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.

Around the World in a Day

Come here and take my hand, I’ll show you
I think I know a better way, y’all

Around the World in a Day – Around the World in a Day – Prince (& The Revolution)


A good curriculum is a consequence of well taught lessons, appropriate content and an effective assessment system (Spielman 2018).

When writing a curriculum for KS3 which aspects do you focus on?  In English consider all the literature available over hundreds of years, from around the world – which plays, poetry, novels and articles do you choose to teach?  Which themes and topics do you cover? You can’t teach all of them!

Masterclasses, Lectures and Projects!

A couple of years ago I decided to contact my local university and see if we could work together to raise aspiration in a final push with our year 11s. They agreed, and our students spent the whole day in lectures. The university bent over backwards to organise a fantastic day with our students. I strongly urge you to do this. When questioned, our students said it was a very worthwhile experience. Our plan is to do this every year.


But what about KS3? What can you do to raise achievement and academic excellence for KS3?  Last year, as a department, we ventured into the wilderness of projects!

The beginning of our Project journey

A couple of years ago I was talking to Claire Hill (@Claire_Hill_ ) about a “master class” she was putting together on Fairy Tales and it made me really consider different ways we could get students learning some key topics that underpin literature.

Our aim was to engage, challenge and motivate students to achieve for themselves by giving them opportunities to explore ideas and other areas of interest connected to the English curriculum.

We wanted our students to develop:

  1. Knowledge: To expand student understanding of English language and literature.
  2. Commitment: To demonstrate excellent research and planning strategies so that students can make a high quality final project.
  3. Independence: For students to take responsibility for their own learning by researching a topic and showing that they can remain on task.
  4. Resilience: To obtain, select and synthesise information from a range of sources, overcoming obstacles to learning whilst making appropriate connections across the topic.
  5. Presentation skills: Students develop the skills to evaluate outcomes in relation to agreed objectives and their own learning and performance.

We wanted our students to make a significant contribution to the choice and design of their own project and take responsibility for their individual task. We hoped students would, in turn, develop and improve their learning and skills beyond the classroom including the ability to transfer skills to other areas of the curriculum and their education.

We picked topics related to our subject that we felt underpinned knowledge needed at KS4. These were the final topics:

Year 7 Term 1 The British Empire
  Term 2 Hero/Villain
  Term 3 Fairy Tales
  Term 4 Children in Literature
  Term 5 Greek Mythology


Year 8 Term 1 Religion in Literature
  Term 2 Allusion (Adam and Eve/Garden of Eden)
  Term 3 Victorian/Modern England
  Term 4 Gothic
  Term 5 Science/technology (man v god)


Year 9 Term 1 Patriarchy (matriarchy)
  Term 2 Women in literature
  Term 3 Crime, violence, murder
  Term 4 7 sins
  Term 5 Diversity (in literature)

The Master Class

In the same way that you prepare for a lesson, we planned the topic in relation to influential world literature and scripted a masterclass suitable for the year group, topic and content we wanted students to benefit from.

We took one English lesson (usually in the first few days back after a half-term/end of term break) and gathered the whole year group together with all the English teachers. Students were given a folded A3 sheet of paper with key words, dates, important authors or works of literature on the front and the rest of the pages were printed in a Cornell note style layout.  Whilst we delivered the masterclass, they took notes. We didn’t give them any other resources – just their own notes!


I need to point out that we do cover many of these topics in our KS3 curriculum and lessons, for example, we have a unit on the topic of “Heroes” in year 7, but it is a non-fiction unit.  The masterclasses tended to focus on a topic through time, how something was represented or how it influenced many authors’ work.  For example, in year 8 we looked at how children were represented in novels from 19c to recent popular novels/literature. We looked in detail at the representation of women across poetry and fiction and how it has changed, particularly in books aimed at children or young adults.


We didn’t want to restrict any child’s creativity and let students approached the projects in different ways. We did give students some guidance on how to organise themselves:

Weeks 1-2:

  •   Research the topic. Use the local library, websites, images, books etc – and keep a  record of all the sources you use:
    • An artefact
    • Other people’s research in books/articles
    • The internet
    • Newspaper articles about your topic
    • Books and poems on the subject
    • Art about the subject
    • Interviews with people who were directly affected

Weeks 3-4:            

  •   Make notes. You must NOT copy and paste, notes must be in your own words.

Week 5

  •   Decide on the best format to present ideas. To help with ideas on how to present their final project we gave students a table with possible tasks such as:
    • A timeline, glossary of terms, mind map, a quiz on the topic.
    • Summary of main points, author profiles.
    • Write a biography for an author with a focus on topic. Or A fact file of authors, books, ideas etc
    • Read novel from the list, or another of your choice, then write your project based on the book/topic/author.

Week 6        

  •   Submit your project!


If anyone is wondering did the projects replaced homework? NO!

The projects were completely separate from homework. Students still get a range of weekly homework(s) to support classroom learning including reading, comprehension and writing.

Did all students have to complete a project? YES!

After we delivered the masterclass, we nervously waited for the 6-week deadline and for students to bring their projects in.

I had no idea as to exactly what would be handed in, but as the projects began to roll in my emotions ranged from joy and pride to awe: All of our students had completed their projects and they were bloody amazing!

One boy had sat down and interviewed his grandad for his British Empire and literature project, typing up his interview, then sticking it to card and making into a booklet. Another worked with his KS5 brother discussing Christina Rossetti for his Women in literature. We had timelines with books, folders broken down into sections, and podcasts! We had miniature libraries of authors made with bios and pop up books that were so beautiful I didn’t want to give them back!

All projects were rewarded with certificates and house points!  We ended up giving more merits and distinctions than standard passes because the standard was so high.  As the year went on students were learning off each other, seeing how different projects had been put together, how they’d been presented etc.

Finally, because of the high standard, we decided at the end of the year we would give a special award for students that we felt deserved further recognition in the following three categories:

  1. Independence – the ability to collate and present ideas to a high standard
  2. Communication skills – presenting ideas in an interesting and clear way
  3. Creativity – presenting ideas in an original and innovative way

Over the next three years, we hope students will build a bank of knowledge to support their learning of English language and literature, developing their ideas through classwork, homework and their projects.

And if somewhere along the line the knowledge picked up helps our students secure deeper understanding that leads to better grades then it’s a win-win!

Key Stage 4

We ran similar sessions for our year 10 and 11, but instead of a “master class” once a half term we gathered our whole year group and went for a lecture-style session.  These were text-specific and students weren’t expected to complete a project. These were mainly to secure knowledge or context needed for their upcoming GCSE.



After reflecting on this year, I have changed, merged and added topics for our KS3 titles for 20/21 will be:

Year 7 Term 1 The British Empire (colonial literature)
  Term 2 Heroes and legends
  Term 3 Fairy Tales & Greek mythology
  Term 4 Children in Literature (coming of age literature)
  Term 5 Identity, culture and realism


Year 8 Term 1 Religion in Literature + Allusion (eg Adam and Eve/Garden of Eden)
  Term 2 Gothic & Science/technology (man v god)
  Term 3 Victorian (Modern) England + WW1 poetry
  Term 4 Science, dystopia & apocalyptic
  Term 5 Contemporary literature (inc verse novels)


Year 9 Term 1 Patriarchy (matriarchy)+ Women in literature rise of Feminist lit
  Term 2 Crime, violence, murder & 7 sins (rise of detective)
  Term 3 World literature (American, African, Asian)
  Term 4 Diversity (in literature) LGBTQ
  Term 5 The power of language – Literature that changed a world (books, poems, speeches)

Thank you for reading!


4 the Tears in Your Eyes

Many people came from all around
Hear this man preach, glorious sound

Prince – 4 the Tears in Your Eyes – The Hits/The B-Sides

Deep Dive… what does that actually mean? Well, according to Google:

deep dive – noun
  1. an in-depth examination or analysis of a topic.
    “the series promises to take a deep dive into the complexities of long-term relationships”

I, like many other HODs, am beginning to get all my ducks in a row for some form of deep dive. My journey will begin with a good old department review with my amazing colleague HOD for Humanities Eve (@evebrindley).  I hope this helps you with ways to proceed forward. A huge thanks to Leah (@Read_Learn_Lead) for sharing her dpt review forms.

Realistically you could not cover everything listed here on this blog, the intention is to use it to help you ask the right questions for your department/school/students. The documents I’ve attached are very basic/simple, but again to be used as a start point for you to adapt/add for your department/school/students.

Download Department Review BOOKLET

The teaching and learning observed during a series of lesson observations

As well as carrying out formal observations, department review should have “drop-ins” to evaluate standards.

  • Teaching, particularly in terms of the planning for, and delivery of, learning opportunities that enhance progress for all pupils;

What will I see in the classroom? This could include:

  • Lesson Observations (approx 6, depends on size of dpt/sch)
  • Talking to students (ensure you have class lists ready so you can make a note of who you speak to in case needs to be followed up). Questions to students:
    • What are you learning?
    • Why are you being taught this?

Document needed: school t&l observation form (not attached – just use your school’s form)

Examination results achieved by the department

Analyse and evaluate results subject’s or department’s results

  • compare pupil attainment data year on year
  • compare with other schools/local/national
  • KS3 Teacher assessments
  • External standardised tests (SATs/FFT/GL/Midyis/Yellis/GCSE)

As well as looking at overall results, the analysis will show you where individual teachers are being most effective.

  • Information handling, particularly in terms of identifying how well individual pupils are performing against expectations for their age and capabilities, monitoring their progress over time and evaluating all their achievements, including the non-academic and communicating this information to parents and pupils.
  • What do the examination and externally standardised tests show about pupils’ attainment?
  • What do changes in their attainment levels indicate with regard to pupils’ progress and the value which the school adds to their achievement?
  • Are there are differences in the achievement of different groups of pupils (e.g. year, gender, ethnicity, SEND, EAL, most able etc)?
  • Is the department meeting school/academy targets?
  • Are students on positive VA?
  • How does department data compare to local and national data?
  • What percentage of students are on track to meet grade-level goals?
  • How do specific subgroups, such as English Language Learners, compare to the overall student population?
  • Are there achievement gaps between different student groups?

Regarding KS3 assessments (End of Unit or End of Year), what are you testing and why? How do they prepare students for KS4 exam skills?

Document attached: Examination results achieved by the department

The quality of marking/feedback to students on how to improve

Scrutinise pupils’ work: How does subject lead track KS3/4 data?

HOD/HOF- If anyone looked at books in your subject – what are we likely to see?

List maybe 1-10 things you/your department do regularly to help student progress.

Back in Nov ’19, Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding) had a fantastic thread asking what would you see in her students’ books! 


Find the thread and read it!

Also, back in November, Ms Evans EngTwit (@MissEvsEngTwit) also posted a fantastic thread on her experience of her deep dive:
Ms Evans

Ms Evans uses “Learning Journey sheets” – showing explicit vocab teaching, showing knowledge students may not have had before starting a unit. This is also a very similar idea or concept to unit “Big Questions”.

I’ve taken the following from her thread – ask yourself:

  • What will we see in your books? A large selection of books will need to be looked at
  • Can you find an example of explicit teaching of tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary?
  • Can you show me in the books where previous learning has been build upon?
  • Can you show me in the books where students have made progress?
  • Can you show me where students have acquired new knowledge?
  • Why do they need to know this [new knowledge]?

Will teacher feedback and any DIRT tasks evidence where misconceptions had been identified and can you see progress made.

Document attached: Book Review

At Class/teacher level KS3 tracking and EOU/EOY assessments

You need to identify students who may not make expected progress. It is important to gather this information at the start of each academic, but regular checks throughout the year are also valuable. This way you can monitor students’ progress during the year to determine whether students are making adequate progress and identify if any students are not progressing or falling behind.  Collecting data will help you assess strengths and weaknesses, and identify the area of need. Then you can begin to assess further need/strategies to move forward so that all students meet standards and expectations.

Do you and your department know:

  • What assessments are we using to identify, monitor, collect and assess?
  • Where is the student with regards to the department learning progression?
  • How is the student responding to core instruction? Is it working?
  • Are they on track to meet standards?
  • Are there areas where the department has more than one test?
  • What are their strengths or weaknesses?
  • What learning goals should I set for this student?
  • Is additional, more targeted, testing needed eg intervention?
  • How is the student responding to supplemental intervention? Is it working?
  • Do I know which skills they need to progress?
  • How does he compare to his peers?
  • Are they retaining previously taught skills?
  • How does my group of students, as a whole, compare to other groups/subjects in school?
  • Are there patterns of weakness among students that indicate a change in curriculum or supplemental program may be needed?
  • What skills/knowledge are you trying to measure?

Document attached: Key questions for KS3

Extracurricular activities, interventions and study support

  • How does the department support students?
  • What interventions are offered?
  • What extracurricular activities does dpt offer?
  • Do you offer students chances to compete in different areas of your subject?
  • How do you know your year 7 are on track?
  • How well do you work with other departments/share information?
  • How closely do you work with your SENCO/SEND Dpt?
  • In English are you covering reading, writing and speaking and listening opportunities?
  • How is literacy promoted across the school?
  • How are KS4 interventions taught?
  • What is different between teaching, revision and intervention in your department?
  • How many will likely need additional support to meet learning goals?
  • What percentage qualify for intervention?
  • How many should be further evaluated for special education service needs?
  • Are additional resources needed?

Document attached: Extracurricular activities

Curriculum experiences

As a subject leader, you should ensure:

  • You focus on the particular features of your subject
  • Your subject’s full curriculum is being covered
  • The curriculum and other opportunities and, in particular, how well they provide for the individual needs of the pupils

You can also explore how well pupils are applying literacy/numeracy skills cross-curricular.  If you were asked “Tell me about your curriculum”. What could/would you say?  For example has HOD/Dpt have you made changes to your curriculum? How did you design your curriculum? Again ask yourself:

  • Who do we get (primary), who are our feeder schools? What’s their curriculum?
  • What do CHS learners struggle with?
  • What do we need them to know by the end of year 9 so that they are KS4 ready?
  • What do our results tell us?
  • What does the National curriculum require?
  • What knowledge do we want them to have?
  • What is a sensible order for them to study this in?
  • How are we going to assess?
  • How are we going to build the skills alongside the knowledge?
  • How is your curriculum mapped out at KS3 (7,8,9)?
  • Can you point out where knowledge is built upon and across the years?
  • Can you show challenge in assessment tasks?
  • Can you show how the NC is covered in full?
  • Are the skills/content leading to (KS4) exam board assessment objectives?

This brings us back to the Big Questions (and back to Ms Evans thread – know it, prove it, link it, say it).  Why are Big Questions useful? Compare the above to Ofsted’s initial questions:

  • What are the starting points for your children?
  • How do you ensure effective KS transitions?
  • Can you show me how this matches the NC?
  • Are there links across the curriculum?
  • How do you know students have made progress (acquired knowledge)?
  • How do you build on the knowledge they have acquired?

Christine Counsell (@Counsell_C ) tweeted this fantastic image from one of her presentations which is useful when planning your curriculum. When I asked Christine if I could use the image, she agreed, but asked if I could point out:

Key thing to note is that these are questions for senior leaders to ask in order to sustain better conversations with middle leaders. i.e. never using it as an audit tool or checklist”.

curriculum christine counsil

Document attached: Curriculum experiences and support for learning further Qs

Leadership and management of the department

Evidence of this can be taken from in previous sections, as well as:

  • Policies and procedures you have in place
  • Records of continuous professional development
  • Curriculum plans
  • resources provision, particularly in terms of suitably qualified and trained staff and the availability of appropriate learning materials, equipment and facilities; and management of evaluation, planning, implementation and monitoring that ensure that good progress is assured for all pupils.

Inspector(s) may want to meet and talk to all department staff.  Staff need to know their curriculum/policies and students!

  • What do your team really think?
  • How well do you know your students?
  • What content is being taught?
  • Why do you teach what you teach at KS4 (or KS3)?
  • How is your wellbeing supported by your leaders?
  • How do you know your students are making progress?
  • How do you build upon prior knowledge?
  • What CPD have you been offered?

Ongoing, as your curriculum evolves, you need to ensure:

  • After teaching a unit, as a department review it. Annotate your SOW to improve teaching next time.
  • Is knowledge the “right” knowledge students need to succeed?
  • Are the units in the right order? Consider in English reading is always before writing so that students have picked apart examples of what a good one looks like!
  • Are the units cohesive, and are the links that you think are there secure?
  • How do you ensure the knowledge sticks, that students recall/remember the knowledge and how can you check/test for this?
  • Is your KS3 preparing students for KS4? How do you know?
  • How do you ensure your curriculum is knowledge rich? (as opposed to exam skills led)?

Document attached: Department staff questionnaire

Student voice (their comments on the subject and the support for their progress).

It’s important to communicate with pupils about their experience of your subject.  Pupil interviews are useful when exploring pupils’ views on a subject. You can also find out:

  • If all aspects of the curriculum are being covered sufficiently from the pupils’ perspective
  • Whether pupils are enjoying the subject or being challenged
  • What do your students think about their learning/curriculum
  • What do students think about behaviour in your subject?

The term ‘pupil voice’ can be slightly misleading, as it is important to find out what pupils know as well as what their views are.  Consider using a pupil questionnaire to identify pupils’ opinions about teaching and learning in a subject.

Document attached: Student voice2

Create a departmental action plan

There should be a strong correlation between the departmental self-evaluation and the school SIP, with the departmental action plan showing how it is enabling the achievement of actions set out in the school action plan.

The action plan does not need to be too detailed, but it should include:

  • The areas for development
  • What actions to take
  • Who will monitor each action

Document attached: Action plan

As I said at the start, you can’t do all of this! This is perhaps a start point, pick and mix the questions that best suit you, your school, your students and your department.

Thank you for reading!

Willing And Able

There’s some kings in my deck and a queen or to
So you know there ain’t nothin’, Nothin’ that I wouldn’t do

Prince – Willing And Able – Diamonds And Pearls


My reflections on my first couple of years in my role as Head of Department.

Just under a couple of years ago I was lucky enough to be appointed as HOD. In that time, I’ve got some things right, and some things wrong. I want to talk about the things I mostly got wrong because, although I couldn’t see it, I was heading towards a perfect storm!

Rewind two years ago: I was new to the school and new to the team and I was walking into a very established team. I had been given a remit and as anyone new to a role, I wanted to do a good job.

For the purpose of this blog I am going to focus on three areas I found the most challenging; difficult conversations, monitoring and making changes.

The elephant in the room

Difficult conversations: this was, and possibly still is, the hardest area to get right.

All schools want to raise achievement and standards. I decided my first job would be to look at year 11 data and felt one of the best ways was to moderate the recent mock marking. Once I’d reviewed the mocks I felt some marks didn’t fall within tolerance, especially in specific skill areas. I held a meeting to discuss the marking, so as not to single anyone out, I brought some model answers to show levels (against a mark scheme). A piece of cake I thought! Nope: that was a big mistake.

On reflection, I can understand why.  We all want to feel as if we are doing our jobs well. When I was training I was told my marking, when moderated, didn’t fall within tolerance. But I now realise I am somebody who likes clear and direct instructions but I think more importantly I had an established relationship with my line manager. Her delivery was clear. Mine, possibly out of nerves, was muddled.

Of course, I didn’t consciously set out to be unclear in my delivery, but walking into a meeting after a very short time and being negative was never going to be received in the way I’d hoped it would! A more accurate description would be to say that it went down like a lead balloon tied to the Titanic.

What would I do now?

I wouldn’t have held that meeting! I would set time aside in department meeting to focus on specific areas of the exam spec, skills or questions. For example, we could have all marked a student response together, a visualiser would have worked well, then discuss(ed) as a team why it fell into a level/mark. Or I could have provided exam board SAMs and as a team we could have discussed the mark given.

That would have been a better and more productive way of dealing with it.

The devil is in the detail

Monitoring a department is an area that I would often push to the side. I would set time aside for tracking different aspects of the department. Sometimes I would manage to adhere to my allocated time, sometimes I couldn’t due to more pressing issues. Again a big mistake.

The importance of monitoring (in a supportive way) cannot be overlooked. Had I kept to a schedule I would have had a much firmer grasp on all areas and I would have been able to deal with any issues (regardless of how minor) as they cropped up, not further down the line when it is much harder to resolve.

What would I do now?

I make up a schedule and ensure I stick to it by blocking out time on my timetable for monitoring (learning walks, book looks etc) over a half term. Again, any minor problems can be swept up quickly and dealt with before they become an issue and then possibly require a difficult conversation!  Seriously, I/we need to avoid anything getting to the stage that it “needs” one of those!  Sticking to a schedule means I can ensure department meetings address points before they escalate, through ongoing CPD. Slow and steady wins the race!

For example, after a book look staff could bring examples of marking and again as a team discuss positives together. Or if there’s an issue with the level of challenge in particular units, we could discuss how to raise it, for example, change the texts, or the focus.

The best thing since sliced bread

I moved from one secondary to another with a completely different demographic.

By the time I was appointed HOD I was a heavy social media user (mainly twitter).  I had started blogging and attended conferences at weekends. Being surrounded with so many enthusiastic and passionate teachers who were willing to give up their time, experience and knowledge (let alone resources) helped me grow in so many ways. For example there was so much discussion around certain edu-books (Reading Reconsidered, Bringing Words to Life, Closing the Vocab Gap) and before long I was spending vast amounts of time on Amazon! I brought with me a raft of new resources and started changing things. I wouldn’t go as far as to say “big mistake”, it wasn’t.  Changes I made, based on previous experience, research or books I’d read, were good – they focused on more challenging texts, high-quality purposeful resources all with the sole purpose of raising standards or improving progress. What was misguided was my implementation.

Change is good, and it’s needed. However, it’s important to consider why are you changing something? What will it add? How will it improve outcomes? Whatever you do has to have a purpose and ultimately has to help students making progress in one way or another. There was some resistance to some of the changes I wanted to make and again, on reflection I can see why.  In a conversation with Zoe Enser (@greeborunner) about this blog, she reminded me of the Ikea effect (as David Weston, @informed_edu, called it) “they had built it, it was theirs and now you were dismantling it!”  Once again I should have been clearer (again there’s that word) in my delivery. I should have been clearer on why some things needed changing and why it mattered.

What would I do now?

I wouldn’t make so many changes in such a small amount of time. I’d make sure any changes are in line with the school’s priorities and improvement plans. First and foremost I would be explicit in explaining the importance of any change.

Hit the Nail on the Head: What does the future hold?

At this point, I do need to stop and say that you can’t discuss/debate everything “as a team” or through CPD. Sometimes as a middle leader, you just need to make a decision. That’s part of your job.

I also need to point out it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. These are some of the strategies I have implemented successfully: I’ve worked hard on bringing structure and consistency to the department, raising achievement through standards and challenge, organisation of units, marking, feedback and assessments, dealing with deadlines alongside exam admin and sharing of resources. I’ve brought new texts in, streamlined starters and homework to target key skills. I began a strong extracurricular program, including national competitions, taking all KS3 to the library, year 11 to the local university, trips to the theatre and in-house performances. I have raised the profile of rewards, certificates and positive praise in the department alongside communication home with parents. I asked the exam board to come in and host a training session, and I ensure subject knowledge/teaching is always a focus of department meetings and to support the department I set up lunchtime “catch up” sessions for students not working at expected standards in their classwork and/or homework.  Once the team could see how to move forward, we began to see real improvements  – many of the strategies and initiatives I’ve implemented have been very well received, not just by the school, but parents and students and so far all had a positive impact in both KS3 and 4.

This year we had a very successful set of GCSE results in language and literature with nearly half of our students walking away with a grade 7-9. As a team, we clearly got a lot right – together!

What will I be changing for my third year?!

I need to remember the snowball effect – all decisions, strategies and initiatives I/we decide on will build and build: it doesn’t need to be overnight. I will continue to learn and grow as a middle leader. My school SLT and other Middle Leaders are fantastic and have supported me throughout my journey. The school has sent me on specific CPD courses to help me and are always there if I need to ask advice.  Also, they’ve supported all the strategies and initiatives I’ve suggested to help raise student achievement and begin to foster a love of English in them.

My priority for the next year ahead is to continue to support and lead my department in the way a good middle leader should.

Thank you for reading.

Some free support (taken from David Weston Unleashing Greatness in Teachers)

DfE CPD Standards –
Developing Great Teaching report-
Free webinar on instructional coaching –
Monthly bulletin on effective CPD –
A library of articles on effective CPD –


2 hell with hesitation
2 hell with the reasons why

Prince – Scandalous – Batman


After holidays, lunches out, cups of tea, catching up with my friends and tv shows I decided to do some work: my INSET CPD.

And, what could be worse than preparing to enthuse staff after their summer break, than lots of ppts – but a ppt on literacy!  How do you get a whole staff on board with something that is often seen as an add-on?

It wasn’t long after I began preparing my session that I felt some responses/reactions to the topic of reading were scandalous.

When you can, I suggest you read The Literacy Trust research/report on children and young peoples’ reading 2017/18


I found these stats quite worrying:

The fact that 26.2% children/young adults only read once a month or less – that’s 12 times a year! Let that sink in. And then when you look at what they’re reading it’s even more concerning.

reading 2

Look at the highest % – Text/instant messages.

That’s not “reading”.




Back to my INSET – I borrowed a slide from Helen Ralston’s recent TENC19 

reading 3

(@ralston_h) talk “When you read a piece of text there are a number of individual actions and they are hard to tie together, but for someone who knows baseball, it’s a familiar pattern. A number of studies have shown that people understand what they read much better if they already have some background knowledge about the subject. From Closing the Vocab gap”.

If you look at these 3 1/2 sentences  – look at how much “background knowledge” you need to be able to fully understand it!

To show staff how hard this is I have taken

treading 34ext from BBC Bitesize (KS3) and blocked out 25-30% of the text from various pieces – I am going to challenge them to see if they know what subject and topic they’re about.

And yes, you may guess the subject and topic, but could an 11-12-year-old child?

Attitudes to Reading

What was more surprising than the stats above, but attitudes towards the importance of reading.


I sent out a quick poll. I know this isn’t really robust, however, it does highlight, in my opinion, some serious questions we need to be asking ourselves.

Only 23% of the 1,266 people said they regularly set “reading” as homework.

And the educators who did set reading as homework felt at KS5 it was essential.

At KS4 the words used were: sometimes, less, never, occasionally, not so much, now and again.

And at KS3 they became: no, rarely, never.

reading 6


Back to my INSET, to show staff that reading in their subject “IS” important I took one question (at random) from GCSE papers for every subject and ran it through a Flesch reading ease test measure – which subject do you think had the hardest score?

My question to all secondary subject teachers is – how do you expect students to be fluent readers if you aren’t giving them opportunities to read? How do you expect them at KS5 to suddenly learn those skills in your subject?

We need to be embedding these skills at KS3 if we want students to be proficient at reading.

All departments/subjects can work together to make your school a school that reads. Reading doesn’t have to be fiction/novels/romance! Reading can be textbooks, websites (visit the British Libary and research a topic).  You could then ask students to summarise, compare or evaluate a piece of text they’ve read.  I can’t see how reading around a subject will not increase a child’s understanding of it and therefore can’t understand why subjects (all secondary) aren’t setting it as regular homework.

I would suggest you make time to read  EEF IMPROVING LITERACY IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS, They have an excellent PDF you can download to support literacy (they also have a primary version).

They “challenge the notion that literacy in secondary school is solely the preserve of English teachers, or literacy coordinators. The emphasis on disciplinary literacy makes clear that every teacher communicates their subject through academic language, and that reading, writing, speaking and listening are at the heart of knowing and doing Science, Art, History, and every other subject in secondary school.”


The EEF states:

“Historically, many secondary school teachers have not seen themselves as literacy experts. Teaching children to read has been the domain of primary schools, or the responsibility of teachers in the English department at a push. Some cross-curricular efforts have held promise, but, in most secondary schools, the challenge of literacy today is greater than ever.” 

Primary and English teachers” that really is Scandalous!

In English, we do read a great variety of writing styles and genres. But if you are looking for ideas on how to promote reading outside of lessons/homework – these are some examples of initiatives we use:

  • Run regular reading challenges
  • Give a book away to all KS3 on WBD
  • We take all our KS3 to the library to borrow/research reading material
  • We give books as prizes alongside certificates as rewards
  • We work with other dpts to run competitions (eg design a new book cover, take a photo of extreme reading)
  • We do book displays
  • We recommend books to parents via our newsletter

Possibly the most important – we talk about books!

Finally, I would recommend:

Follow Alice Visser-Furay (@AVisserFuray) on twitter or read her blog: My Resources – Reading for Pleasure

literacy books

Read the following book, full of lots of practical ideas you can use immediately to raise literacy in your school:


The answers for the readability – Science and PE were the hardest to read and the easiest History and Maths  – but please remember only on those questions!

Thank you for reading.


I will be your superhero
If you give me half a chance

Prince – Superhero – Bootleg Collection, Volume 1

For a list of all my reads: Condition Of The Heart

Who says Young Adult novels are just for kids?

If you’re looking for a great book for your child, here are my favourite Young Adult reads from the last couple of years:

monster.PNGA Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness From an idea by Siobhan Dowd
Connor’s mum has cancer and life is changing. There is the nightmare, then there is school, where people avoid him, or persecute him. And then there is the immense, mythic Monster.



Chaos Walking trilogy

41GRCK+9UfLThe Knife of Never Letting Go

Author: Patrick Ness
Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant, overwhelming Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets. Then Todd Hewitt unexpectedly stumbles on a spot of complete silence. Which is impossible. And now he’s going to have to run… Book 1



81PbLGE8qgLThe Ask and the Answer

Author: Patrick Ness

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd and Viola once again face their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately imprisoned and separated from Viola, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…


51DmqWJokuL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Monsters of Men

Author: Patrick Ness

Three armies march on New Prentisstown. The New World is at war. Todd and Viola are caught in the middle, with no chance of escape. How can they hope to stop the fighting? How can there ever be peace when they’re so hopelessly outnumbered? And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await?


Half Bad Trilogy

81-4XsCTiSLHalf Bad

Author: Sally Green

In a modern-day Britain in which witches live alongside humans, Nathan is a ‘half-code’, caught between the ‘good’ White Witches and the ‘bad’ Black Witches. Book 1




220px-Front_cover_of_Half_Wild_Half Wild

Author: Sally Green

Nathan is back, with new magical gifts, still determined to bring down the monstrous leader of the Council, Soul O’Brien and needing to rescue his girlfriend Annalise too.  Book 2





51q0-nND2eL._AC_SY400_Half Lost

Author: Sally Green

Consumed by anger and set on avenging his father’s death, Nathan is on the run again, while the fragmented Alliance of Free Witches is battling against the odds to end the war between the Black and White witches. Book 3.




The Lie Tree 
Author: Frances Hardinge

Faith is clever, curious and interested in everything around her – but because she is a girl, no-one pays her any attention, so she’s learned to exist in the background.



Holly Black’s Folk of the Air series

220px-The_Cruel_Prince_coverThe Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black

Jude was just a child when she witnessed the murder of her parents by Madoc, a Faerie lord. Madoc took Jude and her sisters back to Elfhame with him and brought them up as his own.  Book 1




51NGQp8xR2L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_The Wicked King
Author: Holly Black

Jude has tricked Cardan onto the throne, binding him to her for a year and a day. But the new High King does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her, even as his fascination with her remains undimmed. Book 2




The Queen of Nothing

by Holly Black

After being pronounced Queen of Faerie and then abruptly exiled by the Wicked King Cardan, Jude finds herself unmoored, the queen of nothing. When her twin sister Taryn shows up asking a favour, Jude jumps at the chance to return to the Faerie world, even if it means facing Cardan, who she loves despite his betrayal.




Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across Germany, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. This inspirational novel is based on a true story from the Second World War.


after the fire

After the Fire

Author: Will Hill

Moonbeam, his central character, is beginning to doubt the teaching of Father John and to comprehend the methods he uses to control his followers. A survivor, she’s being coaxed to tell the story of the events that led up to that deadly confrontation with ‘The Authorities’.


The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman


After his family are killed, Bod is brought up in a graveyard by ghosts – an array of century-spanning characters who care for him, impart wisdom and even teach body-fading skills.




Orphan Monster Spy
Book by Matt Killeen

After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah finds herself on the run from a government that wants to see every person like her dead. Then Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons.





by Patrice Lawrence

Not cool enough, not clever enough, not street enough for anyone to notice me. I was the kid people looked straight through. NOT ANY MORE. NOT SINCE MR ORANGE. Sixteen-year-old Marlon has made his mum a promise – he’ll never follow his big brother, Andre, down the wrong path. So far, it’s been easy, but when a date ends in tragedy, Marlon finds himself hunted.




The Ruby in the Smoke

by Philip Pullman

Sally Lockhart is living quietly in London with her obnoxious cousin, after her father’s tragic death at sea. But the peaceful, if hateful, existence is about to end. Sally’s father left her a message, and deciphering it will lead her into a world of danger and excitement such as she’s never known…



one of us is lying

One of Us is Lying

by Karen M McManus

Five teens in detention are hit by a storm when one of them of dies. Outsider Simon, creator of the notorious Bayview High gossip app, wryly remarks that they’re all “walking teen-movie stereotypes” and casts himself as the “omniscient narrator” shortly before collapsing to his death. 


noughts and crosses

 Noughts & Crosses

by Malorie Blackman

Sephy is a Cross – a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a nought – a ‘colourless’ member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses.  Against a background of prejudice, distrust and mounting terrorist violence, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum – a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger … 



private peaceful

Private Peaceful

by Michael Morpurgo

“Tommo” Peaceful is recalling his childhood from those terrible battlefields.  But as the World turned to War, he had to grow up fast. Together Charlie and Tommo enlist and are sent to France, almost immediately, to what could only be described as pure hell on Earth. Bullets, bombs, death. Shells, noise, dirt. Disease, rats, stench. Charlie and Tommo fight for their lives and to stay together–facing certain death in the face every time they try to advance the British lines. 


divinersThe Diviners by Libba BrayIt’s 1920s New York City. It’s flappers and Follies, jazz and gin. It’s after the war but before the depression.  For Evie O’Neill, it’s escape.  New York City isn’t about just jazz babies and follies girls. It has a darker side. Young women are being murdered across the city.  They’re gruesome. They’re planned. They bear a strange resemblance to an obscure group of tarot cards.  Evie has a secret. A mysterious power that could help catch the killer – if he doesn’t catch her first. 



6 of crows

Six of Crows

by Leigh Bardugo

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone… 




Purple Hibiscus

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The limits of fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world are defined by the high walls of her family estate and the dictates of her fanatically religious father. Her life is regulated by schedules: prayer, sleep, study, prayer.  When Nigeria is shaken by a military coup, Kambili’s father, involved mysteriously in the political crisis, sends her to live with her aunt. In this house, noisy and full of laughter, she discovers life and love – and a terrible, bruising secret deep within her family. 


smoke thievesThe Smoke Thieves

by Sally Green

Five nations destined for conflict. In Brigant, Princess Catherine prepares for a political marriage. In Calidor, downtrodden servant March seeks revenge on the prince who betrayed his people. In Pitoria, feckless Edyon steals cheap baubles for cheaper thrills as he drifts from town to town. And in the barren northern territories, thirteen-year-old Tash is running for her life as she plays bait for the gruff demon hunter Gravell.  Who will rise and who will fall? And who will claim the ultimate prize?


 maggot moonMaggot Moon

by Sally Gardner

The story of the power of a friendship between two boys.
When his best friend Hector is suddenly taken away, Standish Treadwell realises that it is up to him, his grandfather and a small band of rebels to confront and defeat the ever-present oppressive forces of the Motherland.  But Hector and Standish know that the truth is there to be told. If they can find the courage to tell it. 


bone sparrow

The Bone Sparrow

by Zana Fraillon

A heartfelt, harrowing insight into life as a Rohingya refugee in an Australian detention centre, told through the unforgettable voice of an unforgettable boy.  Subhi is one of the Limbo kids in a permanent Australian detention centre, the first to be born in the camp after his Maá and big sister Queeny fled violent persecution in Burma. 


burningThe Burning

by Laura Bates

Fire is like a rumour. You might think you’ve extinguished it but one creeping, red tendril, one single wisp of smoke is enough to let it leap back into life again. Especially if someone is watching, waiting to fan the flames…There’s nothing to trace Anna back to her old life. Nothing to link her to the ‘incident’.


by Kathrine Rundell

On the run from the authorities, Sophie finds Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who walk tightropes and live in the sky. In a race across the rooftops of Paris, will they be able to find her mother before it’s too late? Hopeful, inspiring and thrilling in equal measure, this is a classic adventure story about pursuing your dreams and never ignoring a possible.


I am yours now and you are mine
And together we’ll love through all space and time, so don’t cry

Prince – 7 – Symbol


A few resources you may find useful!  Links to resource are after image screenshot.

Collection of nonfiction writing (articles, blogs, reviews etc)

I’ve collected these from exam packs, online etc and put in one place.

There are 3 to download



Index/titles of articles

Articles 1 of 3

Articles 2 of 3

Articles 3 of 3



Anthology of (unusual) narratives

This anthology has been compiled to give students a glimpse into different/unusual narratives, or perspectives and/or different genres – that’s why I’ve only used small sections. Most of the extracts are online, so if you want more… Google them!


Anthology of narrative voices (word)

Anthology of narrative voices (PDF)


Anthology of non-fiction voices (transactional writing) extracts

This anthology has been compiled to give students a glimpse into different perspectives and/or different genres – again, that’s why I’ve only used small sections. Most of the extracts are online, so if you want more… Google them!


Anthology of nonfiction texts (word)

Anthology of nonfiction texts (PDF)


Transactional Writing (non-fiction) Templates –


Nonfiction Literacy templates – Word

Nonfiction Literacy templates – PDF

Career posters for English Language and literature – Alevels


Where can Alevels take you

Edexcel DIRT tasks

A set of editable DIRT tasks for students – please be aware I rushed these, there may be some typos! I will correct these and reupload if there are any!






5 min KS3 starters

40 ppt with 4 or 5 simple English language focused lesson starters.


KS3 Starters


Character Descriptions

A ppt full of character descriptions to help with creative writing.


Character Descriptions


Up-grade your literature essays!

A word grid document to help year11 use more focused language in their essays.


Upgrade your Vocab (word)



Literature Extracts (for a display)

Over 40 extracts/quotes that can be used for a display to either highlight a technique or text.


Extracts for Display

Features of a Non-Fiction Text

A handy A4 guide of basic features for different transactional writing:


features of non-fiction texts (word)

features-of-non-fiction-texts PDF


Features of a Fiction Text

A handy A4 guide of basic features for creative writing conventions:


Features of creative writing PDF


AQA Style of questions

A handy guide with the basic style of questions for KS4 to help you make up your own!


Style of questions

Style-of-questions PDF


Understanding the AO’s!

A handy guide for NQTs to help understand those pesky AOs


Teacher AO booklet

Teacher-AO-booklet PDF


Suggested Tasks

I made this as a list of tasks in the event students finish their work early, also to save copying, and the best bit – tasks that can be used with any text.


Teacher Suggested Tasks

Teacher-Suggested-Tasks PDF


A Christmas Carol Starters

A few basic starters, you can use as you go along, or revisit.


ACC Starters


An Inspector Calls Starters

A collection of starters for the play


AIC Starters


Macbeth Starters

A collection of starters for Macbeth


Macbeth Starters


General language/literature starters

A few more basic language or technique starters


KS4 starters


How to Translate Emotions into Written Body Language


Link to my Student GCSE blog for resource:  Emotions & Body Language



I’ve made up this mini S&L guide/PDF for students to help them through their spoken language element. Thank you to for sharing his PPT and ideas for S&L.

Student Speaking and Listening booklet PDF



Condition Of The Heart

“Acting out a whim is only good
For a condition of the heart”

Prince – Condition Of The Heart – Around The World In A Day


The year after Prince released Purple Rain, he followed it up with the fabulous Around the World in a Day. As a fan, I loved it, and one of my favourite tracks was and continues to be Condition of the Heart: It’s beautiful.  When it comes to books, like albums, we can’t help but have our favourites. Ones that appeal to us more than others. These are all the novels/books I’ve read this year. When the year is up, I will review my favourites. Some were just a joy to read!

For a list of my favourite Young Adult books:  Superhero

Books I’ve read in 2019 …














Books I read in 2018 – A year of reading dangerously!





Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful

Keep ur mind in the vertical motion
Always looking up

Prince – Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful – LotusFlow3r


Earlier in the year Jude Huton @judehunton  asked me to present at   which took place on 9th June. The following blog is par of my presentation and slides – without my waffle in between.  My talk was suitable for any subject or phase. If are a different subject teacher just replace the English resources for your own subject/key stage. I have split KS4 and KS3 strategies/interventions otherwise this blog will go on and on; you can read about KS4 here.

KS3 Interventions

I do need to state in advance I work in a small, private independent school and I fully understand that makes managing classes/students easier than in a large secondary.  As a department again we’ve seen significant progress with student standardised scores increasing dramatically through the specific starters and homework put in place.


The first issue I tackled was SPaG through starters. I created one starter per lesson with answers. The ppts are basic but all follow the same format – here’s an example of some of the starters I’ve put together:

ks3 startersks3 starters

ks3 starters

I create one per lesson, with answers. These have worked because:

  1. they form a routine for students
  2. they get students writing quickly, but accurately in a short time frame
  3. they get 5 SPaG questions (blue slide), then mark immediately (green slide)
  4. there’s consistency across classes, all use them.

How we will improve for 18/19 – students all purchase a small dictionary (and a grammar rulebook) at the start of year 7, but I’ve rarely seen them use them. By making some of the slides dictionary based students are forced to use them. The hope here is using a dictionary will become part of every English lesson. Something I rarely see at the moment.

Another issue I saw was some students finished the work quickly, then twiddled thumbs until others catch up. From Sept they will be encouraged to work from a grammar book until all students have completed the five tasks.  For some students teachers did print out the starters.

We want our students to learn more vocabulary – we all know this is key – to do this I’ve built some starters (see slide 3), which looks at 5 words for students to learn/answer questions on, in context. This is continued the next day, using the same 5 words (see slide 5) but different questions.


I’ve mimicked the weekly homework we set at KS4, for KS3. Students are given a piece of text to read, then have to answer anywhere between 6-14 multiple choice questions. These are saved on PDF and uploaded to our homework platform. Here’s an example of a piece of prose and a poem used:

KS3 homework

How we will improve for 18/19 – these homeworks have worked well. To improve for this year I will issue parents with a list of the homework titles so they can check homework/scores etc.

I’ve also created some Quizlet simple 5-word weekly spelling tests for years 7-9. If you haven’t used Quizlet get on it – it’s really easy to use:


You can have a little go on this ‘sample test’ I’ve put together: Test – 5 spellings 

Students can download the app and do these quickly on their phones! All the options from learn, test and match are just so easy to use. Note to use ‘spell’ you need to use a browser, not Quizlet app. I think these will prove very useful.

Once you create them, you can do any of the above – I’ve keyed in the words and meanings. I’ve limited to 5 words as we already have the comprehension homework.


We know students learn from a simple to complex order so our SOW need to reflect this. As a department we are revamping all our SOW to refelct the skills needed for KS4.

KS3 sow


All our SOW will have a Knowledge Organiser (fancy term for a glossary) with key terms we want our students to learn for that unit. These will be kept by students in simple folders and build up through the units/years.

KS3 KO.png

I’ve built these terms into Quizlet tests for homework and they’ve been built into the SOW individual lessons (gaps above are because I am still working on it!).  This means every student will learn the same regardless of teacher or ability (thanks Dawn @missdcox  ).  Terms are used in class (more dictionary work) and in homework and will build on each other into KS4.

A few other strategies I’m putting in place from September ’18:

  1. I’d like students to number lessons, that way ‘if’ a student is absent they can catch work up – easier for me to keep track of missed lessons.
  2. Students will be given a table to list their scores from both starters and homework (spelling and comprehension test). This means I can check any issues quickly and intervene early:



Finally – I asked my old SENCO from my previous school to give me details of their KS3 interventions, which were considered a strength of the school. This is what they did well:

– We arranged for all students with comprehension scores lower than 85 to be tested for their reading accuracy ability.

– If their reading accuracy standardised score is also lower than 85 they receive personalised phonics support to assist them. We have three groups in Year 7 and two in Year 8 and two in Year 9.

– They are tested each full term for reading accuracy. If they improve they go up a group or back to the literacy form, (I ran the literacy form).

– The weakest also have daily intervention for 50 minutes in small groups, no larger than 4, using a range of approaches including precision teaching.

– We also have vocabulary building interventions. Students work on a set number of words using games, rhymes to develop their knowledge, spelling and use of the word. These are measured using tests before and after new word groups.

(In an ideal world we would also offer support for those who have low reading comprehension abilities but this would probably create another three literacy groups.)

We also have study skills for those who still have weak literacy intervention.

After school reading club also takes place, simply reading. They are excused from homework for completing this.

This has been acknowledged by Ofsted as strong practice, they referenced it to catch up, we use SEN budget for this. Catch up funding covers all of those who haven’t met expected by the end of KS2, our reading assessments do not discriminate between those who scored above or below, it isn’t therefore specific to KS2 catch up fund, if that makes sense!


This blog links to our intervention and strategies in KS4 . You can read about our KS4 strategies and interventions here.

Thank you for reading!

Get Yo Groove On

I’m usually workin’ both night and day
No time 4 fun

Prince – Get Yo Groove On – Emancipation


Earlier in the year, I was thrilled to be asked by Jude Huton @judehunton  to present at   which took place on 9th June. The following blog is part of my presentation and slides – without my waffle in between.  My talk was suitable for any subject or phase. If you are a different subject/phase teacher just replace the English resources for your own subject/key stage. I have also split KS4 and KS3 strategies/interventions otherwise this blog will go on and on; you can read about KS3 here.

I took a big risk this year and decided to put all my eggs in one basket, rather than offer several interventions, then not know which did or didn’t work I only used one central intervention which was run by myself.

I do need to state in advance I work in a small, private independent school and I fully understand that makes managing classes/students easier than in a large secondary.  The interventions have been successful with our students showing the highest % of progress I’ve ever seen and when I questioned students they said the interventions were helping them improve.

Targeting underachieving students

As teachers we want all students to reach their potential.

But how do you do that?  How do you get each student to be as successful as they can be?  Here are some ideas and ways you can use, or pick and mix from – after all, context is key. What works in one school, or for one student, may not work for others.


First, why don’t interventions work?  I’ve worked in schools where we’ve done all of the following – sometimes with the same student!


If one strategy doesn’t work, not to worry we have plan b, c, d…quite honestly, no wonder students were confused! But why is that?

  • Tests often mislead more than inform.
  • Some skills are harder to monitor.
  • Students need intervention in the area they are weakest in.
  • You need to use strategies that have worked elsewhere.  But that doesn’t mean the program will work for you. Research-based doesn’t mean that it will work automatically; you have to make such programs work. Visit other schools similar to yours.
  • Don’t put an intervention in and assume the problem is solved.
  • Intervention has to involve everyone; SLT, MLT, class teacher, student, parent/carer!
  • Don’t just leave up to the intervention, find moments for these students in class!
  • Involve parents in their programs as well.
  • Put strategies in place that help struggling students become successful!

I’ve worked in some schools where class teachers would teach students one way, intervention teachers another. No wonder we didn’t see students improve as much as we hoped.  Departments need consistency – not in the way they teach, but the success criteria delivered to students to get the best marks.

swellerThe first thing I did was to take the above advice; I broke the exam paper down.  After mocks, I wanted to know exactly what our students could/couldn’t do.  I went through:

  • An exam paper
  • mark scheme
  • SAM provided by exam board
  • Examiner’s comments

Using all those, I mocked up a student response analysis sheet for each exam they sat in English. These were for teachers but kept in the student’s file. All I wanted to know was ‘can they do something well, or not’.


Teachers completed these for their groups as they marked. No comments needed, just a tick or cross. This helped me decide the intervention needed for each student, they were also grouped together by need (AO). Here’s a completed one – So this student:


chose a quote from the right area, but not the correct quote to get the mark! However, this is only worth 1 mark.

only scored 2/6 because they didn’t analyse the quotes in relation to question.

student scored 6/15 because they didn’t ‘evaluate’ even though they used quotes etc – This was the priority AO as student lost 9 marks.


These worked well, but if I am honest were time-consuming to analyse. I had to go through each one and enter data into a spreadsheet.

How will I improve for 18/19 – I will use an online version eg google/microsoft forms instead of paper. This way staff enter data and I can analyse immediately.


Using the analysis sheets and data, I created a set of AO specific questions in the same style as the exam questions with a short text, question or prompt (mini exam questions, scaffolded and differentiated with sentence starters, hints). I made loads of these for each AO! Then each week I would visit students in form and ran the intervention sessions. These worked because the sheets (see below) broke the AO skill down into small chunks and students were able to slowly, over time, discover facts and relationships for themselves.


This was because:

  • the AOs were in taught in isolation (go back to Sweller image at the start)
  • Students read a variety of short unseen texts, so became more adept at selecting correct information (see Bruner)
  • they only had 20 mins to read/answer – it got them used to writing quickly!
  • the short space also ensured succinct answers
  • The targetted AOs meant students worked in groups of same need.
  • They didn’t take me long to read/mark so could give instant feedback

Here are some completed ones:


Grouping students together and breaking down the exam paper meant students were also able to discuss ideas with other students on the same AO.


How will I improve for 18/19 – I will begin intervention from September not January, the routine is key with students.  I would also follow any issues up much sooner with class teacher/student/parent etc.

Other strategies used in the classroom

The above is how I, as HOD, and my department tackled intervention. Our data showed significant progress using those strategies convincing me to continue with them, developing them further.  The following are other strategies we used in class and homework:

  1. Starters – I put together some simple 5-minute starters using language and literature skills – I have tweeted these out.


2. For September I want myself and team to get better at live modelling using our visualiers so that students can see how to structure responses.


To aid this I’ve created extract based Knowledge Organisers for the teachers focusing on key extracts/lines from texts. I made this one using Amy Forrester’s (@amymayforrester )A Christmas Carol Sliced resources she tweeted out:



Eventually I hope everyone in my department creates them as they go along for key texts/scenes/lines, they can be added to year on year as you teach, so eventually, I hope we end up with a bank of high-quality extract based teaching resources.

3. I used Chris Curtis (@Xris32 ) 200-word challenge for homework. You can read more about them here: 200 Word Challenge (see image below for example).

As a department, we set a two-part homework for KS4:

  1. students need to read a text, could be fiction or non-fiction – this gave them more opportunities to read new and challenging texts.
  2. students need to answer a question based on the text – often topics they have zero interest in.

200 w

The text to read and the task to complete are saved separately to PDF and uploaded to our homework platform.

My last strategy in the classroom is thanks to the lovely Becky (notoriously known as @shadylady222  ). This is a teacher that achieves amazing value added to students at her school. It can be easy to get good grades when you have well behaved/high achievers to begin, not so easy when they’re not. Anyway, a few years back Becky tweeted two documents I’ve used again and again but with different texts.

The first is connected to the vocabulary choices made by KS4 students when analysing literature. By giving them a set of words to memorise, their analysis improves immediately. Becky has tweeted these out, the one on the left is the original Of Mice and Men and my ripped off version for A Christmas Carol.


acc fr


The second inspired by a few on twitter; firstly Claire Hill (@Claire_Hill_ ) tweeted back in 2015 on the banishment of PEE and much more effective What Why How:




and Louisa (@englishluluis ) inspired Becky’s attempting to dump any form of PEEing and instead focusing on 3 qs- What? How? Why? Again these have been tweeted out:


All of the above are not set in stone, no strategy should be. They evolve as we work out the strengths and weaknesses.

For September 18/19 I will also be creating interleaved starters for all the texts we use (I haven’t started making these yet) and I’ve already begun to create mini Quizlet quote tests for the texts we use. As you can see below I limit to 5-15 terms/quotes to learn so I can set a couple of these a week.  I have made these for all the texts and poetry cluster to help students learn quotes and subject terminology. They take minutes to create.

ACC quotes

You can have a little go on this ‘sample test’ I’ve put together for KS3 spellings: Test – 5 spellings 

Students can download the app and do these quickly on their phones! All the options from learn, test and match are just so easy to use. (Note to use ‘spell’ you need to use a browser, not Quizlet app. I think these will prove very useful).

Once you create them, you can do any of the above – I’ve keyed in the words and meanings. I’ve limited to 5-15 terms/quotes as we already have the comprehension homework. I’ve also used Quizlet for literary terms/definitions (subject terminology).


These are some strategies I’m putting in place from September ’18 (KS3 in particular) but I will also try to do these for KS4 where possible:

  1. I’d like students to number lessons, that way ‘if’ a student is absent they can catch work up – easier for me to keep track of missed lessons.
  2. Students will be given a table to list their scores from both starters and homework (spelling and comprehension test). This means I can check any issues quickly and intervene early:


If you aren’t keen on the above, here are 6 further strategies, according to research, that do work:

  • Metacognition and self-regulation
  • Collaborative learning
  • Effective feedback
  • Homework
  • 1:1 tuition
  • Peer tutoring


Finally, we want to be in a position where we don’t need an intervention – getting it right in the classroom from year 7.  To do that we need to get our KS3 right. You can read about our KS3 strategies and interventions here.

Thank you for reading!