Forever …

I’m here to tell you that I’m at that road
And I’d rather walk it with you than walk it alone

Prince – Forever in my Life – Sign O’ the Times

Why are high standards or expectations important? Let’s start at the beginning – the first Teacher Standard in the DfE Teachers’ standards mentions high expectations!

Part One: Teaching – A teacher must:

  1. Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils.

Schools are committed to preparing every student so that they can lead a productive and fulfilling life and become responsible citizens. A strong academic performance is necessary, however, equally important is helping all teenagers we work with, understand and acknowledge their aspirations and dreams. To achieve this, as educators, we need to ensure young adults leave school with the tools to fulfil those ambitions and sometimes that means having high expectations so that all students challenge themselves.

Matt Bromley’s NQT Special: What do high expectations actually look like? is a good blog to begin with. “The Pygmalion Effect dictates that the higher your expectations of your students, the better they will perform – but what do ‘high expectations’ actually look like in practice?” Matt Bromley advises. Matt’s blog is fantastic on high expectations you can Read more here.

In my blog I hope to give you some practical ideas, and suggestions as to how we raise aspirations and how we set high expectations from day 1.

The importance of raising the bar for all students

Why are high expectations important? It has been my experience that students will meet the bar where it is set. I am sure if asked ourselves, we would all say we have high standards – but do we? Do we really? Let me explain.

After a couple of weeks into a new term we made changes to the initial groups in Year 7 and a student had a different teacher. First week in the new class the teacher set homework and student handed in on time. When the class teacher marked the work it was about 1/2 a page (standard exercise book) of writing. The teacher spoke to the student in class and said it wasn’t acceptable, It didn’t meet their expectations and the student needed to re-do that night. The next day the student brought in 2 x A4 pages of writing. I am aware that quantity over quality never wins, but it is important that students are able to write at length for many reasons. If, as a department, we just let students hand in unacceptable, scrappy, unfinished, late or work below their capability etc then we are allowing them to set the bar. And we can’t do that. Getting students to work to their best ability and produce high standard of work (I think) becomes harder if we don’t set the rules from the start.

These are a few of the strategies we use, as a department, to ensure standards are high all of the time, for staff and students.

  • As HOD I run a “catch up” session twice a week during lunch. Class teachers can send a student to me to re-do work that hasn’t met the required standards. Students have to finish/re-do the work during their lunch.
  • Exercise books are sent home, usually before parents evening, so that parents can see the work in books and comment in them. You can read more here. This helps us prepare in advance and address any issues/concerns with parents at parents’ evening.
  • As a department we work consistently so that students know what is expected of them, regardless of class teacher. We achieve this mainly through the sharing of resources. As HOD I follow up any concerns brought to my attention by the class teacher, class or homework, immediately with students, pastoral team or parents. This ensures we work as a team.
  • We carry out regular learning walks and book looks to ensure consistency of student engagement in lessons/homework. You can read more about monitoring of student work/department here.
  • We monitor end of unit assessed data closely and issue targetted intervention where needed.
  • Furthermore, we offer students many extra curricular opportunities (see below), both inside and outside of the classroom. I’m fully aware that most students wouldn’t participate voluntarily (for many reasons) if we left ‘sign up’ to them, therefore we make the majority of the following compulsory to all. We vary the delivery so that it isn’t onerous for staff or students: some are during the lesson (eg masterclasses), some are run as homework. You can read more about the masterclasses here.

Instilling good reading habits, including wider or linked reading is also at the top of our list for high expectations, You can read more about the importance of reading here.

The majority of the following are run each year, every year (*COVID restrictions has made this difficult recently), but we believe that the following help to set high standards/expectations for us as a department and our students.


  • Students take part in reading challenges at Christmas, Easter and Summer
  • Photo (INSTAGRAM) competition(s) to promote reading, run by students
  • Form time reads (classic/modern) – in years 7-10
  • Register and Read in yr11
  • Reading displays throughout year to promote reading
  • Audio recordings – Senior students record themselves reading extracts or poetry for lower school students


  • ISA Essay competition
  • ISA Shakespeare monologues
  • ISA Poetry competition
  • Local poetry competitions
  • 500 words fiction writing competition – national
  • nonfiction writing competition – national

National Awareness days

  • National poetry day
  • National writing Day
  • World book day – give away a new book to all KS3
  • Shakespeare Day

Cross curricular

  • Work with other dpts – eg art design a book cover…
  • Black History month project for student character building program
  • ISA Comic strip

Raising academic excellence

  • KS4 key speakers – twilight session
  • Year 11 spend the day at a nearby university
  • KS3 projects – 1 project each half term in years 7-9
  • We appoint a Poet Laureate annually
  • We appointed literacy leads for a student led working party
  • Star of the week
  • Revision from yr10 September
  • Lectures once a half term in KS4 on a text being studied


  • We host performances from travelling theatre companies eg A Christmas Carol/Macbeth
  • Whole school theatre trips eg The Goble

Speaking and listening

  • Poetry by heart – Year 7 learn a sonnet
  • Poetry by heart – Year 8 learn a poem in pairs
  • Poetry by heart – Year 9 learn a soliloquy
  • Debate club (local speaking competitions)
  • ESB (English Speaking Board) Year 9 all take part in this exam

Making English fun

  • We sent a book around the world
  • Lunch house group fun eg Scrabble, book bingo, spelling bee


  • We work with local companies who come to us and deliver workshops/creative writing for KS3
  • Ks3 go to the library and join, benefitting and supporting the local community

Raise progress in lessons

  • Specific spelling and grammar starters 7 & 8
  • Weekly reading comprehension for homework 7 & 8
  • Weekly spelling 7 & 8
  • Exemplar essays in both KS3 + KS4
  • Revision booklets from KS4
  • KS4 weekly unseen questions – silent writing
  • After school Revision language or literature
  • Tutorials with targetted intervention on specific skills

Aspire Higher Programme

In September we are launching the Aspire Higher Programme is a specialised educational programme geared towards stretching and challenging all. Students will be able to sign up, collaborate and lead on various topics connected to their learning. Some examples are:

  • Guest speakers
  • Students lead clubs or initiatives
  • Excellence in English Award – students to complete a selection of tasks/challenges which build over their 5 years

Clubs (after school) voluntary/not mandatory

We tell students getting involved in clubs, school life and the aspire higher programme are all a great way for students to meet new people and enjoy their time at school, ensuring they strike a healthy balance between studying and a social life. But it will also make students a better candidate for prefect or head boy/head girl, college applications and job interviews by giving them lots of practical examples they can use to show off their skills.

I asked Twitter why should students join school clubs – and these are the replies I was given:

But why are high expectations important?

All of the above, everything we do as teachers, a department and a school to raise the bar, have high standards in and out of the classroom and our expectations are for the benefit of the students. They will help students with:

Resilience– the ability to deal with setbacks, when something goes wrong.

Good communication – how clearly students put across ideas and their ability to listen to others.

Effective leadership (and management) – students need to demonstrate that they have the potential to motivate and lead others in order to achieve common objectives.

Adaptability – It’s essential to show everyone that students are able to adapt to new situations and learn new skills.

Teamwork – this is about giving students an opportunity to lead a team successfully, but also being an effective team member taking instructions and direction from somebody else.

And all of the above are skills that will help students go on to lead a fulfilling and (hopefully) a happy life!

Thank you for reading.

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