-done it!

There is a lot more discussion and interest shown now about pedagogy and leadership and some of the articles, conferences, blogs and tweets attract reasonably sized amounts of followers and participants, heated debates and sadly at times descend into acrimony. Most don’t though and the free flow of shared ideas provides a vibrant community of professionals eager to learn from each other and contribute to the larger debate about the future of teaching. However, the overall numbers of our profession who become involved is small-the overwhelming majority don’t for whatever reason and the different conferences and teachmeets around the country often have the same voices-interesting and insightful as they are-and I guess that it’s human nature to tend to listen to, and follow, those you agree with more than those you don’t. This doesn’t necessarily help us to move on as individual teachers or schools and too often the same scenario of a minority of contributory colleagues is repeated in the school situation.

I really enjoy and approve of the discussions and calls for schools to make all of their staff accountable, to have ‘bottom up’ CPD [or better still lateral CPD-coaching model espoused by Michael Fullan] and to have open collaboration, no graded lesson observations, no NC levels and so on so that teachers can reclaim their profession from Ofsted, the government, SLT and whoever else has claimed it from them! One of the problems is that quite a few of the people who call loudly for these things to happen have never actually made it happen themselves-plenty of advice as to what should happen but not much on the ‘how’ bit or a ‘how’ that will actually work in a real school situation. Some schools do openly share how they are trying to develop this necessary reclamation but often the stumbling block are the teachers themselves who don’t seem to want to be afforded the freedoms of choice that are now on offer.

There are few of us around still teaching who existed quite happily before the straightjacket of the national curriculum, levels, Ofsted and government dictat-my colleagues are so use to following prescribed routes that they sometimes become less confident of themselves and their abilities to think when asked to devise assessment schemes without levels, to observe lessons and comment on them [without referring to grades], to evaluate their own CPD needs, to ask for help and realise that it isn’t a sign of weakness that will be held against them or to air an opinion that is contrary to current school policy. It will take time, patience and supportive, decisive leadership from all levels within our school system to reverse a 20 year trend. I’m convinced the quality is there to make this so; so that teachers aren’t ‘done to’ or ‘at’ but encouraged to be accountable for themselves with a helping hand available at any stage of the transitional road to re-claiming their profession.


How can leaders use their skills to create an in-school environment where this becomes second nature. One of my favourite ‘leadership’ books is Mike Brearley’s ‘The Art of Captaincy’ [Brearley was a successful captain of England’s cricket team but probably their weakest batsman and selected for his captaincy skills] where he makes the point that “a good leader or manager is interested in what makes people tick, particularly when they seem to be difficult or withdrawn or under-achieving” Trying to draw everybody into the conversations about the quality of their teaching, trying to encourage them to take the responsibility to self-evaluate and plan CPD to support their perceived areas of weakness is difficult and needs grit and determination from the likes of myself. I absolutely believe that we will all become better teachers or leaders if this happens in our school. “It is up to the captain, and coach, to help players with self-defeating attitudes that arise individually or collectively as a result of their anxieties. It is also up to them to create an atmosphere in which players feel safe enough to offer their own diagnosis or point of view” Think teachers and not players and think teaching not cricket.

I hope that colleagues feel that we have tried to create an atmosphere where this can happen-we have tried to share so many ideas and opinions over the last couple of years and change so many established practices-BUT is it enough? For visitors to the blog, my email to all teaching staff from the 21st of October may explain a bit of the ‘how’ The background very simply is that I’m trying to encourage individual teachers and faculties to tell me [not the other way round] what they think great teaching should look like in their subject, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own individual and collective teaching and to tell me what specific CPD they need-all very bottom-up and supported laterally by the advice, modelling and challenge of others. This approach has been explained in lots of other blogs and I obviously want to react pro-actively to their needs and concerns and provide time for them to talk about ‘the main thing’

Apologies for the long message but I need to make a few points so I’m open about what my thinking is!

 The 11th November Tuesday meeting is down as a FOCAL and I was going to have you sharing ideas/thoughts with colleagues from different faculties re the BSG assessment changes/fast feedback kind of stuff BUT we can give this a bit more time and I just wanted to give faculties more time [albeit only an hour] to talk learning and teaching without any interruptions re Open Eve/Reward’s Eve etc.

Without doubt, most schools [and many still] used lesson observation grades to inform their senior leaders about the quality of teaching and where interventions should occur to support any weak areas. Our portfolio and lesson studies etc. have moved a long way from this but we still need to be able to inform ourselves and anyone else about how we evaluate our teaching, how we share strengths and how we collaboratively support any weaknesses. My belief is that you should all be trusted as professionals to be able to self-evaluate you own performance and take responsibility for your own accountability as a teacher or leader here [and to support and provide opportunities for these analytical skills to be developed in others]. Of course that doesn’t mean that all of this will happen without supportive structures and systems in place, should you want advice, coaching, mentoring and so on. Being honest and self-critical isn’t easy and certainly tricky if you are a NQT 6 weeks into a new career!

There might be better ways to develop teaching and leadership-if you think that there are and have examples from books, blogs, research, other schools or your own ideas-don’t sit on them-let me have them!

I’ve got a wealth of information about the current state of play regarding teaching here-your portfolios, lesson studies, observation notes, exam residuals, learning hubs, surveys, your shared blog stuff, book monitoring-data of all sorts spinning round in my head. Your recent appraisals will have helped you to consider your CPD needs based on a couple of targets but there may be more-go back to the first inset day and your faculty discussions-are you, are your faculty, is the school not reacting quickly enough to individual or group needs. Half-term is here already-please talk again!

I will need responses to these questions from each faculty after the meetings so I can gain an overall view. However the main purpose of the questions is to allow each colleague to share their honest self/faculty/school opinions. If you prefer to talk quietly as an individual, have an idea but want to talk about it before-hand etc. please tell me or anyone who you feel listens best.

Refresh your minds re the subject specific knowledge and skills that you agreed last year should be the criteria for great teaching in your faculty-is there anything you need to change before the round of observations begins? Bear in mind any subject specific information coming from exam boards, your own summer exam evaluation, whole school foci, your lesson study foci etc.

What are individuals [and the faculty] really teaching well at the moment? Could be aspects of knowledge, certain skills, different cohorts-you choose!  What is your evidence-impact data is always gratefully received but so are professional judgements and feelings! Asking the kids is always nice too!! Please include marking/feedback.

How have the faculty been working together well over the first half-term? Any great examples of collaboration, support for each other, and barriers to great learning/teaching removed already happened or planned for?

What are individuals [and the faculty] finding a difficult aspect of learning and teaching at the moment? Could be aspects of knowledge, certain skills, different cohorts-you choose!  What is your evidence-impact data is always gratefully received but so are professional judgements and feelings! Asking the kids is always nice too!! Please include marking/feedback.

How can help be best offered and given? Quickly is best-you might consider internal support-lesson study, observing faculty colleague [or other subject], coach/colleague to observe area of concern and support, research, external training/visits.

The hardest bit! Don’t be shy or embarrassed [the faculty leader can fill this in privately if they wish!]-quick summary of where I would look and find great practice to share with other colleagues/visiting schools and teaching concerns/and your suggested solutions so I can be pro-active in suggesting support.

Great teaching practice-general area Just a sentence to justify your choice


Great marking/feedback-type of example What’s effective about it?


Help needed! Specific areas, teachers, cohorts etc. Evidence? Faculty solutions-tell me what I can do NOW!

 Thank you

There is a faculty meeting again the week after this one [18th] so the discussion can be continued. We will need to use time to moderate, initially within faculties, your new BSG assessments so that you are in early agreement about the standards. I will direct meeting time after Xmas to do this, although English, maths and science may wish to begin the process at this meeting. Foundation subjects with less lesson time may need to gather more evidence yet. By Easter, I should be able to use FOCALS to cross moderate subjects-and raise key questions-is a Gold for low ability students in year 8 English, similar in challenge to Gold for low ability students in year 8 maths-for example. Get your boxing gloves ready for round 2 of Boxing to Argue folks!

One day I would hope that all of this would just happen without my intervention or direction. Like many leaders I fear that I say too much, that I spoon feed ideas and research, that I guide and coach too specifically and that I mention Ofsted too many times! Every school is in a different approach and sometimes leadership has to intervene and guide far more frequently and forcefully. Our pleasant Ofsted has given us a breathing space, which many schools unfortunately don’t have, to experiment, to trial ideas, to teach without fear and to decide amongst ourselves what is best in learning and teaching for us. However, if all colleagues don’t buy into the responsibilities that such freedom brings and our leaders don’t create the environment where it almost becomes impossible for that not to happen; we will fail to fulfil the promise that we make to students and parents when they choose our school above others. I don’t believe that will happen and trust the professionalism and integrity of my colleagues to ensure it doesn’t.

Andy Buck in ‘What Makes a Great School’ [another book on leadership I heartily recommend-short and sweet-the book not Andy!] shared his findings on the success of London Challenge schools. He writes of a ‘sharing of purpose’ and of the most successful London schools that “these schools had an organic sense of self-improvement fuelled by the genuine and self-motivational desire of all of the individuals to make things better” Whatever grade Ofsted gave us or whatever colours our FFT data shows we are, we have to believe that we can still be better and we have to encourage risk taking, innovation and strong subject knowledge to constantly push our teaching forward. This doesn’t mean that we have to jump on every educational band-wagon going and much of our current sharing of ideas is focused firmly on ‘smarter not harder’ to sustain and improve good teaching.

How do I solve a problem like accountability? I go with Fullan’s notion of creating a school where the staff [teachers, TAs, mentors, support staff-everyone] has a “sense of ownership of learning” Buck found that schools with “self-disciplined staff who want to improve for the sake of learning itself and the institution as a whole; improve faster” Are we such a school and are the right opportunities for this to happen being afforded to you?

Magic NQT Moments 2

Our final NQT Magic Moment of the first half-term comes from Helen, our Spanish NQT who has shared her first attempts at dot marking with colleagues. This came after our big marking blog and opening inset day of the year talked about a host of ‘fast feedback’ tactics and a conversation Helen and I had after her first lesson observation with me when she raised her anxiety over providing feedback and beginning self and peer critique at a very basic level. This is the email she sent, which was then shared with all staff.

Hi Dave,

Just a quick email to let you know how I am getting on with the dots marking and a few other marking bits and bobs.

When we start a new topic in languages it often leaves us with nothing meaty to mark and it is mostly just new vocabulary. So it was important to think of a way of getting the students involved in marking their own work.

When marking their books, if I see an error I put a coloured dot on the page depending on what the error is. I have also made a display in my room so that the pupils know what the coloured dot refers to.


I then hand out the purple pens and let the kids do the rest. The lower ability sets need the support of a textbook, myself or the TA but they all get there eventually.


The best thing is that it really speeds up my marking too. I find I don’t get bogged down correcting hundreds of spellings or missing accents. The pupils seemed to really enjoy it. One of the pupils in 7.6 excitedly asked “Miss, what are all the dots for?” It becomes a bit of a game of Spot the Dot. They also get quite competitive about how many dots they’ve got in their books.


Here are some examples:

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I have also started to get the pupils to decide whether one of their classmates has achieved bronze, silver or gold. Again they use the purple pens and then ask me for the correct coloured star sticker to stick in. Granted, 7.6 need more support in how to structure it than 7.2 but they all produced some good peer feedback.

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Think that’s about it – starting on my Challenge Wall display next!


My reply

Great stuff Helen-good to see you trying out different ideas with your classes as we discussed and great to see you developing marking which gets the students thinking for themselves and involved in the process!  Where can you go next with this to develop and refine your marking? A few ideas and questions for us to chat about;

  • Can you get the students to think in terms of platinum-how could they add to their gold skill/knowledge to make it even stronger-always interesting to ask them where they think their learning should go next
  • How are you or the self/peer checkers going to make sure that advice/feedback is met successfully?
  • How are you or the self/peer checkers going to make sure that the knowledge has stuck in a couple of lessons time and then in a month’s time? Could DIRT help?
  • Could you adapt this for KS4 and higher ability students? I wonder if you could invite the students to devise their own dot marking scheme or any other marking scheme based on their perceptions of which types of marking/feedback really help them. Different groups within the same class could try to devise different methods within an agreed structure decided with them beforehand-e.g. what is the purpose of marking/feedback, what should their role be, how should it help their learning, how will they know it has had a successful impact-be prepared for them to say they would prefer you to do it all! [usually for accuracy]


It’s an exciting, if very tiring, first half-term of a new career for our NQTs. When I went to the SSAT conference in Manchester last December, I came back and mentioned watching the deputy head of Cramlington School speak and raised this question;

What are they doing that is so special and how can we learn from them? They began with a quote, “Imagine a school in which you taught better simply by being virtue of being in that school. What would such a school be like” [Judith Warren Little] Cramlington, I guess! But wouldn’t it be an achievement for our learning community if that was Meols Cop-why shouldn’t it be!

Why shouldn’t this be the case for our NQTs or for any of our teachers-have we built the systems of collaboration and professional development to make this so? If we haven’t yet, and they should be constantly evolving anyway, we need to crack on! Have each and every one of us accepted the accountability of always being the best that we can and helping others to access professional excellence? It’s an eventful, challenging but ultimately rewarding journey for us all whether it be the start of a career or a dazzling denouement-welcome to Meols Cop and have as restful a half-term as you can. Thank you.

No Pens Day


Wednesday the 15th October was National No Pens Day and Hannah Jordan our literacy coordinator cajoled staff and students into downing pens for the day in lessons to focus on speaking, listening, reading and a host of other non-writing skills. The students, of course, don’t need much persuasion but the teachers do need to be innovative and imaginative-it’s hard to teach without using pens/stressing the importance of written skills [although it would be even harder if I whizzed their IWBs away!] I managed to tour school in 2 different periods and there was a wonderful atmosphere and great learning bursting out in every classroom. Interestingly a post by David Didau suggested that perhaps the day would be better described as ‘Debate or Speech Wednesday’. I quite like OCD-Oral Communication Day and that would probably be a more accurate description of what I observed.

The maths classrooms were a blur of speed throughout the day with their maths competition for years 7, 8, 9 based on speedy loop X table games, speed dating [explaining straight line graphs] and maths tarsias. In music Adele shared that; “Year 7 learnt a new song called ‘Amen’ and then verbally peer assessed their performances using 2 stars and a wish” TA Debbie got in the act too!

Design technology put aside theory and written assessment for the day and Tony’s RM students enjoyed West Point Virtual Bridge Builder and using the sanding spindle and making a storage unit.

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Aimee, with her food technology classes, had 3 different main activities;

Year 8 completed a ‘MCHS Bake Off’- making scones

Year 7 flipped their learning to become the Teacher

Year 9 made a chow for their cultural foods project

The naughty students tempted me to break my ‘no sugar’ rule and eat one of the winning scones-very nice it was too! I’m always fascinated by the pronunciation of scones-I think ‘skon’, [phonetically] is posh whilst here and in Liverpool they think scone rhyming with bone is posh! I know that the students like me to say-“is it heck as like’ and one student who left 30 years ago still says “lurry” [lorry] to me when I bump into him. Nowt as strange as folk [and accent/dialect!] and I admit to liking the ‘antwacky’ [antique] that I’ve picked up over in Merseyside.

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RE, as usual, had some very different ideas! I missed Jennie with year 11 and she explained that; “after listening and reading model responses, students got active in R.E to remind themselves of the formula to A* SUCCESS! Some girls became our question readers and highlighter pens!” This was to help reinforce their ability to answer the 8 mark questions well and grasping the structure of the question.

Step 2- Katie, Romana and Charlotte became our A WHICH SYMBOLISES agree


STEP3- The answer then has to backed up with quotes- Kayleigh making a quote sign.  Katie representing our Muslim responses and Lucy our token Christian. 


STEP 4- Will, Owen and Connor aim to form our D, WHICH STANDS FOR DISAGREE.


The girls again as evidence for disagree


Then ideas are brought together in our personal conclusion. 


Anne was slightly less dramatic and made some tarsias [as did Helen in French] for the students to match up the definitions. They represent a great thinking activity for all abilities.

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As Anne points out, they can be used for reinforcing new work as well as for revision purposes and the students shared their thoughts to help Anne record initial impact-although we will have to see if their learning sticks in their memories!


Andrew used tarsias in geography too; “The photos are of a couple of groups using a tarsia to find the facts of the Haiti earthquake (note Oli showing off his prize from an earlier activity), good resource where you can match up sentences, pictures or simple question and answers to match up the triangle to make one large triangle.

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Something else I did with low ability year 7 was a sing off amongst groups to see who could remember the ‘continents song’, this got really competitive as groups battled it out for a refresher, got them all involved and they all knew the continents by the end of it!

Greg shared some great ideas last week, as did Andrew, in our ‘Magic NQT Moments’ and he has some more for us here! I’ve included all of Greg’s ppt so others can see the ideas he gathered and tried out. They are all from different sources originally-I recognise Paull Ginnis and Lucy Duffy but can’t accurately credit them all!

You say we pay!


Job presentation-rat catcher. I shamefully admit that when I teach in Greg’s room I use the rat as the board wiper!

Roman legacy pitches below.

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Boxing to argue that I picked up from Lucy Duffy from Calderstones at a teachmeet.

Below is the voting board for the industrial revolution job and Roman legacy pitches and another bout of boxing.

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Sophie in music videoed year 8 doing their peer assessment rather than writing it down and Bronagh shared her videos with us too. In Spanish, Bronagh emailed me to explain; “Here are 2 of the videos we made yesterday during No Pens Day. The students have been learning how to describe their daily routine in Spanish and so they were put in to groups to practice this vocabulary by making a rap or a song. The sound isn’t the best so you can’t really hear their raps but they were great and the students loved it!

In my other lesson with year 10 we decided to look at the bigger picture of language learning and had a debate based on “Would the world be a better place if we all spoke English?” and “Spanish is a waste of time we should spend more time learning Maths, English and Science.” This turned into a very heated debate which went on the whole lesson with some interesting responses!”

Marie used the same year 8 class and her year 7 class and told me; “I had a great day with my students and I have taken lots of photos. My year 7 class loved creating silly alliteration sentences and acting them out. With my 8.7 class we did hot seating based on Sherlock Holmes and a murder investigation, the students loved it and were brilliant at it, every child took part in the role play.”

For visitors to our blog, Marie is our SENCO and mum of Hannah, who organised the day!

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Holly explained that her “Y9.6 scientists modelled the uses of different fuels you can get from crude oil. I then used it as a starter for my 10.6 who are doing the same topic – ‘what fuel does this model represent and why?’”


Both Andrew and Greg have used ‘Talk Tokens’ to encourage and reward great classroom talk. I shared Andrew’s idea around and Emma used the tokens with 2 of her classes.

“Year 9 GCSE – They were doing a news report based on the effects of climate change on Bangladesh. They had 1 minute to include as much data as they could and provide as much information to the class.

Year 8.5 – gave verbal feedback to GCSE questions, discussing the mark scheme provided and whether the work was worth bronze, silver or gold. They had to come to an overall grade for their assessment piece.”


Marion emailed Hannah;

“Hi Hannah. Had a great lesson with 7 set 2 in French. I probably packed too much in but I enjoyed the lesson and I hope the students did too. They learnt the French alphabet and had a go singing it without my help (after practising). Then I gave them all a letter and they had to listen for the letters to form a sentence. I couldn’t get everyone in the photo so took 3 pictures- it reads in French “Pens forbidden- Super”.  They also listened to an authentic tape script (all in French) about Mali and in pair’s transcribed missing vocabulary. All the students responded really well and most of them got it all right which is a huge achievement, given they only started French in September. Thank you for the opportunity to focus on Listening and Speaking skills and for the sweets (although they were all fantastic so will have to buy more! J”

The students said…

  • “I thought no pens day was fun and it was good because we didn’t have to write”.
  • “I thought no pens day in French was very enjoyable because I liked the idea and I liked the activities that we did.”
  • “I think no pens day is a good idea because it means that children can communicate and learn to work together”.
  • “I liked no pens day in French because I learnt how to spell lots of words and the alphabet plus it was fun”.
  • I liked it because it was fun to work without a pen”.

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I visited Sophie T in PSD and the students were having a great time exploring a serious issue;

“Within Year 7 PSD over the past few weeks we have been looking at friendship and conflict. Pupils participated in a number of games during no pens day to demonstrate their own personal characteristics of what makes a good friend. By playing games such as word association pupils were able to interact with everyone in the class by rotating around the room. The lesson was also an individual competition-the pupils with the highest scores got awarded extra praises and sweets. This lesson was a good way for pupils to develop their social, speaking and listening skills within PSD.”

Our English faculty tried out a range of different strategies including crime fiction freeze frames with Hannah and word charades with Lisa. Sarah exploded poems with her year 9, year 7 performed an urban myth and year 11 defined poetic devices and planned to perform ‘An Inspector Calls’ I found Katie’s class preparing for a radio advert.


Karen created a lovely wall display [we will come back to] of Shakespeare and poetry plates. With an over-arching theme of the positon of women, the students designed their plates to represent the emotions associated with certain lines in the play/poem and then considered the links between them.

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Thank you to all colleagues for sharing their ideas and resources.

Magic NQT Moments

I’ve now observed all of our NQTs in early term action and they have begun their CPD journey by informally dropping in on more experienced teachers, having a set of after school training sessions, choosing a lesson study project and attending year 7 information evening in their other key role-learning tutors. Beth shared some of her thoughts and ideas in our Growth Mind Set blog and this week Greg and Andrew share theirs. To complement the innovations and trialling of exciting learning and teaching by our youngest colleagues, the oldest teacher will also offer a couple of tactics too! In the last blog I explained that the choice of marking strategies and trialling of different ideas rests with the faculties and individuals-science have been trying fast feedback whilst history have been working on peer verification as you can see from Greg’s examples below. The idea stems from my frustration with peer critique and the inaccuracies involved and my desire to, if we were to persevere with self and peer feedback/dialogue, make it a worthwhile experience. My humanities friends have taken the original thought and made it their own!


1] Have you tried an idea with your classes that you have been really pleased with and think it helped their learning? How do you know?!

  • Peer Verification – This has allowed pupils to really develop their understanding of GCSE past papers and the mark schemes. Pupils were initially wary of this, as they are with peer assessment, but once they got into providing feedback they took to it. Some feedback was rather basic, but I believe this will come with more practice and increased knowledge of the mark schemes for each type of question.

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  • Peer Providing – A good little way to get pupils to collaborate and share understanding. I have used it so far to improve essay questions, add information to notes, review source analysis and general opportunities for peers to support each other’s development. I now try to bring in peer providing into a least every lesson, be it 2 minutes or 20 depending on how students will benefit.


  • Essay writing tutorial with Y7 – Another idea pinched from Dave that I witnessed whilst you were teaching in my class. I have utilised with 7.7 and I felt that the results were very encouraging considering this was the first piece of writing they have had to do this year. Combined with the fact pupils were ranking causes of the Roman Invasion, it allowed pupils to rearrange their answer if they had changed their mind on the importance of a cause. Please find attached pictures

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2] What’s the best idea you have heard about at a] school b] social media or other means lately. How do you plan to use it/what do you feel that it will bring to your teaching and student learning?

  • Misconception Quiz – Just a simple starter to test pupils subject knowledge and to work on common misconceptions and issues with the key subject knowledge. I plan to use this in my GCSE classes to test subject terminology, especially in the America in the 1920s and International Relations topics
  • Dot Marking – I really liked idea of using dot marking for my KS3 lessons and I have ordered 4 colours of stickers to use across my different classes. I think it will allow pupils to develop there SPaG awareness but for them to develop their historical skills, so I aim to use ones for ‘explain in more detail’ ‘ develop your opinion further’ and possibly one to ask pupils to challenge their own opinion, or to ask pupils to peer assess a conclusion.
  • ABC Feedback – I found this simultaneously on your blog and on twitter myself. I have begun to use this in my lessons already, particularly in plenaries and progress checks during lessons. I have already found that giving the pupils the ‘heads up’ that I will be asking for ABC Feedback on their answers gives them the opportunity to provide well thought out responses and ripostes. Using at both High and Low ability and received well. (Please find attached pictures)


3] Is there an area of your teaching that you feel is tricky for you and would like to see another colleague teaching? Let me know so I can arrange a drop in informal obs for you.

  • Peer work, I feel it was under used at my previous placements and I have little experience of it (hence trying PV and PP in my lessons) and I would really like to develop this
  • Extension tasks/activities for mixed ability sets as I am used to set classes. It is just ensuring that the higher ability students stay challenged and are kept busy whilst the slower pupils are catching up

4] It is a sign of strength [and GMS!] not weakness that you let us know if any classes or students are bothering you and causing you to worry-let your subject mentors or me know a.s.a.p. We can talk, give advice, team-teach, model or pop in to have a look.

  • No issues with behaviour but I do struggle a little with my 9C class as they are so low level at pitching the right GCSE work to them. This would obviously come with experience of teaching them, but some thoughts and advice would be great
  • This would be the same for my 7.7 class too


  • Last week I tried a 5 word poster with Year 9 GCSE classes. Each group was given information on a negative effect of climate change from around the world. They had to produce a poster with no more than 5 words on the poster (drawings, symbols, signs etc. allowed) before they carried out a marketplace exercise. One ‘expert’ was left to explain their poster (and effects of climate change in that area) to each group at a time while the others made their way around each poster making notes of what the ‘expert’ was telling them. After each poster the group would return and feedback to their expert what they have learnt. Once all information was collected each student highlighted any key information that would help them in an exam. I’ve attached some photos. They then attempted a 6 mark question which showed good results!

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  • I’ve been reading ‘100 ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Lessons’ and noticed an
  • idea called ‘But that’s another story’. Basically using props and dressing up to highlight and explain a particular story, I’m thinking of using it with Year 9 regarding flooding in Bangladesh. Not sure how good of an actor I can be but thought it would keep the pupils engaged and give them something to relate to when it comes to exam questions and checking their progress.
  • The only issue I have at the minute is I’m having a bit of a mind blank, not sure if it’s with having to take so much in these first few weeks but am looking at organising to observe some other teachers to get some ideas and help me out a bit!

There are lots of great ideas out in the land of twitter and blogs that offer sensible advice to NQTs but not always advice as to how other teachers and leaders should support their development. We do like to involve all new teachers as soon as possible in our collaborative sharing and also in our conversations about learning. I’ve noticed in job interviews, that some candidates, and often quite experienced ones, have little to say about their own teaching; it becomes apparent that they haven’t been asked to reflect, to share or to talk about their own practice in any depth before. No wonder that many young teachers leave our profession if their views aren’t sought or valued! For our most experienced practitioners it would be easy for us to be cynical-“I’ve heard it all before-nothing is ever new!” or “We didn’t have BFL in my day, a bit of struggle is good for the soul!” We were young once and should remember the mistakes we made and be open to ensuring any new teacher at Meols Cop gets the best possible start to their teaching career. The plethora of ideas that come into school, are shared by internal blogs, coaching, mentoring and hubs or accessed as Greg and Andrew have done via books and social media do provide a wealth of free CPD support-the NQTs [and all staff!] have to play their part in the supportive culture by finding time to find and trial them-it is so worthwhile! [Have I said that before?]

I’ve been enjoying the company of 2 lovely groups in year 8 and I have to say that I’ve been itching to get my hands on my little special needs group, having seen them in action in so many lesson study projects last year. I do get asked many times about how, as teachers, we can support this group, taking into consideration their diverse needs, and help them to progress as learners and socially too. I have 2 wonderful teaching assistants who understand the needs of the children and their potential learning barriers and are in tune with what I am trying to achieve with the group. To become GOLD learners, each student will be able to achieve by summer;

I can describe several characteristic features of past societies and periods. [From memory]

Literacy – I can employ both key historical terminology and structure when producing written assignments.

I can identify, describe and rank in order of significance both causes and consequences of events and situations.

I can identify change and continuity within and across different periods of history and I am able to describe a number of similarities and differences

I can give reasoned explanations about a source’s motive and select information from a source to support my investigation.

These are our BSG guidelines for our lowest ability students in year 8 so that they can all aim to achieve GOLD by summer. They are quite rightly challenging and I wanted to focus on retaining enough knowledge to be able to describe features of the period and link them together with causes and consequences. Literacy, both in generic and subject specific terms, is an immense learning barrier for most of this class and I wanted to support them with structuring their work, basic SPaG and using the key historical terms; spelt correctly! My challenge that I announced at the beginning of the lesson was to ask if they could write me an essay-‘Why did Britain become the first industrial nation’ [from memory] Of course none of them was imbued with confidence, although we had spent the 2 lessons before using visual stimuli and their own drawings of key factors to reinforce the main facts that would be needed.

The repetition and quiz style games began to bear fruition as with minimum prompting they were able to add key information in separate paragraphs on coloured post-its [cost me a tenner to get ones with lines on!]-fact-cause-consequence to build up their ‘essay’ Greg, our NQT, saw the books and tried the same tactic with his year 7 very low ability class finding similar results. You can see two of the student’s work below.

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You can see that I have used DIRT-dedicated improvement and reflection time-work on basic literacy and simple questions to check knowledge gaps. [None of my long feedback/feed forward stuff on these-YET!] For this class the spot is next to the line where the spelling error is so that the students can find it and ask for the correct spelling if need be OR IN Max’s case, his DIRT was to, with the help of his TA, structure his words into sentences. Max has the oral ability to recall all of my facts and information-he loves history and gets more of my praises and sweets than anyone-writing it down shouldn’t be the frustrating barrier that it is.

The reality for probably all of the students in this class is that they will have scribes for their internal and external examinations. Whilst the art of scribing is a difficult one that becomes easier with practice, so the skill of orally telling the scribe everything that you want to have written down to get the best possible marks; is an even harder one for our students. Over the last couple of years we have prepared them for this in KS4, practising with the TA who will scribe so that both parties are comfortable when it comes to the harsh reality of the exam room. We do need to consider developing these skills in lower school, not just for examination purposes but because writing should not be a learning barrier to the thoughts that are in their heads. Too often I’ve heard low level questions being targeted at students because someone has decided that because written answers for them seem to be difficult they should get a simple question-NO! Challenge them orally to provide evidence to the tough questions you would ask of the more able writers. Make them speak their answers to each other, to you, to their TA-give all of your learners the opportunity to think BIG! Both Greg and Andrew when I observed them used talk tokens to reward great student talk/conversation and I stopped the lesson to make the students listen carefully before attempting any writing up of the conversation. These are key skills for all students but for our lower ability students they are often mistakenly forgotten. Obviously writing should be developed too!

I guided year 8 conversations by putting them in pairs, looking at some images of working children before raising ‘Big Questions’ for the pair to discuss one after the other-e.g. was working in the factories worse than working in the countryside? Would you rather be a chimney sweep than work in the mines? They had to listen and had a prompt to support the listening and subsequent write-up-“Wayne thinks that it was worse working in the factories/countryside because…….they then chose a connective/conjunction from my list……however I think that………………because……….” Killing two learning birds with one stone allowed them to have a short verbal dialogue and to justify their choice with evidence to each other before they used their listening and short term recall skills to write me a balanced answer. We then counted how many lines we had managed to write using this method and the reward lollies were quickly out as they realised that rather than the usual 1 or 2 sentence [or word!] answers, there were now some with 17 lines or nearly a whole page! Some of the students joining us struggle desperately with even short term memory issues. This presents us with a real teaching challenge!

I see 8 set 7 twice a week because I have them for both history and geography-Monday and Friday-and to help their retention of knowledge, I just teach 1 subject for a block of weeks before swapping over. For the subjects with only 1 lesson a week, the gap between lessons, especially for the lower ability students, can be an issue in terms of recall. 8 set 5, who have slightly more students than 8 set 7, also have plenty of SEN students and I have tried similar tactics with them by visualising ‘stories’, recall quizzes and DIRT, post-it essays and plenty of both verbal and written dialogue between the students and myself. I lost a week with Open Evening and yet they were able to remember our picture story, with prompts 2 weeks later to write my post-it essay. They now have to spot if I have missed any spellings after mentioning too, where, were etc.-key spellings which we know cost our students dear in SPaG at G.C.S.E., as Graham Tyrer pointed out in his excellent Literacy Leader’s toolkit and not necessarily the big key words which are rehearsed many times.

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There has been a growing amount of research into which teaching methods work best to help students learn and retain knowledge. Expert voices are vociferous and strong in support of their own opinions and evidence BUT unfortunately there is no definitive answer and nor should we seek one. I’ll continue to send out the latest evidence and it’s great if you can find time to read it but your own professional reflections will help you equally in trialling and deciding which methods work best for classes, individuals and yourselves. Its isn’t that long ago that we were all told to always consider the ‘learning styles’ of our students-that is ridiculed by many now and even John Hattie who has become popular and widely read by teachers keen to use his research of effective teaching methods, is under fire already from some critics. There are strong arguments for teaching mixed ability classes rather than the sets that we currently use-would that better support all of our learners-what do you think-your opinion matters based on your experience!

With my other class and for Greg with his classes of higher ability, spot marking has endless possibilities for self and peer critique/marking. The dot can be anywhere on the page and no clues given, different colours can represent different SPaG, different aspects of the subject knowledge e.g. inaccurate historical fact, they can use spot marking of each other with their own criteria –ideas are in the external blogs or just have a go and let me know how you use it.

I have also been to Poundland, to buy little note books [3 for a quid] so that we can draft sentences, check SPaG, record facts etc. in rough so that our books show EXCELLENCE with finished work. I’ve bought journalist jotters for English colleagues plus Hollie and Marion so that they can all re-draft before committing to the finished work to be marked and commented on. They tell me that these are working well, although the students sometimes complain at first when asked to re-draft but soon give in when they see their finished product becoming better!


Our latest sharing of ideas via this blog, 30 second marking and a fair chunk of our lesson study has focused on developing our lower ability teaching. I’m delighted that this term I’ve already been approached by colleagues to use their lesson study to research approached towards higher ability teaching. For instance early examples and requests include;


Sarah C and Karen R-Can students independently employ higher order thinking skills.

Success criteria = move beyond the text to recognise the wider implications of the writer’s purpose – hopefully commenting on: social justice, inequality, accountability, morality and mental health.

Greg and Beth-My focus in my lesson is going to be how higher-ability students can utilise the ‘Challenge Wall’ to extend their learning, I will be creating new resources for this. Beth will be focusing on using a more open ended task for higher ability pupils

Adele and Katrina-researching A level music and drama skills that they can use to enable their most able G.C.S.E students to move beyond the confines of the syllabus and meet student needs.

Science faculty-analytical skills

Bronagh and Marion-grammar!

Katie and Laura-KS3 SPaG

Hannah and Andrew-motivating high ability male students.

Helen and Helen-The new KS3 curriculum – delivering literature and using skills of transcribing and translating.

Sheila and Zoe will continue with their functional skills research with year 8 low ability students and the other mathematicians will look at resilience and problem solving at G.C.S.E. in spring.


Thank you as always for reading and hopefully you may have spotted ideas you would like to try out tomorrow!

30 second marking?

Interestingly of our 3 most visited blog posts, 2 are our big sharing of marking ideas that include our own examples and highlight great ideas from elsewhere that we like and would pretend are our own, if nobody was reading our blogs! Two more external additions spotted over the last couple of weeks are well worth finding time to check out.

Alex Quigley @HuntingEnglish  considers the value of feedback and much more and raises issues that every teacher thinks about privately and in discussions re marking. He also includes some great feedback tactics, some of which we use and a couple of ones which may be new.

‘Have We Got Feedback Backwards?’ …

Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher shares his DIRT activity based on Austin’s Butterfly to demonstrate how 1 student noticeably improved his learning. There are more and more teachers sharing examples and photos of their marking externally, as we do, rather than just talking about it-this really helps and is great CPD for our profession.

My 3rd external post comes from Dan Brinton and is his most popular post and the one that first highlighted the two schools to each other’s presence as I used it back in November of 2013 in our blog. ‘Fast Feedback’ has 9 great ideas that any teacher can use tomorrow! Dan has sent his post around again recently-so here it is again if you missed it the first time.

Meols Cop Science Fast Marking/Feedback

The main part of our blog this week is the opportunity to share the marking/feedback strategies that our science faculty are currently trialling. Carmel explained their ideas with great passion, so I hope that I do them justice and I will use their examples from very current work to model for you. Their main aim is to mark their books before the next lesson/next day in a manner that is useful to the students, helps them check key concepts have been understood, check short term learning progress/fill knowledge gaps and be fit and healthy enough to be on top form themselves in lessons, and not exhausted by too heavy a load of marking and planning.

In KS4 they have bought all of the students revision guides-no notes are made in the books that are marked-notes can be made in the purchased guides or some students have requested a small note book which they have been given. These books are not marked. The books which the teacher marks has the concepts in them/questions and these are used in DIRT-dedicated improvement and reflection time.

The process involves;

  • Self-assessed/peer assessed according to shared criteria
  • Some is based on key words/science literacy
  • The task is improved based on the self/peer advice
  • The teacher adds their comments AFTER the work has been improved
  • Questions are usually added to focus on misconceptions/gaps
  • DIRT next lesson is used to respond to the feedback/questions and the cycle continues
  • Different coloured pens show who is writing-red-students self-assessment, blue-student’s DIRT, green-teacher, blue-student response, sticker/stamper-feedback achieved

The colours help the speed at which the teacher can ascertain who has said what and what needs responding to and crucially, both Carmel and Hollie ask the students to leave the book open on the page that needs commenting on open-they are either left on the tables like that or collected in open to save vital time, opening and finding the place where the learning is.


This extracts are from Carmel’s year 10 lower ability students re-drafting after advice from the teacher and then receiving peer advice and a peer question. Carmel stressed the point to me that although this style of peer/self-assessment is often seen as achievable with high sets; they have trialled it across the board and these are examples of foundation G.C.S.E. classes and it is making the science team consider moving them to the higher tier.

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Carmel explained that her aim is to spend 30 seconds adding a pertinent comment/question as part of this process for each student which allows her to have the books ready for the next lesson. More in-depth marking/time consuming marking occurs when assessments are undertaken. She feels that the inclusion of the students in the process is improving their learning and allowing marking to be manageable and have a measureable impact on learning.

Barriers so far have been;

  • If the pen colours go wrong! Most of the team issue packs of pens at the start of the lesson with the right colours in.
  • If the students don’t respond-couple have been brought back at break and haven’t erred again.
  • Keeping up the discipline for making yourself stick to the regime-much easier with all the faculty trialling and supporting.

Carmel asked if I knew of other examples [which raised issues about speedy marking] and I recalled Sharon Porter’s blog where she explains her use of a mark guide at the end of each lesson. Well worth a read. I’m sure there may be others and when I share this on twitter we may get some responses to share ideas.


Hannah has been introducing her year 8 groups to ‘fast feedback’ incorporating self and peer critique. This was the task;


DIRT allowed the students to prepare the ‘excellent’ work ready for Miss to read and comment on by encouraging re-drafting until all of the information needed was there-some of the comments are quite basic but our students miss out ‘basic’ information regularly and lose crucial exam marks. The exercise reinforces the rigour that is needed to answer using as much detailed subject knowledge as we want them to and allows Hannah to focus on the marginal gains type of comment and feedback that ‘excellent’ work requires. Borrowed from Chris Moyse, we like;


Joe’s year 10 current books show peer feedback in red, blue for student responses, green for teacher comments and mention RAG-the students choosing their current level of understanding-red, amber, green. Again the students are working hard to produce the excellent finished piece and both self, peers and Joe are prompting and questioning to get there. The acronym PEER, is different than the PEE often used and represents

P praise for what was good about the learning

E even better if

E example to support the EBI

R response to the suggested EBI-can’t be yes, no I agree, thank you etc.!

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The dialogue between the peer assessor and the student before their teacher comments on the learning looks to be interesting! Not quite a ding dong but a good exchange of advice and response.


Rachael’s cheesy dialogue followed by pleasing self-reflection in DIRT. Joe and Rachael share their year 8 class and Joe also uses the acronym DIRT differently to support self-critique. In the example below it stands for;

D what do you feel you have DONE well?

I what do you feel was INTERESTING about your learning?

R what are your key REFLECTIONS on today’s learning?

T what would you TARGET for improvement?

I quite like this!


The scientists seem to be obsessed with food! Hannah moved from cheese to bacon with this dialogue based on PEER.

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If the marking/feedback is improving the learning, as you can see in Phil’s example and the students are using DIRT –great!

Science perspective-why marking had to change

As with all teachers, the pressure of the need to deliver results has become immense and the science faculties response had [and has] been to up their assessing and testing from year 7 onwards to a level that is far beyond what happened previously. This was their decision and not an ultimatum from SLT! I’m not use to testing as thoroughly and as often, but am prepared to let colleagues run with their ideas and to feedback to us on the impact of their ideas. The focus of the tests constantly changes as they monitor and adapt to weaknesses in performance as they appear. The heavy load of marking that the testing brought did impact on day to day marking and when book monitoring time came round, allied with observations, concern was flagged up and Carmel and myself had a couple of long conversations where we discussed different strategies to enable the scientists to keep their heads above water in marking terms whilst still providing a quality marking/feedback outside of the test situation for students in all years. There was a worry, as there always is, when I mention using DIRT in lessons allied with self/peer critique that valuable learning time could be lost [i.e. coverage of the knowledge needed in the syllabus/scheme of learning] I obviously believe that great marking and the time found for the students to reflect in lessons enhances and helps to retain/improve subject learning/knowledge not detract from it-it’s a good discussion though! We looked at internal and external best practice-you can see a great bookmark devised by Daria Kohls below, which covers some of the external ideas discussed.


There are lots of similar ‘fast feedback’ ideas and whichever suits best is fine by me, provided that it fits our whole school structure as explained in previous blogs [at the end of this blog] I’m not sure who had the original ideas for all of these but Kev Lister and Damian Benney are great exponents of RAG and I first saw FAIL/SAIL on Belmont School’s blog. Do read their ideas and follow them if you get the chance. Daria borrowed her medal and a mission from a blonde scouser called Wendy-think I vaguely recollect who she is!!

It’s early days for our scientists with their trial but they have been pleased with the impact of their marking so far for all involved and from My Perspective as a senior leader;

  • I’m delighted that that the faculty have taken the initiative themselves to improve what they saw as a weak learning and teaching area
  • I’m equally delighted that they are working together and supporting each other by sharing ideas constantly and being honest and open with each other. Sometimes books and marking remain hidden from other colleagues [and other schools!]
  • This comment perhaps sums up my belief and what we are trying to achieve at MCHS

Damian Benney‏@Benneypenyrheol

II think the model of collating the “bright spots” of marking to share best practice is exceptionally good!

  • I like the fact that they are collating their evidence via Hannah and that they have followed the path of suggesting solutions, rather than just complaining about marking!
  • I like the really practical idea of leaving the pages open for speed of access-I hadn’t thought of this before and the ease with which colours can help the marker cut straight to the chase.
  • It is for each faculty to decide which type of marking is best for them and most appropriate for their students and teachers. I emphasised in this blog and will stress again that marking preferences and styles are not uniform. Even within the same subject and same teacher it would make sense for different procedures to be followed with different abilities and classes, should you wish to. I was going to include an example of my marking with the least able students in school but as this post has grown and grown, I’ll share next week! Provided that the marking and feedback fit within my suggested structure-fine, go for it, try new ideas and let me know from your impact data/professional experience-does it support and improve learning!
  • If it sounds Orwellian that I have an imposed structure-it isn’t, it’s this and I think it’s eminently sensible and manageable;

Marking and feedback

We use a range of marking strategies in school depending on the subject, age and ability of the students.  However, there are some key basic principles that underpin our approach, to which staff and students should adhere:

  • Marking and feedback must be prompt.  The books must be taken in for marking and returned with feedback at agreed regular intervals dependent on the amount of curriculum time the subject has.
  • Subject specific feedback and feed forward advice and targets must be given to inform the students about what has successfully been achieved and how the learning can be further improved.
  • Questions addressed to the students may be used to support this strategy aimed at emphasising misconceptions and incomplete knowledge.
  • Whichever strategy is used, the students must:
  1. Be given time to read the advice and respond;
  2. Have future learning checked to see that the feedback has been  successfully employed;
  • Some teachers may use the term DIRT (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) to carry out these activities.
  • SPAG (Spelling Punctuation and Grammar) will also be checked for general and subject specific accuracy.
  • Our students will be involved in evaluating their own and each other’s learning.  Teachers will check the accuracy of student self and peer marking but the thought process involved strengthens student learning and helps them become more effective learners.  For them to be successful we might use the acronym FISH:
  • Friendly comments must be based on the learning, not the person!
  • Informative advice that suggests improvement, with supportive examples provided.
  • Specific feedback, based on the subject knowledge and skills that are need for mastery of the subject.
  • Honest feedback – don’t hide from what needs to be said.  Constructive criticism is useful and all mistakes can be learned from.
  • To enable student marking to be successful, the criteria for marking must be in student friendly language and have a clear structure, e.g. Bronze, Silver and Gold.
  • Peer assessment on its own is often inaccurate.  Another student should check the peer assessor’s comments and verify their accuracy before a compromise discussion with the owner of the work, the peer assessor and verifier. Further verification by using more peer assessors e.g. gallery critique further supports more accurate peer assessment.

For the students, there are a couple of simple messages;

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Some staff may prefer to spend longer marking the books and provide longer feedback, some have different foci this term e.g. peer providers, some may prefer to stay with their current methods which are working for them, some may prefer to go through the work and spot SPaG errors and misconceptions themselves-it doesn’t matter to me provided that my colleagues continue to seek the best ways for their practice to improve and to seek suitable CPD appropriate to their professional needs.

As Damian said in his tweet about the sharing of marking practice intra and inter schools, looking for ‘bright spots’ or ‘magic moments’, as we call them, is essential for all of us not just enlightened leaders or teachers. If you spend your time looking at shared examples for the failure of the teacher to put a red pen through every spelling error or not using a ruler whilst failing to spot the improved dialogue between students leading to a re-drafted and improved piece of learning or a genuine attempt to make marking manageable and worthwhile-you’re missing the point and the moment of CPD gain has gone. [I’m not saying that SPaG and presentation aren’t important!]

Thank you to our science faculty for being brave enough to publicly share; I hope that colleagues inside MCHS and those from other schools find our ideas and thoughts useful.