It’s not me, it’s them

Ah, the inextricable link between teaching and behaviour. I can’t help but feel that there continues to be an element of “blame” put on classroom teachers regarding the behaviour of the pupils in their charge. Plenty of teachers will have spent much of their own time this weekend poring over lesson plans and re-thinking learning activities, all in the vain hope that “pupil Y” will engage with their lesson, the next time. This idea of great teaching bringing about great behaviour is STILL being spouted by some leaders in schools. The “if you build it, they will come” fallacy is what’s keeping teachers working weekends, evenings, perfecting resources and materials. It’s as ridiculous as it is dangerous. Many teachers, especially those inexperienced and new to the profession, will no doubt have quite a few lessons where things go wrong and learning will go out the window because Pupil Y won’t stop calling out or distracting others (probably for the 5th lesson in a row no doubt). Then, a “helpful” mentor or HOD or SLT will probably say to them “well what was your lesson about? Why do you think it didn’t engage Pupil Y?” and then said teacher will go off to reflect and no doubt agonise over the blame and stay up all hours trying to make something “fun” so that Pupil Y stays on task and doesn’t ruin the next lesson. All the while nothing changes. Pupil Y chooses to misbehave because they can. Because the school allows it. This is all wrong.

I think back to my own schooling, I mean, we had some ridiculously boring lessons, lessons which today would no doubt get the experienced teacher “capability” and a 4 from from Ofsted. I don’t really recal massive efforts being made to “engage” me.  One teacher I remember in particular, would teach us Geography just by writing our notes on the whiteboard. I’m not kidding, she would write out paragraphs and we copied down everything. I can remember we would try to predict the next word (especially some of us keen and fast writers) and admittedly, it was as dull as dishwater. Anyways, I digress. So, why did we comply? Why wasn’t there a Pupil Y ready to throw something when her back was turned, as it was often, as she was writing essays for goodness sake! No one did! Why? Because WE were too sh**-scared to even think about messing around! We knew the Head teacher would give us a real dressing down, we knew we didn’t want to get sent out (the horror!) we knew detentions were bad, as they were scarce, they sounded scary and boring and our parents were informed. We knew that getting into trouble was something which shouldn’t happen, because the boundaries and culture of the school was that the Teachers were in charge and woe betide you if you didn’t figure this out sharpish. As a result, we got on with our learning. We didn’t have distractions. We stood up behind our seats when ANY member of staff entered the room (some at the back would scramble for their blazers at this point too). This was the culture. It was about respect for the adults. We weren’t the ones in charge. It might seem “old-fashioned” nowadays but it didn’t do us any harm. I don’t remember ever feeling like I hated school, in fact, I loved it. I loved the discipline, the rules, the boundaries, the learning. It made us feel safe. I felt safe.

So how do we fix things? Well, for a start, we could get away from the idea that “outstanding lessons” bring about outstanding behaviour. Jeez, if it were that simple then teaching would be overrun with brilliant lessons and A*s would abound in every school. No, the behaviour needs to be sorted out first. You can’t get fantastic lessons if pupils don’t know where they stand or don’t respect that the Teacher in charge IS the one in charge. Stop going on courses promising “outstanding engagement” and start looking in-house, in school and getting clear, fair and robust behaviour management systems in place. SLT; please stop “blaming” your staff for causing the poor behaviour. Start helping staff by sharing information about “Pupil Y” and the external influences which could be hindering the excellent behaviour of which they can be capable. Get experienced staff helping more with pupils who require extra support. Don’t lower your expectations of behaviour because of SEN or other factors, take them into account, of course, but support that student to reach their potential as you would everyone else.

The kind of teacher I am confident being now, is one where I expect every pupil to behave well, whether we are using the Chromebooks or I’m doing a dictation. They’re kids. They’ll make mistakes. However, it’s BECAUSE I have high expectations of them that I won’t allow them to belittle themselves and just accept misbehaviour, because “that’s the way they are”. No. It’s only now that I don’t blame myself the way I used to as an NQT. I can recall hours spent into the night, trying to create active learning resources, games and “fun” things which would help the lesson go more smoothly. Invariably, doing this only had limited success. I can remember the heartbreak of seeing my “quiz quiz trade” cards being ripped up by the naughty kids in the corner, who just didn’t want to be involved in the lesson. The students that I couldn’t engage in French, didn’t engage in Maths or English. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my teaching. It was more than me. I didn’t get much support from the SLT in that school and so I left. Inevitably, those students left school too, but not with great grades in any subjects. See, when behaviour isn’t sorted out, nobody wins.

The number of teachers I know personally, really, genuinely, want to just get on and teach their lessons. They don’t actually want to get into arguments with kids or have them hate their lesson. They, naturally, want to engage pupils and see them achieve. But when it goes wrong, they need support, instead of being made to feel that they must keep behaviour issues within the constraints of their own classroom walls. However, the outside support doesn’t always happen because it’s much easier to “blame” the adult for the situation than it is to look deeper into the real issues. However, years of us doing this across many schools in the UK is why teachers are starting to feel worn down by the demands of this job. It’s. Not. Us. It’s not our fault. It still infuriates me to hear of schools who lay the responsibility for pupil behaviour at the door of the classroom teacher. This “well what have YOU done about it?” attitude towards pupil disruption is toxic to teacher morale and the status of the profession as a whole. Behaviour is the school’s issue. It’s the Management’s issue. It’s inherent in everything the school is and does. If the behaviour is not right, nothing will go right.

Anyways, if you’ve gotten this far, I thank you for reading. So, let’s get behaviour right.  If you have a “bad” lesson, breathe, realise it’s ok to think to yourself, “maybe it wasn’t me”. And call in backup. Accept nothing less. And don’t ruin your weekend making any extra resources loosely based on something that today’s students might vaguely be interested in (Pokémon Go, I’m looking at you here- but that’s a whole other blog 😉 )

“Moderating” the marking- review, 1 term on

I posted here in October

about how we have changed our Faculty marking policy to move away from marking everything the students write down in their books. Here’s how it’s going, after 1 full term.

  1. The workload is more manageable. Seriously. When teachers in my faculty now know that they need mark only 1 lesson’s worth of work, every 2 weeks, that’s a big load off their mind. It leaves them free to do other important stuff, like delivering brilliant lessons. Now, I couldn’t imagine being faced with a stack of 30 books with which I have to trawl through 2 whole weeks worth of work and check it all for SPAG, understanding, presentation etc, for 7 separate classes. Nightmare. Impossible. When would I get this done!?
  2. The students are taking greater ownership over the work done in class- because they don’t know which lesson will be “sampled” for marking, they know they have to up their game and make sure every lesson is presented well, vocab copied accurately, classroom activities completed and marked, homework completed and set out neatly. They LOVE when I have no errors to complete (yes, they get more merit points for this, but they love that their work was of the standard I expected!). They ask their friends “did you get any mistakes, did you have any targets to address?” and there’s a real sense of competition going on!
  3. It really helps me identify those who are struggling- because I’m marking less, more frequently, the discussions I can have with those who are persistently not completing work, or getting things wrong, are more meaningful. We’re well into a good routine now, when they get their books back, they automatically know to check for highlighted boxes with improvement targets and while they all do this, it allows me 3/4 mins to chat with those who need a verbal explanation.
  4. The targets highlighted in the books are obvious and can be developed before an assessment. We formally assess every 1/2 term. With the book marking, they way it is, I can tell the students to go back, find all the times they were given targets and write these on their “plan” before their assessment. This means that they are actively addressing the formative targets on their summative piece of assessment, and thus showing the link between classwork and assessment. I don’t think I have ANY student who has nothing to develop- they’ve all been given an improvement target, at one point or other.
  5. We’ve not had any complaints, from either student, parent or SLT about “why isn’t everything being marked?” We were clear from the start, with the students, that not all of their classwork was going to be marked. It would be looked through, but only 1 lesson’s worth would have recorded feedback. Just because there’s no green on the page, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been looked at by the teacher, mind!
  6. I’m developing this marking across the school, as part of my NPQSL Project and the Science faculty have recently adopted our policy of not marking every piece of work, this term. I’ll be really interested to see how they’ve got on, when they report back to me at Easter. Obviously, it helps that we have a good SLT who aren’t “breathing down our necks”, insisting that everything the child writes must be marked and have given us the freedom to trial this marking policy. Our whole-school policy is simply that 1 piece of work is “deep marked” every 6 weeks. Yes, this is generous and yes, in MFL we currently go above and beyond this, so perhaps it’ll change in the future. Ofsted are due- it’ll be interesting (or not!) to see what they think of it!


Closing the gap

I have just completed the 2 compulsory Face-to-face sessions at the IOE London as part of my NPQSL. I thought it’d be helpful to share what I’ve learned from these days (carefully NOT breaking the professional confidentiality we all agreed on) and what ideas I’m taking back to my school as a result.

Firstly, we were given this quote to consider (unsure of who it’s by) and I want to share it, just so that in a culture where we’re so caught up in acronyms and labels, we don’t forget that we’re dealing with humans:

“Treating pupils who are labelled as belonging to a particular group as homogenous is simply misleading. Despite the clear trends and averages associated with these groups, each of the pupils is unique and it is not possible to predict the extent to which their circumstances might define their potential”

In-school variation is the greatest factor in determining the causes of gaps in achievement. All of the “closing the gap” initiatives happening in schools right now, should be about addressing this. Don’t be concerned with what the school down the road is doing, the real problem to be tackled is much closer to home. Successfully doing this, though, remains a stubbornly difficult task.

All schools should be investing in their greatest (and yes, costliest) resource; TEACHERS. Get all of your teachers to be performing at their absolute best in the classroom, with every child and guess what, you might not have any gaps at all. In practice though, what does this look like? High-quality CPD, greater staff ownership of their CPD, all teachers as researchers, enhanced and purposeful communication between your departments/faculties in schools, a collective ethos of reflective practice, embedding a culture of everyone wanting to succeed.

Keeping up, not catching up

How many of us agree that most “interventions” tend to happen at KS4? They’re a sort of “knee jerk” reaction to the “this child is going to leave school without a certain amount of GCSEs unless we do something fast” kind-of-thing. Already now, this is TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE. We need to do more to stop the gaps opening up so wide (if at all), as students progress through their years at secondary. Getting them at Year 7 is crucial. Getting them to be “keeping up” with their learning and not “catching up” later on. Yet, as we know, most schools priortise their staffing at GCSE and put their best teachers in these classes. KS3 can often be a mish-mash of non-specialist subject teachers, shared classes and cover lessons.


How am I going to lead on intervention and closing the gap in my MFL faculty at school? Well, we’re already seeing improvements in results, year on year, because my priority right from the start was sorting out the Teaching and Learning. When I took over the faculty 4 years ago, there was high staff turnover, lack of subject specialists in KS3 French and no consistency of practice at all, between teachers and classes.

The teaching and learning that goes in every classroom is crucial for student success. Other things can be effective “add ons”, but unless you (we) address what happens behind closed classroom doors, any bolt-on “interventions” are ridiculously futile.

Some things to consider:

  • High quality teacher-student relationships
  • Careful teacher monitoring of student progress
  • Go beyond “monitoring” your staff; allow more peer-to-peer observations, support, professional dialogue, team teaching, high quality in-school INSET
  • Higher levels of parental involvement
  • Staff as learning mentors for key groups of students (FSM, PP, SEN etc)
  • Access to revision/homework/lunchtime clubs
  • Seating plans- think about whether or not you inadvertently “group” certain students together?
  • Purchasing extra resources (revision guides, ICT, study days, trips etc)

Leadership to close the gap- is this just SLT’s “job”?

A final point to consider; the best attaining schools tend to be those where there is effective distributed leadership. From West-Burnham (2011): Learning Centred Leadership. A point which I thought makes real sense: “Redefine leadership in schools so that it is seen as situational (school, team, classroom) rather than linked to hierarchical status”. Empower all of your staff, within a school and work together as a team, with a shared goal. It really can be that simple.

If you’re asked about interventions for, say, Pupil Premium students, it might be worth reading this: Sutton trust

Don’t forget as well, it’s a statutory requirement that all schools receiving PP funding publish on their website, a breakdown of how it is spent.

Improving Writing

I don’t know why, but writing has always worried me the most, as an MFL teacher and still, as HOF. It must be the years of severe marking from the AQA Unit 4 and many meetings spent as a faculty, scratching our heads, debating if we even knew ourselves, the difference between a B and an A* because the marking made us feel like we couldn’t……

Anyways, we move on and we go again. So, I insist that my students practise writing. A lot. They ask me “How do we improve our Writing?” and my response always is; “Just WRITE! Loads, and often!”

I set my year 11s a task in class the other day, we do the AQA Certificate (iGCSE) now and so are kinda navigating our way through it as teachers as well. I set them a Foundation Q2/Higher Q1 writing choice to do with School. They wrote and then I showed them the mark scheme. We talked through it. They self-marked what they would give themselves for Content and for Range + Accuracy. By and large, they were quite harsh on themselves and were stricter with the marks than I was. I then marked it and gave what I thought it’d be. Then I set them a www/ebi based on it. The ebi is to use the “Golden Rules” template attached. It goes without saying that the F and H students all know they HAVE to include a range of opinions and always look to exploit AT LEAST past/present/future in every answer, so I’ve not included that on the Golden Rules.

The 12 Golden Rules for S and W

I cannot claim full credit for this- it is thanks to an amazing person on the Secondary MFL Matters Facebook page, which I highly recommend MFL teachers join.

Anyone else with tips on improving Writing- please get in touch!

Marking their work vs Marking their books

I marked a set of 28 books (ok, admittedly, they were year 7s) in 15 mins on Friday during my PPA time. That’s my all-time record.

No, I didn’t tick and flick. In this time, I was able to check who in my class was coping with the work, who needed some more consolidation, who struggles with gluing in their sheets and who isn’t even writing the LO or is making spelling mistakes when copying down any vocab. So, I pretty much achieved what any teacher should be looking for when they collect in a set of books for checking.

So, how’d I do it? I think where we’ve went wrong is the confusion between marking their books and marking their work. My SLT just tell us “mark the books” but I’m not sure that even they know what they mean by this. Our faculty policy has taken into consideration the 2 types of marking of students’ work which teachers do; formative and summative. We know that Formative is your AfL check, it’s how your students are coping with the work on a day by day basis, so that you can address any issues as they arise (and hopefully get them solved before any summative assessment comes up). This is where your exercise book marking comes in. Little and often. Small, but mighty. We collect in the books every 2 weeks. We tell the students that a sample lesson of work will be looked at. They don’t know which one- I pick, perhaps a tricky grammar topic I’ve just taught them and I want to check how they *really* got on in that lesson. I go to that section of the exercise book (won’t be too hard to find, as it’ll be any lesson after I last marked the books 2 weeks ago) and, even though I loathe having to “prove” I’m marking to anyone (SLT, Ofsted) we stamp the top of that page which says “Your teacher has sampled this work” . Admittedly, it does also show the child which section I’ve sampled too. I can then focus only on this lesson’s work, checking the activities were completed, check for literacy, check their presentation etc. I then “diagnostically mark” by circling any errors, helping with vocab that they’ve asked me for (margin words) commenting on their effort/enthusiasm/participation in that lesson and pick up on causes for concern. At the end of that lesson’s worth of work, either I write that there have been no errors and I’m happy with how they’re progressing, or I give them a specific improvement task and I highlight this in a box for them to address. In diagnostic marking- why would you go looking for mistakes? If the sample of work presented is fine, then it’s fine. Would a GP go looking to diagnose a problem in a patient if there weren’t any symptoms? Why can’t some students be told, “Your work to date has been brilliant and I’m satisfied, so keep doing as you have been doing”. My students now love this. They see it as a real status symbol that they had no highlighted boxes when they get their books back. They take pride in their work, they love that I can’t find mistakes! They are now learning to make sure they try their best in all lessons, as they don’t know which one I’m going to moderate – they have to try hard to ensure that the work I see is always their best effort.

Please understand that this is our policy for marking books only. Every 6 weeks, we have formal, summative assessments in MFL. We have detailed, pre-made feedback stickers for this purpose as well. This makes the feedback targetted and the actual paperwork easier for teachers to carry out. These assessments are completed on A4 paper and then get stuck into books. Every result goes on their tracker grid. The stickers encourage student reflection and they re-do the piece of work using their exercise book and checking to see if they were ever given similar feedback about this issue before (because, if so, a different conversation needs to occur!) I’ll be honest, assessment time is very busy, but we rotate the assessments, so, say 1/2 term we do Listening and Writing and then the other 1/2 term we do Reading and Speaking. The Writing Assessment takes the longest to mark, yes, but then it always did! The pre-made, year group specific stickers I’ve mentioned before are a massive help though. At least we only do it once per term!

Also, we always mark homework (but we do 1 learning and 1 written homework every week) so any homework done can be part of the “sampling” of work as well. Again, homework doesn’t need to be onerously marked, use stickers, stampers, whatever, but just comment on the work + give 1 specific improvement strategy (I always do this- even if the work is flawless- it rarely is anyways!) With GCSE Classes, we ask the students to do a self www/ebi on their written homework, and then when I collect it in to sample, I can address what their own thoughts on their work are. I do enjoy this, because they tend to be much more critical of themselves than I am! It also then helps me provide feedback, as I pick up on things they thought were ok!

So, there you have it. While I am not able to speak for other subjects, in MFL we do listening, reading, speaking, writing near enough every lesson. I can’t always evidence speaking, and I’m not going to try.L and R activities are always self + peer marked in class and the levels (soon to change!) recorded in the students’ trackers. Where possible, we really do have to make more of this. We can’t take on the burden of marking 30 books, with, say 6/7 different classes, every 2 weeks and mark everything they even put pen to paper on. It’s ludicrous. When the students sit their exams, they’re only going to be judged on that snapshot of learning. That 1 exam. Not their beautifully (or not so much) presented notes in their exercise book. So we need to stop obsessing about the quantity and shouldn’t try to mark everything. There. Is. No. Need. What about the subjects that don’t even use exercise books? They cope.They actually do pretty well.

At the end of the day, I feel confident that my students ARE getting more than enough feedback on their work. I know them, they’re asking plenty of questions in the lesson, they get verbal feedback (I’m not using a stamper to evidence that one, thank you very much) I see their work every 2 weeks, they do a vocab test every week and they undertake formal testing every 6 weeks. That’s enough. In this climate, it is easy to lose sight of who we’re doing this for; our students. If your way of marking (whatever way that is) genuinely is in their best interests and is moving them to where they should be, then your marking is spot on and you need to stay strong in the face of anyone who doubts you and wants you to mark a certain way just “to be seen” to be doing it.

If you want a written version of this, in a more succinct policy; here is our

Modern Foreign Languages Faculty Assessment and Marking Policy

Happy Marking

Let me know if you can beat 15mins 😉 😉