Supporting memory for terminal exams

At the end of last term we reviewed our CPD provision at Durrington by asking staff to complete a questionnaire.  When it came to 15 minute forums, the majority of staff said that due to other commitments they struggled to attend as many of these as they would like; however, the vast majority of staff enjoyed reading about them on here, in the comfort of their own armchair.  With this in mind, we are going to approach them slightly differently this year.  When we spot or hear about effective practice, instead of asking that teacher to lead a 15 minute forum on the topic, one of the T&L team will talk to that teacher about what they do and then write it up as a blog on here – the 15 minute forum has evolved into a teaching forum!

The first teaching forum was with our Director of science, Steph Temple.  In recent years, science GCSEs  comprised modular exams and coursework.  Whilst this required students to remember information, this significantly increased with the move to terminal exams.  As science is a content heavy subject, students have a huge amount of knowledge to memorise and recall.  This has required some adjustments to how science teachers teach – which Steph has implemented brilliantly with her team.  They have thought very carefully about how they can  implement the evidence from cognitive science, such as  spaced practice and retrieval practice strategies, to support memory.

Retrieval Practice – a while after initially learning about something, being required to bring it to mind again.  In order for this to be effective, you need to forget about it a little.

Spaced Practice – where learning a topic is broken up into a number of shorter sessions, over a longer period of time.

Here are some of the changes they have made:

  • Y11 mock exams did not just cover Y11 work, with a few ‘token’ questions on Y10.  Students also sat separate, full length exams on Y10 work.
  • Knowledge ticklists for Y10 units were stuck into their Y11 exercise books, alongside ticklists for Y11 units.  This enabled students to see the links between Y11 and Y10 work and kept them referring back to Y10 work.
  • All Y11 homework assignments now contain a significant section of Y10 exam questions that aren’t related to the work they are doing in Y11.
  • The Y11 scheme of work contains links to Y10 topics prompting teachers to recap Y10 content during Y11. For example, when teaching cell division in Y11, teachers use this as an opportunity to revisit cell structure from Y10.
  • At the start of Y11 lessons, students do low stakes quizzes on content they covered last week, last month and last year,
  • Subject Planning & Development Sessions (SPDS) are used as an opportunity for teachers to discuss and share effective practice around these approaches.
  • Y11 students were given specific packs of Y10 and Y11 questions to work through and focus on throughout the year.  The department carefully planned and adhered to a half-termly lesson schedule that ensured that there was sufficient time to make best use of these revision materials.
  • Students have been encouraged to represent the information they are learning in different visual formats (dual coding). For example, in diagrams and mind maps to complement verbal explanations.  They have also used mnemonics to help remember large chunks of information.
  • Teachers explain to the students why they are using strategies such as dual coding and retrieval practice and the benefits they have to learning.

Has this worked?

Early signs suggest that this is having a positive impact on helping students to remember the vast amounts of knowledge required in the science curriculum.  Core GCSE science results (Y10 work) sat by Y11 students improved significantly this summer – they were 25% above national average (despite the cohort being at national average on entry).

Next steps?

  • Making sure these strategies are embedded and consistently implemented across the science team.
  • Sharing these approaches with parents so that they can support at home.
  • Continuing to develop new question banks and resources for the new course during SPDS.
  • Using google forms to audit staff subject knowledge before SPDS and then using this to plan the subject knowledge development focus for staff.

Advice for teachers/ leaders wanting to do something similar?

  • It has to be led and driven by the Curriculum Leader throughout the year. It is not a quick fix.
  • Lessons need to be planned out every half term to ensure enough time for purposeful revision.
  • Department meetings need to be carefully planned to embed and develop these approaches.


If this is an area that interests you and you would like to find out more, the Durrington Research School is leading a training programme – Improving memory for success in GCSE terminal exams.  Further details and booking information are available here.


Further reading

What will improve a student’s memory – Daniel Willingham

Putting students on the path to learning – Richard Clark, Paul Kirschner & John Sweller

The critical role of retrieval practice in long term retention – Henry Roediger and Andrew Butler

Strengthening the student tool box – John Dunlosky

On the potential limitations of spacing and retrieval practice in the classroom – Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel

Posted by Shaun Allison


Posted in Teaching Forums | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Getting off to the best start with a new class

Whether you are an NQT or an experienced teacher, standing in front of a new class, or thinking about doing so, for the first time is always a bit daunting.  The first few weeks with a new class are so important, and can set the tone for the rest of the year.  So with September looming, here are some practical tips, to help you get off to the best possible start with your new classes, over the coming weeks.

  1. Have a seating plan – this is the most important weapon we have in our armoury and you ignore it at your peril.  Keep it simple to start with, for example alphabetical, but don’t be afraid to review it and change it, if issues arise.  Lessons are not social events – if teenagers are allowed to sit next to their friends, they will be more interested in chatting than working.  This is not conducive to effective learning.
  2. Learn their names – again, another vital tool. Not only does this introduce a more civil ethos in your classroom by showing students that you value them as people, but it also allows you to manage behaviour in a more targeted way e.g. ‘John, please turn around and focus on the task’.  John knows immediately that you mean him!
  3. Know your students – whilst every year is a new start, it is useful to find out as much about your students as possible.   Talk to teachers who have taught them before – what are they good at?  What do they struggle with?  Any potential behavioural issues to be aware of?  What was the quality of their work presentation like last year?  Align this with prior data – what have they achieved well in?  Where have they underachieved?  Any specific topics?  Why was this?  By doing this, you know their starting point and what you need to do in order to help them achieve in the future.
  4. Be explicit about your classroom routines – don’t take this for granted.  Tell and show them how you classroom works.  Classroom routines are so important and need to be explicitly shared with students.  Do you want them to line up or come straight in?  Where will their books be?  Explain how you want them to set their work out e.g. underline headings and date etc.  Tell them that there will always be a task for them to do as soon as they get in the classroom and the sort of thing this will entail.  You expect silence for the register.  When they are working on a task, you will tell them if they are working silently, or if some discussion is allowed.  How do you expect classroom discussions to run? Do you want hands up to questions? etc etc.
  5. Share and demonstrate your expectations immediately – right from the start, show them that you have the highest expectations in terms of their behaviour, work, punctuality, effort and achievement.  So, start the first lesson quickly, with a piece of challenging work – for three reasons.  Firstly, it will demonstrate to them your passion and confidence in your subject.  This will make them feel secure and hopefully become infectious.  Secondly, it will give them the opportunity to struggle and produce a piece of work that they can be proud of – something that can be a reference point for the rest of the year – ‘Look, this is what you can do, when you really focus’.  Andy calls this a ‘benchmark of brilliance’.  Our Director of Art & Design, Gail Christie, does this brilliantly every September, by showing her new Y10 class the best sketchbooks from the newly departed Y11 – read more about this here.  Finally, by getting on to challenging piece of work quickly, you are giving the message to students ‘this is what we do in here – work hard’.  During the first few lessons, scrutinise their presentation and work closely.  If it is not up to standard, give them feedback about how to improve it.  This is vital, as it helps them to understand your standards – and that you won’t accept sub-standard work.  Our Director of Science, Steph Temple, expects all teachers in her team to show all new classes a powerpoint that sets out the standard of presentation expected – see here.  Similarly, be explicit about the standards of behaviour expected in your class e.g. ‘When me or anyone else is talking to the whole class during a lesson, we are respectful and listen.  When we are working independently on a task, we are silent.  When I set homework, it will always be handed in on the due date.  You will get to my lesson on time and settle to work immediately’.  As well as talking explicitly about the behaviour you expect, also be very clear about the sanctions that will be coming their way, if they don’t meet these expectations.
  6. Address poor behaviour immediately – having been explicit about your behaviour expectations and the sanctions for non-compliance, as soon as anyone gets it wrong, deal with it and follow it up immediately.  Whether this be a quiet word with them to get them re-focused, or following school systems, such as calling duty staff or setting a detention.  Always apply the school rules consistently and always follow up issues afterwards.  Furthermore, don’t be afraid of talking to/involving other people e.g. their form tutor, your Head of Department or their Pastoral Leader.   If you don’t, you are giving  very clear message that next time they can get away with it – and they will give it a go!  Alongside this, home contact is another great tool that we have – so us it.  Maths teacher John Mulhern talks about how he uses it here.
  7. Be organised – show them that you mean business!  So, in that first lesson be at the door waiting for them; have all the resources ready for that lesson all ready to go;  have their new exercise books out on their desks;  have your seating plan ready to go; set them homework and make it very clear what you expect from them (and linking back to No.6, if they don’t do it – follow this up immediately); give them the roadmap of where they are going e.g. ‘We will be studying this unit for 5 weeks and then you will be having your first assessment.  This assessment will consist of…….This assessment will be used to……. Following that we will be studying’.  Again, this gives them confidence in you as teacher and will make them feel secure.
  8. Share your belief in them, with them – show them that you care about how they do, by telling them that if they follow your expectations and work with you, there is no reason why they can’t achieve the highest possible grades – and that you really believe this.  However, the emphasis is on them to work hard in order to achieve this.  At this point, it’s often good to tell them some success stories of your previous students. This shows that what you are telling them works.
  9. Talk to them about why it matters – use that first lesson to share your passion for your subject with the students – and then of course continue in this way every lesson.  Talk to them about why it matters – why the knowledge base your subject will give them matters e.g. even if they are not going to pursue a career in science, studying science will allow them to make well informed and considered judgements around a wide range of topics.  Also, what skills will they develop through studying your subject?  Finally, what are the possible career paths that your subject can lead to?  Long term goals matter.  Don’t dilute your subject to try to make it fun or sexy (e.g. Shakespeare by emojis) – let the brilliance and awe of your subject speak for itself, through your passion for it.
  10. In summary, think about ethos, logos and pathosethos is the way we establish ourselves and the way we build a connection with our audience. Logos is the way we influence others through reason and logic. And pathos is the way we provoke and anticipate the emotions of our audience.  Andy writes about this here.

Have a great 2017-18

Further reading: Time to reflect

Shaun Allison

Chris Runeckles

Fran Haynes

Andy Tharby





Posted in General Teaching | Tagged , | 1 Comment

2016-17 Reasons to be cheerful

Well that’s 2016-17 pretty much done – and what a year it has been.  Tough at times and very tough at others, but because we work in such an amazing team at Durrington, we get through and get stronger.  This post is a celebration – some of the reasons to be cheerful and excited about 2017-18.

Subject Planning & Development Sessions

Over the years we have tried a number of different CPD activities at Durrington (see here). Little did I know that the most effective form of CPD, was also the simplest – Subject Planning & Development Sessions, affectionately know as SPuDS.  Started this year, they are fortnightly meetings of subject teams, where they discuss ‘what are we teaching over the next fortnight and how do we teach it well?’   They have been successful for a number of reasons:

  • They are subject specific.
  • They are sustained.
  • They relate directly to what teachers are teaching at that time.

When they are done well, they are really effective.  This blog describes how our Director of science Steph Temple leads these with her team.  In a recent staff survey (75 respondents) 92% of staff said that they had made a difference to their teaching, with 60% claiming this was a significant difference.  Here are some of the comments staff made about these sessions:

“Sessions have been very focused and relevant on upcoming topics/activities/areas of staff weakness. Sessions have been shorter at times but much more T&L focused. All staff should take something away from every meeting that they will be able to put into practice over the upcoming weeks.”

“More emphasis on co-planning and a focus on how to specifically challenge different targeted groups.”

“Regular meetings ensure we can look ahead. Subject specific and year group focussed; particularly with regard to the new GCSE specification and discussing changes that have been made since its initial teaching last year.

“Allowed more time to think about planning and delivery.”

“More teaching and learning based as opposed to day to day admin.”

“Due to the frequent nature of these sessions they have had a tighter focus and felt very purposeful.”

“More purposeful because you feel that you are learning relevant material that is applicable to lessons.”

I am convinced that this is the best form of CPD we have done in years.  The challenge for next year will be to make them consistently strong and effective across all teams.

The ‘Making every lesson count’ family has grown

In 2015 when Andy Tharby and I wrote ‘Making every lesson count’ we couldn’t have imagined how successful it was going to be.   It has surpassed all of our expectations and we are so grateful to everybody who has bought it, enjoyed it and said nice things about it.  This year, it has been amazing to see the MELC family grow even further – with the publication of the English version by Andy, the science one by me and of course the brilliant primary one by the amazing Jo and Mel – and of course all illustrated by the very talented Jason Ramasami.  Huge thanks must go to David Bowman and everybody at Crown House publishing for their belief and support with this project.

The good news is that three further subject books are expected for 2018.  Watch this space!

Becoming a Research School

Over the last few years at Durrington, we have become more and more committed to developing an evidence informed approach to our teaching.  We have stripped away the gimmicks that have plagued teaching for years, and used the wisdom of great teachers and research evidence to support a ‘tight but loose’ approach to teaching (more here).

Being designated as a Research School for September 2017, was fantastic news for us as it will allow us to continue to develop this work further.  The Durrington Research School will act as a regional hub for the Research Schools Network.  We will share what we know about putting research into practice, and support schools to make better use of evidence to inform their teaching and learning, so that they really make a difference in the classroom.

We will do this through three strands:


We will use our Research School website , a monthly newsletter, email contact, conferences, workshops and twitter to communicate the most recent news about evidence informed practice to our network of schools.


We will offer a range of training programmes for our network of schools to take part in.  These training programmes will be focused on key issues that are relevant to the issues that are faced by schools within our network.  Further details on this will follow shortly.


We will support schools within our network to apply for Innovation Evaluation Grants.  Teachers within the network of schools can apply for one of these grants, with the support of our Research School, to develop innovative teaching and learning approaches they are implementing in their classroom or school

The Educational Twittersphere

What a remarkable place!  It can sometimes be dark and infuriating, often very amusing but more often than not, incredibly useful.  A very big thank you to all those educators who continue to tweet and blog.  You are so important, because you continue to make us all think, reflect and challenge ourselves.  Furthermore – you change policy at a national level.  I’m pretty convinced that many of the positive changes that have happened  at OFSTED and the DfE, have happened because of the tireless voices of some bloggers.  There is still more to be done – so keep those voices going!

You only have to look at the incredible ‘Blog of the week’ archive to see this.

A huge thank you to all of the amazing teachers out there who continue to do an incredible job.  Have a brilliant and restful summer.

Posted in General Teaching | Leave a comment

Using storytelling as an explanation tool


In today’s 15 minute forum, English teacher Russ Shoebridge talked about the power of storytelling and how it can be used to support explanation.


Russ began by reflecting on how students seem to listen to stories differently, and how stories seem to elicit a certain type of silence. He then described a familiar scenario: it’s the end of the day and you are halfway through giving a list of instructions, when you notice that the class are losing concentration. A story can save you in this all-too-familiar situation. It can hook attention and help the class to enjoy the moment. As human beings, it seems that we have an intrinsic familiarity with stories.

So, if stories help our students to listen more attentively, are they more likely to remember the content as a result?

In terms of the six pedagogical principles we use at our school, storytelling forms a vital component of explanation:


Theoretical Underpinning

Russ then shared three theories that support the use of storytelling in the classroom:

  1. Rhetoric – the art of speaking effectively and persuasively
  2. Mnemonics – a learning technique that aids retention in the memory
  3. Teacher Immediacy – the perceived ‘closeness’ between listener and speaker

The last of these, teacher immediacy, was first coined by psychologist Albert Mehrabian in 1969. It can be defined as the perceived ‘closeness’ between listener and speaker and has been linked to effective teaching (Gorham, 1988). Researchers have identified the importance of the following verbal immediacy traits:

‘….the use of praise for student efforts, humor, self disclosure, willingness to engage students in conversation, and overall openness and willingness to meet and interact with students.’ (Edwards & Edwards, 2001; Gorham, 1988).

By using ourselves as an example, stories allow for self-disclosure. Russ stressed the importance of self-deprecation and shared how he will often start the new term with a story, either to bring the class together or to introduce a learning point. For example, Russ started this academic year by telling the tale of how he had been ripped off by an unscrupulous plumber.


Finally, Russ shared three ways that he uses storytelling in his day-to-day classroom teaching:

Stories to hook students or immerse students in the content.

pic3 owen

Before his class read Wilfred Owen’s war poetry, Russ will introduce the WW1 context through the tragic story of Owen’s life:

“I’d like to tell you about Wilfred Owen and this story epitomises the tragedy that was the pointless loss of innocent lives during World War One.

Now Wilfred Owen was a patriot who was passionate about defending his country. Maybe you would be the same. Maybe we’d all be the same in the face of war.

Now, Owen didn’t join the war until 1915…and the first year for him seemed to be…new and exciting!

Then, in January, 1917… Wilfred Owen had his first experience of the front line… and it would never be the same again.”

After just a year on the front line, he had suffered concussion, he’d been gassed, he’d been evacuated with shell shock.

At this time, from the front line, he began to produce a series of his more famous poems, one of which we’re going to read later on in the lesson today…

Some people believe that Wilfred Owen didn’t actually face any rifle fire until one week before the end of the war.

On 11th November, 1918, the day that the war ended, as the bells were ringing out for peace in Wilfred Owen’s home village in Shropshire, his parents received the telegram to inform them that their son, seven days ago, had been shot and killed on the bank  of a river in Northern France…”

Story telling is an art form in itself. These tips can help you to structure a story effectively:

  • Tell them you’re going to tell them a story.
  • Involve them in the story.
  • Have a narrative/plot
  • Include emotive and powerful information
  • Relate it to the lesson
  • Make sure you have a powerful ending.

Stories to illustrate an abstract concept. 


All English teachers know that students struggle with the difference between it’s and its. This is mainly because they do not realise that its is a possessive pronoun like hers, his, ours and yours, whereas it’s is a contracted form of it is. Russ uses the story of a barbeque he once attended to help students to remember. He remembers seeing a pristine stainless steel barbecue, his friend’s pride and joy, gleaming in the sun. It even had its own personalised engraving. On closer inspection, however, he noticed a glaring error in the inscription:


This memorable mistake is then used as a mnemonic to lead into the lesson and to help students to remember this tricky concept.

Stories to illustrate something about the teaching / learning (metacognition)

Stories are also a means of making metacognitive prompts more memorable. You can experiment with the following:

  1. Stories of previous classes/students who attempted the activity/piece of               work/drill in P.E/drama performance
  2. Success stories/cautionary tales.
  3. Anecdotes about ourselves in the learning situation.
  4. Anecdotes about the planning/marking/preparing the lesson.


To remind his students to use adjectives with subtlety, Russ tells his class about a friend who had sent him the first 40 pages of a sci-fi novel he had written. Russ was shocked to find that every noun was described by at least 3 adjectives. For example: “the dusty, dark, grey carpark was filled with fast, dark, expensive cars.” In short, the book was utterly unreadable!

In summary:


  • Students seem to ‘listen’ in a different way to stories. There is an intrinsic familiarity and enjoyment of them.
  • Storytelling is a device with clear links to other theoretical frameworks: rhetoric, mnemonics, and immediacy.
  • Stories can be used to ‘hook’ students or immerse them in a new topic.
  • Stories can be used to illustrate something abstract/unfamiliar with visual examples/analogies
  • Stories can open up metacognitive dialogue.


Posted in General Teaching | 1 Comment

10 simple things to try and have a better work-life balance

Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by Becky Owen – giving some great advice on how it is possible to be a brilliant teacher and avoid teacher burnout.

Get Organised

1.Mid term plan for each class before each half term including homework to be set.

  • Reduces planning time during the week
  • Gives time to become more confident with areas of subject knowledge that are less strong.
  • Gives time to prepare practical work
  • Ensures enough time to cover all content in lessons you have available.
  • Allows shared classes to be taught properly without confusion.

Time scale – approx. 1 hour for all classes (I had 10)

  1. Set homework on connect before start of half term (for as much of half term as possible)
  • Reduces time setting each week
  • Reduces chance of it not being set or put on connect
  • Helps reduce shared classes from not being set any homework.

Time scale – approx. 1 – 2 hours for all classes (I had 10) depending on detail of instructions written (I write very detailed!)

  1. Print out 2 week timetable and stick to desk near key board
  • Reduces chance of last minute panic!
  • Organises time for marking, homework setting/collection, planning of lessons, TP deadlines, meetings, revision sessions etc
  • Helps focus PPA and non contact time.

Time scale – none!

Make sure you also include things that you need to leave school for at the end of the day!

4. Plan when to mark home works/assessments/books to meet deadlines.

  • Reduces last minute marking before deadline
  • Some people have homework set on same day each fortnight so marking plan can be implemented also.
  • Allows deadlines to be met
  • Allows ‘bottlenecks’ to be identified and head of dept. can be notified of possibility of missed deadline.

Time scale – varies depending on how much marking you have/if you have a set homework plan etc.

Be Productive

  1. Figure out when you work best and do your work then!
  2. If you are marking then have no distractions and have a decent space to work in. I allocate a certain number of time and aim to mark a certain number of assessments in that time before stopping.
  3. Write to do lists or jobs to do today and update regularly.

Get a Life

In order to actually have a work-life balance you have to have things you enjoy doing outside of work.

  1. Try and have at least 1 thing you do during a Monday to Friday that has nothing to do with work. Book it in and stick to it.
  2. Have a ‘no work time’ policy at home. This can be hard if you have a family or are still working on reducing your workload at the start but you shoud:
  • No work on Friday nights, Saturday and Sunday night
  • Allocate 1 hour a day at home for school work but NO MORE!
  • No marking books/assessments at home, only do planning, setting homework/rewards on connect, mid-term planning sheets.


  1. Be strong – remember that if you are working productively for 8-9+ hours a day and you still can’t get all the work done, then it is probably the system that needs changing not you!
  • Ask for support – in my opinion we work in a very supportive school that does change to streamline tasks etc (more on how they do this here) but that can only happen if leaders know there’s an issue! Don’t give up asking or raising the issue if it doesn’t get heard the first time!
  • Come up with solutions to the problem (e.g. change when TP tasks are done, shared resources, planning groups, changes to marking policy)
Posted in 15 Minute Forums | Tagged | 1 Comment

Growing a culture of great teaching

These are the slides that Andy Tharby and I talked through at the Wellington Festival of Education on Friday.

Andy talked about how we used the wisdom of great teachers we had worked with over the years, alongside evidence from educational research and cognitive science, to distil great teaching into six pedagogical principles, in our book Making every lesson count’.

Having unpicked some of the key elements, of each of the six principles, Andy then went on to talk about why this approach has been useful to us a school:

  • It allows a tight but loose approach to teaching – teachers are free to implement the six principles in their classroom in a way that best suits them, their subject and the students they are teaching.  They have professional autonomy.
  • When we talk about great teaching at Durrington now, we have a common language.
  • They are meaningful for all – the six principles apply equally to all subjects.
  • It encourages purposeful practice for teachers – teachers are encouraged to identify aspects of one of the principles, and refine their teaching around this e.g. I will focus on modelling extended writing to my Y10 class who are struggling with this.

Following this, I talked about how we have used a variety of CPD activities over the past few years, to grow a culture of great teaching that is framed around these six principles.

To begin with, we had wide variety of teaching approaches going on around the school, based around people’s differing perceptions around what constituted effective teaching.  Whilst based on the best intentions, a number of these approaches had very little evidence to suggest that they were effective.  So, the first part of our work was to refine this down, so that all staff had a shared understanding of what made effective teaching – represented by the top half of the diagram above.  This was not a fast process – we are talking about years, rather than months.  Slides 24-38  show some of the ways we did this.

Once we were happy that we had pretty much a shared understanding of effective teaching across the staff, shaped around the six principles, we were then able to give teachers/ subject areas the freedom to develop the principles, in a way that best suited their subject, them as teachers and the students they were teaching at that time – the tight but loose approach.  This is represented by the bottom half of the diagram and  slides 40-46  show how we approach this through CPD.

Is it all working?  We think so.  Exam results continue to go up, staff retention is very high and around the school, teachers enjoy talking about teaching and sharing ideas with each other.

We are delighted that the ‘Making every lesson count’ family has grown, with the publication of these three new books:

Posted in CPD Events, General Teaching, Leadership | Tagged , , | 1 Comment


Last week, I was fortunate enough to listen to the fabulous Lucy Crehan talk about her book ‘Cleverlands‘ at the Wellington Festival of Education.

As a teacher in an inner-city school, Lucy was exasperated with ever-changing government policy claiming to be based on lessons from ‘top-performing’ education systems. She became curious about what was really going on in classrooms of the countries whose teenagers ranked top in the world in reading, maths and science.

Determined to dig deeper, Lucy set off on a personal educational odyssey through Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada, teaching in schools, immersing herself in their very different cultures and discovering the surprising truths about school life that don’t appear in the charts and graphs.

Cleverlands documents her journey, weaving together her experiences with research on policy, history, psychology and culture to offer extensive new insights and provide answers to three fundamental questions:

How do these countries achieve their high scores? What can others learn from them? And what is the price of this success?

During her talk, rather than focus on the central educational policies that these countries have, Lucy focused on six things that most of these countries do, that could be implemented in British schools, irrespective of government policy.

1. Timetables that allow for specialisation and therefore a reduced workload

Rather than teach a variety of topics to all year groups, and therefore have to plan lots of different lessons each week, most teachers in these countries specialised in teaching a few year groups, the same topics.  This allows them to specialise in what they teach, as well as dramatically reducing their planning time (as they plan to teach classes in the same year group, the same topic).

I’m not sure how feasible this is from a timetabling point of view, or from a professional satisfaction point of view (are there many teachers who would only want to teach Y8 and 9?), however, there are things we can learn from this I think.

  • If a teacher is teaching, say two Y10 groups, schedule their teaching so that they teach both classes the same topic.
  • Have a clear and comprehensive scheme of work in plan, to support teacher planning.
  • Centralise resources so teachers don’t have to spend ages preparing/printing resources e.g. in each subject, at the start of the term, print all the worksheets, booklets, homeworks that will be require in class sets, for teachers to simply pick up.

2. Regular planning and learning with colleagues

The countries all put things in place to support collaborative planning and support:

  • Weekly timetabled co-planning time.  At Durrington, we do this by having fortnightly ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’.  Subject teams meet to discuss ‘what are we teaching over the next fortnight and how can we teach it really well?‘  More on this here.
  • Lesson Study – teachers planning together, observing each other and then feeding back to each other in a group.  This post talks about how we have done this at Durrington.
  • Effective professional learning communities – teachers identifying an issue they want to develop, discussing it, looking at the research and then planning changes they will make to their practice.  More on this from Dylan Wiliam here.

3. Mastery Curriculum & Approach

These successful countries apply a mastery approach to their teaching.  They study fewer topics in greater depth, with students progressing through the curriculum at the same pace with the subject matter broken down into units.  The teacher doesn’t move on, until all students in the class are proficient with these key ideas.  This results in equity as the teacher waits for all students to ‘get it’ – there is never the assumption that some won’t.  Put simply, this is done by giving the weaker students greater levels of support whilst the stronger students are made to explore the topic in more depth.

Here’s a 15 minute forum by  Durrington maths teacher Kate Blight on mastery.

This approach of genuinely high expectations for all is further supported by:

  • No grammar school type selection (this doesn’t happen until age 15/16)
  • No setting by ability – how do we expect students to catch up by giving them easier work?  See Bart Simpson video below!
  • No differentiation by activity – it is seen as the job of the teacher to allow all students to access the challenging work.

4. Peer Tutoring

This is a standard part of mixed ability lessons.  Students apply to become an accredited peer tutor and are then rigorously trained in the process.  They are then expected to support their peers, with their learning, both in and out of lessons.

Here is the EEF meta-analysis on peer tutoring.

5. Introduce 10-15 minute breaks between lessons.

This is seen to:

  • aid concentration.
  • allow students to run off steam.
  • give teachers time to catch up with students at the end of the lesson.

6. Have independent study periods

Time is scheduled into the school day for students to work independently on their studies.  This encourages students to get used to sustained periods of independent concentration in a quiet environment – developing their self-discipline.  It also gives teachers time to catch up with their work.

Thanks to Lucy for a great book and a fascinating talk – much for school leaders to reflect on.

The equally fabulous Oliver Caviglioli has produced an excellent poster on Lucy’s work.  Available here.


Posted in CPD Events, General Teaching | Tagged , | 2 Comments