Workload Matters



Teacher workload is a hot topic of discussion in schools at the moment – and rightly so.  The DfE have recently published the results of their ‘Teacher Workload Survey 2016’, which is available here.  This report contains some alarming results:

  • 93% of respondents to the survey stated that workload in there school was at least a fairly serious problem;
  • 52% cited workload as a very serious problem;
  • The average working hours in a week for all classroom teachers was 54.4 hours.

Our profession is creaking, and whilst we all hope that the DfE and OFSTED will work together to address some of these issues, school SLT have a key role to play too.  At Durrington, we have always believed that a key role of the SLT is to provide the conditions in which teachers can focus on their core purpose – to teach great lessons and continue to develop their professional practice.  An essential part of this is monitoring teacher workload and making changes to ensure that teachers are able to use their time effectively.



The DfE, in partnership with OFSTED and the Professional Associations have produced a really useful leaflet (above) to encourage schools to reflect on things they should and should not be doing, with regards to addressing teacher workload.  The full version can be downloaded here.  This is a must read document for all SLT.

Have we completely cracked it at Durrington?  Almost certainly not, but here are ten things we have done to try and make a difference.

  1. A tight but loose approach to teaching – we do not stipulate to teachers how to teach.  Our message is simple – implement these six pedagogical principles in your classroom, in a way that suits you.


As a result teachers don’t waste time planning their lessons artificially to fit a rigid, prescribed structure.

2. Subject Planning & Development Sessions – once a fortnight, subject teams meet to talk about what they will be teaching over the next fortnight and how to teach it well – more here.  This is the most effective form of CPD we have done in years.

As a result teacher meeting time is not spent on admin and information items, that can be shared via email, but instead it is focused on collaboratively planning effective teaching.

3.  A subject specific approach to feedback – we don’t have a generic marking policy that states the regularity with books should be marked across all subjects. Instead each department has written their own feedback policy that states (a) how feedback will be given in that subject (written/verbal/self-checking etc) (b) what the feedback will focus on e.g. classwork, homework, assessments and (c) how frequently this will happen.

As a result teachers are focusing on the feedback that works best for their subject and not just having to slavishly cover exercise books in red pen, simply for the sake of it.

4. No written comments for subject reports – teachers simply give a grade for effort, homework and progress – no superficial, written targets that are not really useful for students or parents.

As a result parents and students still get regular and useful information about how they are doing, but it takes teachers a fraction of the time to write a set of reports.

5. Teachers aren’t expected to keep folders of evidence such as appraisal evidence files or intervention logs.

As a result they can use their time to plan effective lessons that will prevent underachievement from happening in the first place, or address it effectively in lessons.

6.  INSET days are used for collaborative work – teacher time isn’t wasted by sitting in a hall for the whole day, listening to the same input when their needs will all be very varied.  Instead, most of the day is given over to subject teams to work and plan together.

As a result subject teams are able to work together to share effective practice and share the load of planning.

7.  Highly effective Curriculum Leaders make life easier for their teams – they do this by doing the simple things, that make a big difference to their teams by helping them to plan effectively.  For example:

  • Printing class sets of homeworks at the start of every term and storing these centrally, so teachers don’t have to.
  • Updating the schemes of work every year with dates on them, so teachers know where they should be, by when.
  • Encouraging a culture of sharing, by emailing shared resources around the team.
  • Emailing regular bulletins to remind people about where they should be in their teaching, what’s coming up e.g. homeworks and assessments and what they should be focusing on.
  • Making sure that their team have the best resources to support effective teaching e.g. regularly reviewing the text books that are used.

As a result teachers feel organised and supported – as much of the planning is being done centrally for them.

8.  Department reviews – like many schools, all teachers in all subjects used to be observed at set points in the year, as directed by the SLT.  Now Curriculum Leaders decide when these observations will take place and what the developmental focus will be.

As a result observations are supportive, developmental and fit with the priorities of the team.  The team have ownership over the process.

9.  Revision Sessions – we used to do a he number of revision sessions, every night for all subjects, for Y11 from now onwards until the summer.  As a result, students didn’t know which ones to go to and teachers were exhausted and exasperated as the students they wanted to attend their sessions, didn’t turn up.  This year we are doing far fewer sessions and focusing on quality rather than quantity.  More here.

As a result teachers are not having to prepare huge numbers of revision sessions and students are not torn between which sessions to attend.

10.  An evidence informed approach – rather than wasting teacher time on things that we think might work, we look at the research evidence and use this to inform what we do.  For example, when it comes to revision, we use strategies from cognitive science – see here.

As a result teacher time is not wasted on less effective strategies.  Furhermore, they don’t have to trawl through hundreds of research journals to find out what works – we do that for them.


Most importantly, we will continue to keep teacher workload under review as a school and make changes that will hopefully look after our most precious resource – our teachers.

Further Reading

DfE reports from the three independent review groups – essential reading and advice for all school leaders:

Posted by Shaun Allison

Posted in General Teaching, Leadership | Tagged | 2 Comments

What to do with Year 11 revision?

Tomorrow will mark 42 school days until the first GCSE exam for our current Year 11 cohort. They will have an extended assembly promoting the importance of this period, receive a study skills booklet, a revision programme and a magnet (to easily display the revision schedule on their fridge). However since last year, we have reviewed our revision package for Year 11 in an attempt to make it more effective and sustainable for students and staff.

The key question is “Are lots of extra revision sessions beneficial?”

The immediate answer to this is yes…

There is an increasing amount of evidence to support the importance of students revisiting material.cog2 The work of Daniel Willingham has shown how students need to transfer information from their working memory to their long-term memory to enable this information to be retrieved at a later date, rather than be forgotten. Once this information  has been stored, a schema can be used to easily retrieve this information. This would take the form of revision sessions, using a range of activities and questions to retrieve the information from the student’s long-term memory.

The work of the Learning Scientists has also shown how a range 1473265582162.jpgof strategies can be used to retrieve information from student’s memories. The six strategies suggested by the Learning Scientists are embedded in cognitive science and are easily adapted to a classroom context. The concept of retrieval practice uses exam questions and flashcards to test a student’s knowledge, whilst elaboration encourages students to explain and apply their knowledge in different contexts. All of which would take place in revision sessions in the build up to a student’s  GCSE exams.

However, should all of this take place in extra revision sessions?

The problem with extra revision sessions is that they place huge pressures and strains on staff and students. In previous years, Curriculum Leaders have been asked to offer revision sessions for Year 11 students. However, the majority of our students will be taking GCSE exams in 9 subjects so it is impossible for them to attend a revision session in each subject each week after school. This led to many subjects being forced to run revision sessions on more than one day, before school or during lunch times. This was problematic for both staff and students:

  • Students:
    • would be forced to choose which subjects to attend;
    • would prioritise subjects that they viewed as important to the detriment of others;
    • would be able to have a ‘fall back’ option of a different revision session if they didn’t want to attend on that day – often leading to the students not attending at all;
    • would be under huge strains by starting their day at 8 a.m. with a revision session, completing 5 hours of lessons, attending revision sessions at lunch and after school and then doing their own revision at home.
    • would feel that if they attended lots of revision sessions then they would not need to do any extra work at home.
  • Staff:
    • would be holding revision sessions on several days during the week;
    • would be starting their teaching day earlier or finishing later;
    • would be forced to compete with other teachers/subjects;
    • would feel disengaged when only a handful of students attended.

Therefore, instead of this free for all approach, we have decided to approach the Year 11 revision programme differently.


Each subject has reserved one after-school session per fortnight. The core subjects have a separate day each, whilst the option subjects have been grouped so that only a handful of students would face clashes. We believe that this will be beneficial because:

  • Curriculum leaders will be able to use all of their teachers on one day and provide a range of revision groups – such as A/A* or moving to a C.
    • This will enhance and improve the quality of the provision that subjects can offer.
    • The number of students in each group will be smaller and therefore a more bespoke revision session can take place.
  • Intervention strategies for underachieving students can be used effectively for specific subjects with specific teachers.
  • Students will not be forced to choose which subject they should attend and are able to prioritise the subjects where they need extra support.
  • Students will know that each subject will only be offering extra revision on one day and therefore will need to be more responsible for attending that session.
  • Students will be expected to be more independent in their revision, and not rely on their teachers all of the time.

The added advantage of this revision timetable is that there are extended gaps between each subject revision session. This links to Dunlosky’s research where he highlighted the benefits of distributed practice. The concept of spacing out a student’s revision has been shown to be highly effective in boosting student’s memory and performance in assessments.

The importance of these extra sessions is to provide support for those students who need enhanced provision to achieve the best possible outcomes. The focus of our day-by-day revision programme will be on high quality first teaching in every lesson. Many of our subjects have already developed a curriculum which is interleaved, so our students have had regular retrieval practice of topics and material from the beginning of Year 10. In addition, regular low-stakes quizzes are embedded into lessons and through questioning students are challenged to elaborate on their answers. Therefore, our Year 11 students have been involved in a revision programme for many months in their lessons and will continue to complete revision in their lessons over the next few months. A fundamental message will be that high levels of effort in lessons and with homework tasks is more important that attending lots of extra sessions.

What will happen in our Year 11 revision programme?

These three research informed strategies will definitely be happening in our Year 11 revision programme:

  • low stakes quizzing – using flashcards, memory apps such as Ankiapp, or simply a set of 5-10 questions at the beginning of the lesson, so that students transfer as much information as possible from their long-term memory to their working memory;
  • practice testing – exposing the students to as many types and styles of exam questions as possible, so that they become familiar with the expectations of the exams;
  • elaboration through questioning – asking the students ‘why’ something is the right answer, so that they have to explain their thinking to develop their understanding.

…and three activities which will definitely not be happening, as Dunlosky’s research shows that they are ineffective:

  • summarising notes
  • highlighting and underlining
  • just rereading notes (with no follow-up activity)

42 school days may appear as worryingly close, however we want to maximise the potential of these days without overloading our students and increasing their (and our staffs’) anxiety levels. Actually, we are viewing the 42 school days as a final push with Year 11 to build upon and enhance the revision that has already taken place, rather than a desperate cramming session.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds




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Managing difficult behaviours

This week’s 15 Minute Forum was led by John Lamb (Assistant Headteacher) and Jack Griffiths (Year 7 ICT Progress Leader).

John started with a focus on teacher’s approaches to different scenarios:

If student X cannot complete an activity such as an equation in Maths, teachers will plan a different way of approaching that activity. This different way of approaching the task will allow the student to become ‘unstuck’ and move forward in their learning.

What this means, is that teachers plan to help students understand a concept or a topic in their lessons. Importantly we should also plan for good behaviour. In a previous 15 Minute Forum, John had presented the idea of a 10-step plan for good behaviour (here).


Importantly, the use of consequences appears as ‘Step 9’. This means that 8 other strategies have been attempted, before the teacher resorts to sanctions. The focus of this idea is that prevention and reduction of behaviour issues is better than reacting to those issues.

Jack then discussed how his approach to behaviour management has changed in his time at Durrington, having reflected on his practice following John’s previous 15MF. Jack discussed that his PGCE had not prepared him for non-confrontational behaviour picture3management approaches because he had been told – “You need to make sure that they know what you being angry is like.” However, Jack’s approach to managing difficult behaviour is now one focussed on ‘finding a way to avoid it in the first place’:

Language of choice – An important aspect of this approach is the ‘use of language of choice’. This involves giving the student the choice as to their next step – If you choose do this…then you are choosing for this to  happen – and avoids negative responses to ‘surprise’ warnings.

Separating the behaviour from the student – It is important to remember that the majority of a student’s behaviour is not directed at you (the teacher) personally. Therefore, when a student does show behaviour which is not acceptable,  a subtle change of language can be empowering. By stating that ‘we’ (the school) do not accept this kind of behaviour means that it is not you reacting but the school. This removes the personal nature of the issue and increases the chances of a positive outcome.

Don’t shout – In the majority of situations, shouting will be counter-productive. The students may respond by shouting at you, laughing at you or having a brief improvement and then behaving even worse. A different approach could be to listen to the student when they arrive. If the student is agitated on arrival, an immediate confrontation could exacerbate the issue. This has proven successful with one particularly challenging Year 8 student:

  • the teacher spoke with the student in a detention;
  • the student said that he felt pressured when he arrived and the teacher spoke to him as soon as he had set foot in the door;
  • the teacher and the student agreed the following:
    • the student would enter the room, take his seat and write the date and title
    • the teacher would not speak to the student until he had done those things (unless he was being deliberately disruptive or refusing to meet the agreed expectations)
  • this non-confrontational approach has been successful in recent lessons and allowed for that student to stay in the lesson (and make greater progress).

Bring your personality – Often difficult behaviours can be managed through the enthusiasm and passion of the teacher, because the issues do not regularly arise. The important aspect of this is that effective working relationships are developed between the teacher and the student to allow for successful outcomes (even when the student does disrupt).

Focus on the positives (not the negatives) – Catch the students doing something right. Praise the students for doing the right thing and then discuss where the student may not have got it right. This allows more positive language to be used and avoids direct confrontation, but still addresses the issue that has been created.

But it is vital that…

Expectations remain high – It is important that the students meet your expectations, but that teachers guide and support students to reach these expectations. When sanctions have to be implemented (and remember this is step 9) it is important that they are consistently applied and enforced. However, by approaching this in the right way difficult behaviours can be effectively managed.

Despite all of these things, teachers need to remember that students will misbehave and that these approaches are not a ‘magic wand’. However, by adopting non-confrontational approaches small issues, do not need to become big issues; and big issues can be dealt with effectively.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

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Bright Spots – what can we learn from our Curriculum Leaders?

Curriculum Leaders play a pivotal role in developing teaching and learning at Durrington, as they work with their teams on a daily basis to ensure high quality teaching inspotlight their subject areas. Over the past week, I have visited each of our Curriculum Leaders to gain an understanding of how they approach their lessons and what experiences the students receive from these teachers.

In Art and Design, Gail Christie was teaching a Year 7 group. Gail was modelling to the class how to add tone and contrast to their paintings. What was noticeable in this part of the lesson, was that the whole class were gathered around Gail’s table watching how she was applying the paint. This direct modelling allowed the students to see first-hand how to complete the activity. However, at the same time Gail was constantly questioning the students; ‘How am I holding the brush?’; ‘Why am I applying the paint here first?’ All of these questions allowed the class to explain the processes that Gail was undertaking and gain an understanding of how to replicate the process on their models. The students were then given the opportunity to practise these skills, whilst Gail monitored their progress and provided immediate feedback.

Over in Maths, Emma Mason, was modelling a concept which students had not covered for a number of months. Revisiting material is an excellent method of retrieval practice and forces students to ‘Think Hard’ about their knowledge and move it from their long-term memory into their working memory. In her lesson, Emma was modelling Venn diagrams on the interactive whiteboard and questioning the students through each stage. Noticeably, Emma was targeting questions to specific students – a mixture of PP/FSM students and reluctant responders – thus ensuring that all of the students were engaged in the activity. One particular exchange in the lesson was as follows:

  • Student – “the answer is the probability of B”
  • Emma – “Why can’t it be the probability of B?”
  • (same) Student – (after pausing, thinking and looking at the model) “Not all of B is shaded in, therefore it can’t be the probability of B. It must be the probability of not A”

Through the use of a clear and well explained model, as well as specific questioning Emma was able to address the student’s misconception and improve their understanding.

In Business Studies, Chloe Wheal, had also modelled a difficult concept to her Year 10 students. Chloe had explained the stages of the Boston Matrix, in manageable ‘chunks’ before providing opportunities for the students to practise the skill. It was particularly evident that the students were able to work independently on this task, having initially been provided with a clear explanation and model. The students were then able to refer back to the model to check their progress and understanding.

In Drama, Emily Isham’s Year 8 students were choreographing a dance routine to a High School Musical track. After the students performed their routine, Emily gave the students specific goals to improve their work. Through specific and direct instructions Emily focussed the student’s thinking on the ‘formation’ of their routine. By doing this, the students were able to enhance one specific aspect of their routine rather than try and focus on the whole routine and struggle to identify areas to improve. This allowed for greater progress from the students and a much improved second routine.

In Geography (Ben Crockett) and French (Pam Graham) had a specific focus on vocabulary and challenge but in different ways. In his Year 8 lesson, Ben, was explaining how a meander forms along a river’s course. This was a tricky Year 8 group, but Ben was challenging the students to use specific Tier 3 vocabulary, such as lateral erosion. Through the ‘Bounce’ questioning technique, Ben was able to elicit further information from student’s initial answers and use previous word associations to extend the student’s vocabulary. In French, Pam, was teaching another tricky Year 8 group. In this lesson the focus was on the difference between masculine and feminine spellings of words. Pam was using explanation questions to challenge the students to explain why one pronunciation or spelling would not be accurate in a specific context. She then increased the level of challenge for the students by asking them to adapt their vocabulary from the present tense to the future tense. All of these approaches made the students ‘think’, which ultimately engaged them with the work and developed their depth of understanding.

Sharon Nixon (SME) was using a range of questioning techniques with her Year 9 class during their discussion about World Views. Sharon was not relying just on those students who had their hands up, but was also ‘cold calling’ on those students who were sitting quietly, to ensure that they were engaged in the discussion. Through this, Sharon was able to check all of the student’s understanding and allow students to gain confidence by being praised for their contribution.

When I visited Steph Temple’s Year 11 Science lesson, the thing that struck me the most was that the students were secure in their core knowledge. Steph was teaching about the work of Mendeleev and the Periodic Table and setting a high level of challenge for her students. However, the students were engaged in this discussion and were asking questions which went beyond the basic level of knowledge. The students were enquiring into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the topic, which they were only able to do if they were confident in their core understanding (which elements are more reactive). This meant that the students were then able to apply this knowledge in a range of different contexts and think at a deeper level. Dan O’Brien (History) was also challenging his students to apply their knowledge in different contexts, by investigating churches in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Dan was using an Anglo-Saxon map of Chichester (a city which is familiar to our students) and probing the student’s knowledge through a range of descriptive (What can you see on the map?) and explanation questions (Why is it there?). This activity allowed students to revisit previous lessons and successfully apply their knowledge in different contexts.

Kate Bloomfield’s Year 11 English students were also being challenged to think about their work, but from the perspective of how to approach exam questions. Kate was conducting metacognition with the students to break down the exam questions and to help them structure their answers. This is an important skill for the students, as they need to be able to successfully apply their knowledge to different contexts, which are prescribed by the examiner. Kate was achieving this through specific instructions such as “The question states ‘from line 16 to the end’. On your extract draw a box around line 16 to the end and then reread this section”. This helped to focus student’s thinking just on this section of the extract and then to concentrate their thinking on the question’s focus – Hale feeling nervous and unsafe. Kate’s next task, for the students was to find five quotes from this section of the text to show nervousness and a lack of safety. Helping the students to unpick the exam questions, is an important skill which sits alongside the subject-specific knowledge that students need.

Over in PE, Tom Pickford was teaching Year 11 in the final period of the week. When I arrived, the students were fully engaged in their game of ‘Bench Ball’ and there was very little direct input from Tom. However, what struck me about the activity was the way that the students were supporting each other. After one student had missed a few baskets, another student came up to him and said:

  • “Next time, aim at the top right corner of the black line on the backboard.”

Quickly the ball arrived and the student followed the instructions to score the basket. What struck me about this exchange, was that the students were taking the lead of the activity and were confident at supporting each other to develop their skills. This could only have taken place because Tom had set the right conditions within his lesson and provided clear instructions during a previous explanation.


Having visited all of our Curriculum Leaders during the week, I noticed several things that their lessons had in common:

  • High expectations of all students
  • Excellent relationships with their classes
  • High levels of subject knowledge
  • Lots of questions, using a range of techniques
  • Specific explanation and modelling focussed on the lesson’s content
  • Lots of deliberate practise

It is from the work of the Curriculum Leaders that their Curriculum teams develop successfully and maximise the outcomes for their students, not only in their (the Leader’s) classrooms but in their subject as well.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

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Make it sticky: helping students to remember technical vocabulary

The 15 Minute Forum was led by Andy Tharby and focussed on a simple, but effective technique of helping students to remember technical vocabulary.

As Daniel Willingham states:

“… memories are inaccessible mostly due to missing or ambiguous cues. Thus, to minimize forgetting, we [need to] focus on ways to ensure that we have cues and that they are distinctive.” – What will improve a student’s memory? (2008)

In addition to this, students are being asked to remember an increasing amount of and increasingly challenging Tier 3 vocabulary. The new GCSE specifications demand that students use accurate subject-specific vocabulary in their writing to reach the higher grades. But, more importantly, having a knowledge and understanding of this ‘technical’ language will help increase student’s social mobility beyond GCSE.

However, technical vocabulary is an issue that students often struggle with. As Andy stated, there are two reasons for this:

  • students sometimes understand the concept but forget the word
  • words with similar spellings and concepts are easy to confuse
    • fibula/tibia
    • metaphor/simile
    • stalactite/stalagmite

Whilst, it is important for students to develop their own memory techniques, the responsibility for providing accurate and memorable ‘cues’ lies with us (the teachers). These ‘cues’ will then provide a starting point and stimulate a student’s recall ability.

The solution?picture2

One simple, but effective strategy to help students memorise this ‘technical’ vocabulary is to introduce the idea of mnemonics. Mnemonics which are effective, will help strengthen word memory and concept memory. This is particularly true, when the concept is abstract or removed from the student’s personal experiences. Andy suggested three ways of approaching the creation of effective mnemonics:

  1. Word stories (etymology)
    • an example would be oxymoron
    • oxy (from the ancient Greek oxus – meaning sharp)
    • moron (from moros – meaning stupid person)
    • in essence the word oxymoron is an oxymoron as it means a ‘sharp, stupid person’
  2. Associations (linking new words to familiar concepts)
    • an example would be stalactites
    • tights hanging down from a washing line
    • the important aspect of this mnemonic is that students develop a mental image and link that image to the vocabulary.
  3. Word attack (morphology) – looking at how words are formed
    • an example would be socialism
    • through questioning of the students, they are able to unpick their understanding of the word social and then link this to the term socialism.

The most important aspect of an effective mnemonic is that it is memorable. A fellow English teacher at Durrington had said that she had never forgotten the order of the fibula and tibia because of the following mnemonic:


‘fibula has a u in it, therefore it is under the tibia’

Andy concluded the 15 Minute Forum by suggesting the following tips:

  1. Make a list of the words that students struggle with in your subject. What are the common misconceptions?
  2. Invent mnemonics, look online or ask other teachers.
  3. Teach the mnemonic when you introduce the topic. Start the student’s learning by associating that concept with the mnemonic.
  4. Regularly practise using the mnemonic to help students remember it more effectively.


Posted by Martyn Simmonds

Tharby 15 min forum from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

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Purposeful Homework

This weeks’ 15 Minute Forum was led by Senior Leader Chris Runeckles. One of his whole-school responsibilities is homework and ensuring that the setting of this is meeting the needs of our students and our teachers. He began with the following guidance from Ofsted:

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

Durrington does not do things for the sake of Ofsted, however this guidance does summarise what homework should be aiming to achieve. The key messages from this, are that homework should be:

  • Challenging – so that students are pushed to extend their thinking or develop their skills.
  • In line with the schools’ policy – there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
  • Consolidating learning – allowing students to go beyond what is achievable in a series of lessons.Picture1.png

However, the current argument based around headlines, such as that from The Telegraph, is whether homework should be set at all. Actually the research shows that ‘pointless homework’ is pointless not that all homework is pointless.



Other research, such as that from Hattie, shows that homework can have positive effects on student development.


Professor John Hattie’s Table of Effect Size

Hattie’s research, in relation to homework, is complex as it does not provide a single, simple ‘soundbite’. However, he does stress that:

  • Tasks should be precise and specific – therefore they are teacher defined and set tasks per class/group of students.
  • Open and complex tasks are more suited to able and older students – potentially thinking about KS5 students, rather than KS3/4.
  • Teacher monitoring and involvement is key – therefore there should always be some form of teacher involvement in the task, at some level.

At Durrington, we firmly believe in the value of homework. We view homework as an opportunity for students to deepen their understanding and develop their skills further. However, that homework has to be appropriate and carefully considered. As a result, the school has created its own ‘Homework Policy’ which is focussed on the following principles:

  • Homework should either:
    • embed
    • extend
    • improve
    • apply
  • It shouldn’t require learning without the input of a teacher before (or after) the task has been set.
  • Homework should be specific and work on the mastery of a particular skill or section of content.
  • Feedback, and the application of that feedback, should always inform what homework is set.

From this, whole school policy, departments have devised their own departmental policies which account for the bespoke needs of each subject at KS3 and KS4. It is vital that each department is not constrained by the whole school policy, but is able to work within it and set homework that is most appropriate to the needs of each subject.

What does this look like in practice?


  • The majority of our homework tasks are centred on the idea of embedding.
  • This is particularly evident with the introduction of new specifications at GCSE.


  • The aim of ’embed’ homework tasks is to:
    • consolidate learning that has taken place in the classroom.
  • As can be seen from the example, students are asked to learn/improve their spelling of key words and complete activities based on knowledge learnt in the lesson.


  • The aim of ‘improve’ homework tasks is to refine skills and knowledge already learnt in the lesson.
  • Most of this type of homework is set by our practical subjects.
  • This should be informed by teacher/peer feedback.
  • Students are applying their knowledge in different contexts.Picture5.png
  • In the example, students have been asked to improve their self-portraits. What is evident from this example, is that students are provided with clear guidance in order to improve their work.


  • This type of homework provides an opportunity for students to move beyond the learning that has taken place in the classroom.
  • These tasks allow students to develop their breadth of knowledge.
  • It is important that clear guidance and structures are set with this type of homework, in order to make it effective.



  • These homework tasks allow students to use the learning that has taken place in the lesson to complete a specific task.
  • Often this is focussed on exam questions or essay writing skills.


  • In the example, the Year 11 students have been given specific expectations (in terms of length) and guidance (in terms of what to include).


The schools’ expectation is that feedback should be provided for homework tasks and this should help to inform the students’ learning and next steps. However, this does not mean that formal, extended and written feedback needs to be provided for every homework task. Often, if this is a requirement, homework becomes burdensome and onerous for the teacher. If this happens, the homework task loses it effectiveness and value as the feedback is often delayed and therefore has less impact.

Homework has a value when it is used effectively to help develop students’ thinking and understanding, but also when it is manageable and sustainable for teachers.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds





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Planning for Challenge


At our INSET day yesterday, Andy Tharby talked about a framework teachers can use, when planning for high starting point students – content, thinking and shaping.  You can read more about it here (and I strongly suggest you do, it’s an excellent post).

To help teachers think about this when planning their lessons, or sequence of lessons, we have produced this simple planning sheet that they can use, should they want to:

p4c1p4c2This is not a lesson plan – it simply allows teachers to jot down some ideas in response to the prompt questions, with a view to shaping their ideas around these the three themes.  For some teachers this won’t be necessary, they will simply plan and teach along these lines intuitively – and that is fine.  For others though, particularly if they are teaching a challenging topic or very bright students for the first time, it might be a useful prompt. We think they might also be useful for teachers to share and discuss at ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’ – a great opportunity for teachers to talk about and share ideas around how they are approaching teaching these students.

A PDF copy can be downloaded here.

Posted by Shaun Allison






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