Tag Archives: paedagogy

An introduction to English Literature: initial thoughts.

Next year, Year 12 begin the first straight-through teaching of English Literature at A level. The unnecessary hiatus of AS has been lifted and we may have a bit more time to explore the subject.

My intention is to try to engage with ‘Literature’ per se and to lose the sense of set-book-focus which I feel has made A level hitherto so much the poor relation of IBDP studies. Our students are not in the Upper Sixth as an end in itself – they are preparing for University. Some will opt to study Literature – let’s prepare them.

Anyway, here is the first version of my ‘welcome to Literature’ lessons.  The project will be filled out but the outline is here. I welcome comment and am grateful for the stimulus provided by Andrew Green of Brunel University, who pointed me to Daniel Pannac.

So, you chose Literature

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Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Research Ed. A reflection on #rEDlang

I was driving to Oxford for Research Ed: Language brochure on Saturday and was trying to recall when and why I joined Twitter.
I failed.
But at some point in around 2010 I joined Twitter as  teacher – @mrpeel – and a new world opened. At that time, there was a relatively small group of paedagogues online. I read @David Didau (in his @learningspy incarnation) and watched as someone called @oldandrew seemed to disagree with everyone else. I discovered that I could not only follow Geoff Barton, but could occasionally interact with him. Authors such as Patrick Ness and Catherine Johnson welcomed my posts of work completed by my classes – and responded by liking and re-tweeting examples of children’s work, much to the pride of the creators.
Not only that, but I became aware of the growing trend of teachmeets and T&L conferences which were initially publicised through the Twitter forum. And thus begins the journey of last Saturday.  In previous years I had attended Nick Dennis’ wonderful and ground breaking #TLAB conferences in Berkhamsted and realised that we could all take part in discussion and debate around teaching – at this stage I came across Daisy Christodoulou, before Seven Myths was a ‘thing’- and I was stimulated by all I heard – my teaching developed as did my cynicism as a well-intentioned member of SLT led a session on Brain Gym or VAK learning at an interminable September INSET.
Tom Bennett’s brainchild: researchEd seems to me to be a natural progression for my development. I ma quite an old dog and need to view new tricks with care, but this conference and its cousins across the world, offer a chance to engage in thought and exploration of my classroom practice. Often an area in which teachers are happy to use intuition and ‘good ideas’ rather than to engage in study of research, this conference has grown from a recognition that what Bennett called ‘folk teaching’ is not enough. In the last years there have been a raft of outstanding Education books which have made such research easily available for all teachers. The conference is a chance ot bring ideas together and , while networking happily, discuss and develop our teaching practice.
I have heard it said that TeachMeets are like car-boot sales. If this analogy holds, then #rEDlang was like sitting in Christie’s auction rooms with a few thousand quid to spend – not enough to buy everything on offer, but enough to make sensible decisions about the high quality material before taking the plunge and buying.
The menu for the day was huge and my choices seemed ot create a day which created great links and an opportunity ot reflect on ideas highly relevant to my former life before teaching.
So, Session 1:
 The relevance of Latin in teaching English.
Arlene Holmes-Henderson.
Arlene focused on the impact on cognitive development of engaging with the study of Latin at KS2. She offered a broad histoy of latin as key to university  entrance and subesquent reduction in curriculum place until rebirth in recent times 2010. I was hooked, not just be a wonderful energy in her presentatiojn but because my first degree is a Classics Degree (KCL, class of ’81). I need no convincing of the importance of Latin in schools and was pleased top see my ‘eccentric’ habit of referring to the subject through Latin references (‘It’s an imperative… Latin… Impero, imperare, imperatus sum, from which we get words like?’ ’emperor’. ‘Yes! and emperors give orders…’)  is something which was used in the presentation.  More importantly my twitter feed was full of tweets saying how much colleagues missed their Latin and so on.  A group of 40 or so teachers, on a Saturday morning, early, were enthused by games involving seeking Latin derivations of well known words, such as rubefaciant.
Arlene’s research project to find out about impact of Latin and work out if it can be a viable subject at KS2,is ongoing research indicates huge impact in literacy levels when schools take latin in kS2. Current data mainly from London and Solihull, and the absence of control groups seems a little disconcerting if we are to accept the improvements found as solely being due to Latin teaching, yet there seems to be a significant improvement in literacy levels in the schools in which she is working. One reason, she suggests, is the lack of settled pronunciation which makes it easier to engage with at basic level. Links across the curriculum are huge and it is clear that Latin should not be the province solely of G&T. Indeed, the literacy improvements seem to be mainly at lower ends of the ability spectrum.
We were off. I had relived my student days and begun to consider how I might be able to use this in my classrooms… ‘Salve Pueri, sedete, hodie Medicus Jekyll studiamus’.
Next was one of two sessions subtitled ‘the Micaela Way’. Little has polarised twitter debate in recent years than the establishment of the Micaela Community College in Wembley. Unashamedly confrontational to many, unashamedly individual and proud of its success ot others, I visited the school last week and wanted to see more of the thought behind the practice I had witnessed and read about in their ‘Tiger Teacher’ book. I don’t want to write at length about my visit and the school here. I had left the school both enthused and troubled and spent much of the next few days considering what I had seen – essence I was hugely impressed but concerned that many of the structures of the school could only be successful in the context of a school such as this, founded with only a Year 7 cohort in which to establish the regime and from which to develop it.  The staff are highly motivated  and whilst their book offended many by its ‘no compromise’ tone, the fact that a staff body have collaborated to write an influential work of paedagogy is remarkable and they should be congratulated for this sense of collegiality and common purpose. My concern is that SLT elsewhere, in search of a quick fix, will try to cherry pick ideas and impose them unwisely into a totally different environment. Micaela works because it is Micaela.  Micaela-lite would be a disaster.
So, Show sentences, the Micaela Way.
Katie Ashford
This focused on the need to actively plan for strategies to improve writing in student essays and longer work.
Katie cited capitals, spellings, syntax, agreements, conjugations, and use of fullstops as hindrances to showing content knowledge.
She  demonstrated the typical errors: if dictating (often a Micaela lesson content) errors abound, often due to low working memory and panic which derives from being left behind. She also commented that bottom sets show a huge range of ability and writing issues.
This, she suggests, the need to plan actively for range of common errors is clear.  We should not allow these errors to become embedded
we can give a tighter structure to the task of writing.
Grammar, she says, needs to be taught and not guessed, but activities cannot be pointless so that grammar can be fun. At Micaela, all English teachers
teach syntactical rules, part of speech and grammatical rules.  Micaela gives 20% of  time in y7&8  to grammar. Without grammar, students will find analytical writing too hard.
All at Micaela use the show sentence, rather than PEE. Ashford was scathing of PEE and therefore presumably of PQE, PEARL and all the other derivations. For her a good paragrpah moves from: X combines (or another useful verb) technical descriptors….embed a quotation… which shows…  Also, students are using a range of synonyms for technical lexis. This can be drilled each day, something which I saw in my visit when students were warming up by finding for a range of subject specific lexis to use in essays.  This sounds simple and clear and the examples given from student work (low sets) were almost all excellently crafted mini paragraphs. However, I did not feel that they were analysis – it seemed to me that these were assertions, written with skill and presented in such a way that they were convincing and suggested good subject knowledge, but with no indication that the students really understood how the effect was generated. There was no engagement in detail with the text and no attempt to develop the thesis by engaging in close analysis. Currently Micaela works with students up to Year 9. With GCSE looming I expect this will be tweaked further in order to engage with the detailed subject understanding required for top grades. Micaela is a thinking school and re-assesses its policies regularly. I feel this one is work-in-progress. What is clear is that the confidence of the students in writing well-crafted and mature paragraphs will make the development of closer critical responses eminently possible. I will watch this space with interest.
I moved then to Session 3: The classroom as rehearsal room. Jacquie O’Hanlon from the RSC.
For most in the room, first encounters with Shakespeare are usually at school. A feeling of engagement or disengagement starts from this point.
O’Hanlon asked us to consider what happens when rehearsal room paedagogy becomes classromm practice.  Shakespeare is seen as daunting for students and teachers alike. For this she shared aspects of RSC education department paedagogy.
Since actors on day 1 have the same fears as students on day 1, maybe a key is the rehearsal room environment which creates the right environment for study.  Language must be engaged with and spoken aloud, movement is to be encouraged. Try: whispers, movement types all of which develop a shared purpose in the classroom/rehearsal room. She also explored the idea of restraints as a means to deepening understanding of a scene -refusing actors in certain roles movement is a means to exploring strength of character or power shifts. Now all this was familiar territory for me – as  a professional opera singer for many years, I am used to using these techniques in the rehearsal room when exploring character. I, like many, am wary of bringing them into the classroom, partly because of the time taken to working this way, and also because of the sense that we are not necessarily confident in our own ability to lead such activities. I also recall the numerous little techniques I might use at times to subvert such activities… what might year 10 come up with?
She is clear that learning through collaboration leads to deeper engagement.  She offered evidence that Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development requires students to be on the edge of their capabilities and supported by the teacher. Thus, she says, if stretched in this way, group and teacher can develop the ideas through discussion and further work.
I enjoyed the session and will look into making more use of this, possibly in revision, once the text is well-known.  I am not sure that i want to dive into such overt group work or drama lesson paedagogy with a group of students who are not yet familiar with the text and who stumble on each and every polysyllabic word.
It was a useful juxtaposition to follow this session with Jo Facer on what to do less of in the classroom.
Jo Facer is Head of English at Micaela. Her session got to the heart of a school in which teachers do not mark books and in which paired work, group work are anathema and there are no carousels,  no work sheets, no video clips… no powerpoints… (the last a reference to a blog post of hers in which she outlined her dislike of the medium to outrage in the Twittersphere). In Q&A she was clear – no group work means no standing around chatting – the group is the classroom as a whole and discussion between teacher and class is what she sees as acceptable group work. I tend to agree.
Where she and O’Hanlon would diverge is that for Facer, lessons are sedentary and based on close study of the text with annotation (often modelled on the visualiser -woop!) the focus of reading Shakespeare in class. She advocates a reduction in activities and a rem,oval of activities designed for ‘fun’. I agree and this sense of the potentially condescending approach of many activities in the classroom would emerge again later in the day. What I am not sure about is whether removing movement and speaking of Shakespeare is not reducing the engagement with what is a play, not a passage of writing to be viewed in isolation.
She gave an entertaining story of the over marking inherent in most school marking policies before suggesting that we try whole-class feedback in class as opposed to individual marking. She makes quick notes re common errors and merit/demerit notes and then prepares to reteach the common errors to ensure all is understood and re-embedded. Micaela makes use of Knowledge Organisers to reduce homework and prepare for weekly tests.
Behaviour is at the heart of the school. She says all is futile unless behaviour is good –  I agree. This needs clear sorting out – low level disruption issues.  What I would say is this was presented as very ‘at Micaela’ whereas this seems to me to be something which should be part of education in any environment and is extremely well handled in many schools of which I know, with a possibly lighter touch than Micaela currently presents. What is true is that Micaela children are impeccable – silent in class unless addressed and moving round the school in a silent human train as they move briskly between lessons – no time is wasted and all time is used for education.
Q&A raised  issues of differentiation. She advocated consistent deployment of strong teaching for weakest children. Lower ability sets are given extra time – 1 hour a week so that all students complete the same tasks, but some can take longer.
Jo Facer is a great communicator and would be a wonderful teacher in any environment at all.  It is a pleasure to listen to her. The fact that i have areas of disagreement is stimulating for me – I would hate it if I were not challenged to consider my best approach. Like many teachers, I am a magpie and I have much food for thought here. Micaela has challenged much that we take for granted and I will not write it off because it is not convenient to be made to challenge our preconceptions.  It is, therefore, research in practice – in two years they will have their first results form a GCSE cohort which will give many a chance to rate them alongside other schools. I wish them luck. There are as many ways to teahc as there are teachers.  There is no single path which all must follow.
In session 5 –proper acting for proper teachers, Martin Robinson led a highly engaging and storng review of some of the issues around Drama and English teachning of Drama in schools. For him the is no need for classroom gimmicks… it’s about acting.  Again we heard that ‘constraints are the root of creativity’. He presented evidence in the form of  Rules for constraints from repertory theatre and stressed that we need to know the rules before we can break them…  (how true of poetry writing as well).
  1. establishing gestures- such as the Olivier Richard III allowed for a brilliant pastiche of Olivier’s hunchback, and made the point that without even uttering a word, a character had been presented.  He linked this to Anthony Sher’s depiction of the same character. The interactive session included a wish that all directors in schools would  stop ‘top of the head’ acting. Audience need to see faces – angst is not best shown when the best seats in the house wouod need ot be in the actor’s shoes!
  2. significant gestures – Using Dad’s Army as a medium for teaching this, he gave links links to Walker, Fraser, Mainwairing et al, and established their roots beyond rep and into Commedia Del Arte.
  3. use the one to nine – as demonstrated in the table below.
  4. think frying pan heads. As seen from above, imagining a round head with big nose- up-powering can be attained by following numbers on stage and frying pan heads… 9,7,2,1, is a clear path to power.
  5. where you come from and where you go to… Here was another chance for some Richard III as Robinson demonstrated the entrance from  a large ot a small space and so on.
8 usr the good character entrance
7 usc
9 usl the devil’s side….
5 sr
2 main area sc
6 sl
3 dsr
1 king dies: avoid dsc
4 dsl
R hero entrance
L devil’s entrance
row of power
death of Kings
  1. Effective entrance effect: window or door?  surprise or expectation? Robinson demonstrated that all entrances must change the atmosphere in a room – there will be a reaction of some sort from all whether of higher or lower status.
  2. Beat: the moment of pause which alters something in the room/scene.  This brief slot has inspired me to plan specifically for Jerusalem (Butterworth) in which the playwrite regularly uses the idea of a ‘beat’ as a punctuation or gear-shift in a scene.
  3. physical endowment tricks: clumsy? imagine fingers made of bananas. Shy? imagine a miners’ lamp on the head opposite. Again, what fun we could have with Lear 1.1 using this idea.
  4. Character development by choices. How many choices? – more choices, more depth… and which do the character actually reject and why. It is important to show the choice in the acting. Again, I see links to my teaching of Shakespeare and the study of ‘ideas’ in a soliloquy is an indicator of the relative stability of a character.  Plenty to work on.
  5. Inter personal, intra personal, extra personal plotting and the use of actioning: explaining what the character wants to do with the person they are acting with.Verbs of action such as ‘mocks, cajoles, taunts’ can hugley increase awareness of character development.


This was a great session in which Robinson – author of Trivium21C, one of the most influential books on teaching I have ever read – exuded passion and enjoyment for his subject.  For me it was also a reminder of the singing days – no sugar paper, but ‘proper acting’. I recall a one hour session on how to use a walking stick to establish character on stage. I was so happy to be translated back 20 years and also to be gaining so much material to store up an use in my current role.
Session 6: David Didau: importance of reading fluency.
 One statement caught me at once: reading is taught in primary schools – secondary teachers not necessarily fluent in teaching the ‘how to’ element in reading. David stressed the lack of common agreement about where education research is actually heading before. stressing a key rule:
poor reading skills are not an indicator of poor intelligence. Reading difficulty is an inability to fluently decode. There are a number a number of potential reasons according to  learning and research:
  • glue ear – medical and often undiagnosed. Students can hear but might not easily differentiate the nuances of language. The NHS estimates that 8/10 children may have suffered with this at some point between the ages of 4-10
  • Visual problems – undiagnosed problems in sight are numerous in primary schools as children grow up.
  • English Orthography  – much better recognition and accuracy of word reading in y1 in early years. Research suggests that at 9 years’ old, French children  are worse than Spanish at accurate recognition of the orthography of their language and English children trail far behind – English does not sound as read and spelling is hugely inconsistent… it’s difficult.
  • Memory: Didau used Willingham and others to establish the, hopefully, widely understood concepts of the working ad the sort term memory. Since fluency relies on automatisation of knowledge of English Orthography- no longer conscious of knowledge. Skilled readers store a range of concepts such as inferences and clarification in their long term memory – if the process is very slow and not then fully discussed , ideas may be retained only in short term memory. Then comprehension is much harder to achieve. His powerppoint featured an amusing and worrying demonstration of the issues around slow decoding using a passage from Pride and Prejudice and some very simple and almost unanswerable comprehension questions.  I teach in a school in which slow decoding seems to be an issue. This is one to pick up for department research.  David will be publishing his presentation on his blog – I will be re-reading ASAP.
Session 7 considered the Research Informed Teacher: Carl Hendrick…
Head of learning and research at Wellington College.
This was the graveyard shift and it brought much together from the whole day. He raised issues around research : teachers are too often researched rather than researchers. often we are given reponses to unasked questions and these answers are then imposed as policy – learning styles or triple marking were both cited in this area.
There is, he suggests, too big a gap between research and practice. Often research is watered down by the time it gets to schools. Dweck’s growth mindset and Dylan William’s  Assessment for Learning are obvious examples of this. Daisy Christodoulou has recently engaged with A4L in her book  ‘Making Good Progress’. I will not sully her work with paraphrase.
Much research is prey to McNamara fallacy which measures what is easy to measure and ignores all else. This tends to highlight the lack of collective agreement about the direction of education research.
He gave some personal examples of research which has impacted his recent work:
  • The working memory is not large: it holds around 6 pieces of information and is easily overloaded.
  • Dylan William suggests that cognitive load theory (Swelling) is the most important feature of teaching in last few years. This refers to the effort needed to complete a task. Too much or too little renders the task too difficult. An awareness of short term memory and use of chunking is required in the classroom. He stressed an idea: ‘understanding is remembering something in disguise’ (Willingham).
  •  He used a poem, Nettles by Vernon Scannell as example here and I will be stealing it for use elsewhere in my IGCSE teaching – little gems cropped up everywhere during the day.
  • Cognitive load can be reduced by increasing knowledge and awareness and also by scaffolding material such as exemplar essays which are then fully discussed – a great example by @heymrshallahan appeared. She was in the room. Woop!


  • Students remember what they think about. We need to engage thought processes
  • Get back to teaching: challenge and take students to a new world rather than playing to your perception of their current interests. This was a cry against spurious ‘relevance’ and patronising of students. Put away the sugar paper, drop the ‘what would Romeo’s tweets look like?’ and do not be afraid to teach!
  • Stop privileging the extrovert. This rang a bell – too often the introvert can go missing.  We value the outspoken and reward overt participation It’s time to be more aware of the silent and the thinkers – the ones who might loathe the idea of shared actiivites and be happy when reading quietly.
  • Students need metacognitive awareness of how to study.He presented the highlighting and re-reading myth as debunked by Alex Quigley and others.
  • And finally: Direct instruction should not be shunned – relevant contextual knowledge must be in place for any sensible learning to follow. 2 students asked to discuss a concept of which they have no prior understanding or points of reference are doomed to fail to develop anything other than by guesswork. How true.
Then it was all over, apart from refreshment and a chance to meet many twitter colleagues in the flesh. I was able to meet several of the @team_english group and what wonderful company they are. This is the latest twitter group of which I am a member – it is invaluable support and a place to share ideas. Not only them, but several people came up to comment about this blog – thank you.  It started as a hobby and has grown. The fact that people find it useful is heartwarming.  We all do the same job, just in different locations and different contexts.
As a result of Saturday 1st April 2017, my friends are not tweachers, they are real people.
LINKS to posts discussed in this article:
My top books: current thoughts – these I return to on a regular basis.

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Enrichment: American Literature Day

Recently we hosted an American Literature Day for students from our school and a local school. We had around 50 Year 11s engrossed for a whole day in a range of activities designed to wet their appetites for A level study of English Literature and /or History.

Here is our collection of materials, from me, Maria Trafford (who organised the whole thing, Bethan Davies and Jonathan Pepperman.  A group of our current Lower 6th boys presented in the afternoon and covered a broad spectrum from the influences of Jazz on literature to exploration of the American Dream.

the american dream presentation (1)

usa lit extracts

chopin intertextuality


Hardship and the American Dream

Jazz2 (1)

Prohibition and Alcohol in literature


It was an exciting day for all concerned: as teachers we rarely get the chance ot talk about our passions with no ulterior motive attached.

One of the delegates, from Burnham Grammar wrote this appreciation of the day:

…It’s not the first thing you think of when someone says English literature is it? Well it wasn’t until I found myself in the pristine rooms of John Lyon listening to American History explained through major literature. Of course, the John Lyon teachers took us brilliantly though the American Constitution, but did you know that all through the Civil war and the American divide, authors were taking inspiration from real life to portray society and the American Dream?

To most, the dream that you can build yourself up from nothing, if you’re willing to work hard, is an appealing idea. This idea is the basis behind the American dream and it promotes freedom, ambition and equality, so why wouldn’t it work? Well, look into the classic works of American Literature and you can find symbolism of hardships, struggle, collapse of a dream, and the idea of hope, and where it will always get you. Take The Great Gatsby for example, a novel that not only presents these themes but also mirrors the change in American culture and attitudes through the ‘Roaring Twenties’.

Delve deeper into works of famous American authors and you find allegories depicting the role of women; the effect of prohibition; losing hope and even works that, when interpreted in different ways, hold parallels to key events in American History…and it’s all easier to understand than Shakespeare!

To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, The Awakening, Of Mice and Men, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Invisible Man and so many more. There are so many classic works of literature that not only tell captivating and shocking stories, but also give insight into what state America was in at the time. Yes, you can use geology to find out the history of a place, but you can also discover the divide in opinion, the prospects for the future, and the struggle of the people of that time through literature. These works can give insight into consequences in the future, help see why history shaped out as it did…and give you a really interesting A Level essay to write which is, let’s be honest, a big positive when you have to write lots of essays.

At John Lyon, I learnt masses about the impact and inspiration of American literature. I found the experience very educational, shown as I knew little of what I have written above before attending the event. I found myself immersed in the story of a place outside where I live, saw WWI from another perspective. No more Henry VIII, no more king and queens. I was given a new story to read, a story with adventure and mystery, but most importantly, I was taught about a story that shows a place most unlike the one I thought I knew.

I was presented with a story at John Lyon and there’s nothing like curiosity to entice you into a new book. And I can say right now that I want to read it.

Written by Ananya Year 11 BGS.  What a great piece of writing.

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Filed under OCR A level, Uncategorized

Draft plan for through teaching at A level

This is my draft plan for teaching of A level English Literature for OCR, beginning in September 2017.  I would really appreciate any feedback and/or suggestions for improvement,

A level through teaching outline

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Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

We are not teaching them to pass exams…

A recent post in the Guardian Secret Teacher  column focused on a school in which plagiarism was given tacet permission to take place as part of the essay writing process. 

I am not surprised by this. I have taught many students over the years who view plagiarism as a fully acceptable approach to essay writing. What is possibly worse is that that do so knowing that if the matter is raised with their parents, the response will be supportive of their position- the argument being that anything is legitimate in the thirst for high marks, as long as one is not caught.

Most  schools have a plagiarism policy which will get tough- eventually. Obviously with so much riding on assessment of outcome rather than process, nowhere is going to act as strongly as some might wish for a first offence.

My feeling is that not to act is to fail as an educator. I do not believe that I am teaching children to pass A levels as a finite action. Surely we teach to pass students to the next level. Primaries are preparing children for secondary study, not for KS2SATS; KS4 is about preparing for A Levels and KS5 is about preparing for further education. To give any suggestion that a lack of academic honesty is acceptable is to fail to provide a good education.

In the internet world, students routinely cut and paste notes, homework and essay content in many schools. Some “educators” suggest that google can and should replace knowledge. In essence this encourages the actions of such short-term practices as replacing research with plagiarism, and replacing hard work with under-considered internet browsing. 

In short, to turn a blind eye to plagiarism is to condone cheating and to condone cheating is to fatally undermine the whole point of education.

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Stop Press: Season of Goodwill cancelled!

I have not known a time like this – on Twitter.
Students – this is one of my rare posts about education and the industry in which I am proud to work. It has no relevance your exams or your studies – by all means read it, but this one is really for your teachers…

Has there ever been a more divisive time to be a Tweacher? When I joined Twitter in 2011 it really did seem to be a place where teachers shared resources and ideas, offered advice and consolation and tried not to indulge (too much) in ad hominem attack and tried not to use the facility as a platform to impose their views on all comers, resorting swiftly to abuse and blocking if their ideas were not shared by 100% of the community. Now a more binary approach to discussion is the norm, it seems.

There is now a new element in this so called debate which upsets me greatly: the continued abuse and opprobrium heaped on the Micaela Community College by detractors, many of whom have never set foot in the place and are in no way threatened by its existence. Yesterday, there was worse: MCS has an open door policy to let teachers and other professionals visit and experience something of their ethos. In a post by @jofacer, Head of English, we learned yesterday that the bahaviour by adults who sought entry to the school was in many cases despicable – finally leading to the school closing its doors to visits following a safeguarding concern as visitors sought to take their hatred of what they perceive as a hateful school out on the very people benefitting from its existence – its pupils. Years 7&8. Small children who are proud to discuss their school with visitors. Here is Jo’s post

Despicable behaviour.

On Twitter today, some on my timeline are blaming the school for allowing visitors in the first place.


All schools should welcome visitors as long as the daily routine is not affected. We should have a pride in our school and be happy to share it with other teachers for discussion and development of ideas.

Love it or loathe it, @MCSBrent has stirred up educational debate like no other school. On Twitter recently Debra Kidd shared a lengthy review of the school based on its recent book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-teachers-a-review-part-1/ and https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-teachers-part-2/  Now, I do not know Debra, but I read her material and she does not strike me as a shoe in for lead apologist for Micaela and its way of doing things. These reviews are well balanced and do not shy from praise where due and considered criticism of the elements of the school which she finds disturbing. She was due to visit in the near future – a pity we shall not read her response to visiting in the flesh.

I was amused by one exchange in her comments section when reading the review – a teacher saying that someone should do an in depth study of the school and its practices – Debra’s terse response, that the 11000 words she had just written might be such a thing, made me chuckle.

For those opposed to the ideas which Micaela proposes there seems to be only one tolerable response to their existence – a veritable walk of shame down Wembley High Road being pelted with “right-thinking” texts. It obviously is not enough to castigate the staff “extreme right wing” attitudes any more.

And here’s the thing. We are teachers. We all do the same job. We all have stresses, disappointments and moments of utter joy in our own schools and in our own ways. I have never visited a school without leaving with something tucked away in my mind (not stolen, as suggested by Jo) which might be adapted to fit into my learning environment. And yes, probably with at least one “that would never work here!” moment.

I would like to read “Tiger Teachers II, the KS4 years” when it emerges. I wonder if the highly evangelical tone of some of the writers may mellow with time and I am interested to see how the school responds to growth and to raging hormones. I share Debra’s concerns about the tone of explanation of the Zero Excuse policy among other areas – even judges can take mitigating circumstances into consideration – but I fail to see how a school whose aim is to instil self discipline and self respect can be failing its pupils as some suggest. I live about 10 miles form the school. My local news is not riven with stories of complaint or rebellion – maybe it is true that the pupils and parents lucky enough to be placed into the school really are pleased to be there. I see regular complaints about schools in which behaviour policies barely exist and in which the disruptive element and their families can begin to set the tone and agenda of the school. Here is a school daring to act against the status quo and I applaud it. Maybe it is not all “right” yet – It’s only had 2 years and is growing. Many schools do the same in their own, individual ways. Micaela does not have a monopoly on being right. But it seems that many of those voicing criticism feel that they do.

Much of the ideas form the academic side of the school seem to be excellent – the lack of marking, the revision homework, the focus on knowledge rather than “fun” and the whole team ethos strike me as excellent – I would have loved to see them in operation, but had only begun to discuss a visit with Jo last week!

Micaela has raised hackles by its attempts to break the mould, and I see the strap line “Secondary School – Private School Ethos” is unnecessarily antagonistic. Incidently, I teach in a Private School. We seem to be limp liberals in contrast to the MCS way in some areas… drop it. You do not need to use this line – you are achieving enough in your own right.

So, how about this: If you teach in Wembley and your school is in some way suffering as a result of Micaela, make your case and enter into adult debate. If you don’t and your opinion is based on assumption and dogma, then back off. This is a school, maybe not like your school or my school, but a school. A community of vulnerable young souls who do not deserve the scorn they receive. A community of dedicated teaching professionals (and yes, an Unqualified teacher is a teaching professional) who are giving their all for the benefit of their students – just as we all do.

The behaviour of a minority of our colleagues has evidently been quite appalling on a professional and a personal level. Let’s stop it here.

Have a Good Christmas.

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I’m rubbish at English – another ‘single story’.

I had a small epiphany yesterday during the Year 10 Parents’ evening. No one saw and I kept it under wraps….

My Year 10s have been reading Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story in the Edexcel IGCSE anthology. In the article, derived from a TED talk, Adichie explores the barriers we erect by over-reliance on a ‘single story’, especially around race.
I have been talking to my boys about not believing their single story – the one which says – I am rubbish at English. To me this attitude simply creates an expectation of failure and denies the chance of improvement, yet we hear it a lot in schools. This year I have managed to remove the numbers from my sets in Year 10 but a “low” set will always be identified by the members of the set and especially by their peers, in search of a quick bout of one-upmanship.

So here’s the epiphany which emerged as I talked…

Picture a teenage boy who is a good cricketer. He always gets out playing a certain shot – say a late cut to an off-spinner. All else works well and some of his stroke play is magnificent…

Does he say “I’m rubbish at cricket”? Does he stop trying because he sees no hope? Obviously not. He goes into the nets and works to improve that strand of his game.

So my boys, who are finding analysis of Macbeth and the concept of Equivocation hard, what do they say?
“I’m rubbish at English”

Time to change: Maybe “I need to work on finding really useful quotations to use as evidence” or “I need to work on structuring an essay because I am finding too much material and am not sure how to organise the ideas”… anything but “I’m rubbish at English”… They talk English, they write English, they think English, they use it in a wide range of subjects and situations all day every day – they re not rubbish.

Time to throw the ‘single story’ out of the window. They are good at English – they have not yet mastered certain elements of the subject techniques – yet!

Let’s not reinforce this negative stereotyping. Let’s challenge this negativity when we find it in students, colleagues and parents.

We can all improve in a range of areas – let’s admit this to our students and help them to move on with their heads held high.

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OCR: marked elements AS Inset day

This was delivered by Simon Dickens on behalf of OCR

The focus was on scripts and application of mark schemes. Simon plugged examining as a route to better understanding – the 16 teachers present were suitably impressed!

Most importantly, materials will be sent on a usb in due course- this will include marked papers and rubric. I will post the material here when it arrives.


NB different length of exams. The extra time is due to the use of the extract… Students need to be encouraged to use the whole 15 to read and annotate the extract prior to engaging with the paper. This makes Component 2 1 hr 45. Students must be encouraged to view this as annotation and thinking time since the response to this element requires using the passage as a springboard whilst developing the response from the set text. This sounds complicated, but makes sense. It is easier to maintain a structure and a focus when writing if a few ideas have been gleaned from the passage rather than responding from the se text and trying to shoe-horn the passage in as an after-thought.

The most common texts being taught in the room were: Streetcar, History Boys, Rossetti, Bloody Chamber. This is interesting but not an issue other than when a warning is clear to take care when using the less well known texts. There is a need to ensure that students know how to best use the supplementary texts and material, especially since the examiners, however well-intentioned, are unlikely to be deeply engaged in the unusual texts which they may not have encountered for some time. This led to a discussion during the day about OCR’s published resources with delegates commenting that it was perhaps surprising that OCR had published support and teaching guides for the well known texts before the less common. In my case, I have wondered for a long time when or if material for Jerusalem will be available. I am writing much myself and have shared and received resources on Twitter, but the lack of any direction as to what areas of focus might be unnecessary or vital is a shame. Colleagues working on the Immigrant experience materials felt even more unsupported. I have been told material is in the pipe-line for a long time. I was pleased to see several centres offering Hamlet, despite its length and obvious complexity and also to work on some Chaucer papers with colleagues in the room.

Mark Scheme:
H072 beginning with poetry and drama
We began with a check of the annotation and marginalia:

+ sign suggests quality in relation to the observed AO
There is no sign to indicate error. Thus the ? Is not used to indicate weakness. The comments at the end will indicate competent, and, weak etc.
The ? Will indicate error but is not punished as such…

All marginalia aimed at rewarding what is seen in the paper. Never for taking marks off.

Simon warned about the full range of marks suggests that 30/30 can be awarded… Be aware therefore that there will be a range of quality at this level… Implies a 40/30 idea.

In terms of the AOs for this paper:
AO1 well written and logical
AO2 As before- detail in analysis
AO3 double context designed to help students to engage with a nuanced perspective of context. NB all context must be relevant to the text in question. Avoid generalisation…
NB in a heavy AO3 weighting, this does not mean that the majority of the context has to be contextual. This is to do with the clarity and perspicacity of the writing. We should also be aware that context does not have to be historical, socio-economic and so on ad can be found from the context of writing. Thus in one example, reference to Streetcar being a tragedy and Blanche nbeing seen as melodramatic was taken to imply contextual understanding of the text.
AO5 critics, not necessarily named, and relevant. Ideally discuss own view of the critical view. It is also worth being aware that alternative views can be relevant if generated by characters within the text.

For marking. Place essay into a band by the AO1 rating in the wider descriptors before fining down for accuracy. Thus an holistic reading of an essay as Excellent, Goo, Competent and so on will place the essay in a band.

The broad band criteria:

Once this has happened, adjust the marks within the band. Use the dominant AO to decide whether to move up or down. Do not move the essay out of the band that has been chosen. Thus a “good” essay holistically based on AO1 will remain in Band 5. Borderline marks is always the bottom of the higher band.
Only reduce marks for instances of rubric infringement.

– are significant and in essence tie in with AO1. Vital to engage with the critique, rather than simply citing i

Looking at the grade boundaries for this element: A: 52, B:46, C: 41, D: 35, E 29, U: 0, ungraded counts up to 14/30. This seems silly to me, especially in the light of needing to use the whole range of marks. Thus U grades begin at the top of the “some knowledge” band – Band 3 of the 6. Also, A grades come in the middle of the excellent band. A B grade is mid “excellent”. My marking was harsh for the ASND passage was very harsh due to failure to recognise that the bottom 14 marks result in an Ungraded essay. This has huge implications for marking in the classroom, where we often mark harshly and then point out how to improve. I have to say that tithes strikes me as odd. If there is so much at the bottom of the heap which risks Ungraded, this causes a curious phenomenon in which the lowest mark in a single question in the 70 scripts presented for our discussion was 18.
OCR have also told their examiners to check their marking for error if they fond a pair of essays which are more than 4 marks apart. The suggestion is that the 2 questions in each paper will be written to the same quality (presumably because of the placing in a band by AO1) unless there have been obvious time issues. I am not sure whether a situation in which the two questions have been prepared by different teachers really does guarantee this. Still it is good that checks are in place.

Thus, his advice is to begin the award of marks around 12 for most essays. Below this is very weak. Note that “good” covers c grades. The OCR message is to mark as an automaton and not to get caught up in subjective consideration of what we expect to read.


– Of 80 available scripts, the lowest mark available today was 18. This is what OCR EXPECT. Note all are marked on screen: the asterisk to the end is no longer a simple turn of a page but is a scroll down for many pages on screen. This, and issues like handwriting are not assessed in the schemes but will impact he marks given.
– The modern Prose question with unseen passage requires focusing on AO4, but this must not dominate the essay. The question is on the set text. The passage is secondary. Generally use the extract as a springboard. 2 sentences on the passage and then 10 or so on the set text is the recommendation.
– As ever students need to ensure that they focus on the question. At AS, the links will be thematic and will not be tied to the same time period or even the same genre, so for example, the Gatsby extract could be from Evelyn Waugh. This is because there is not the same expectation for wider reading as needs to be evident for the A level exam. At A level it is vital to have read as much as possible because the unseen will be from the genre and the period.
– In a 30/30 paper which was discussed, the context is clear and engaged with the focus on masculinity which is highlighted in the question. “A fresh and perceptive view of masculine power”. It s excellent, it is not perfect… Why should we take a mark off simply because we are afraid of full marks? All marking should be positive. There will be weaker 30s…
– (Note to self: alternative interpretations can be derived from characters… Compare the view of Johhny held by Ginger and Davey or Lee…)
– In the drama questions a perceptive of audience is useful and is to be encouraged. Similarly look at the differences between the film and the original version of History Boys… Treatment of homosexuality might be particularly important here. With Hamlet you might seek readily alteration in some film versions…

AO2- no hierarchy between form, structure and language, language alone is good but the other elements are needed to enter the top levels.

AO5: can include own interpretations, critics, characters, context of creation/reception, rewritings. All writing must be based on an exploration of the question. Keep repeating the key elements from the question. Do not get hung up on “I think” and focus on the debate.

All AOs: the dominant AO should not dominate the essay per se.

Chaucer/poetry: root response in the passage but expand. Around 70% of the response should be based on the extract. Wider reading is ammunition, they should not try to use it all in every answer!

We did not discuss the Component 1 paper in any depth, so I have little to add about Shakespeare and pre-1900 poetry beyond the comment above about the passage in the poetry question.

I enjoyed the day, and days like this always offer some hitherto unknown points of interest. That said, I find the placing of an essay into a band by AO1 rather confusing and also feel that the weight of marks available for a U is simply confusing. For me logic suggests that ta C grade essay will be around half way up the table. Its clear there that an essay which our gut might give around 15/30 will be a U or, at best, an E. I find this counter intuitive since I do not really consider grades when I am marking. I did not seem to be in a minority around my table, and this does take some getting used to. In short, A grade papers require 2 essays both scoring 26/30 as a minimum. That seems hard. Harder, I feel is that a C requires 2 essays scoring around 21 – how many of us imagine the bottom of Band 5 as a C grade minimum?

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“O sweet and lovely wall…”

Year 11 created a spectacular learning wall for open day with ideas building for MAAN and TKAM…  It will not be available in the classroom indefinitely, so here are the key elements in PDF…





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Whither the 20th Century?

A silly title maybe?  I would welcome some feedback to this post because it puzzles me that the 20th Century is being sidestepped in the GCSE/IGCSE reading lists for English Literature.

When I was at school in the 1970s it seemed to be obvious that one read 19th century writers – after all Hardy had only died 50 years before my O levels and the works of Wilde or Stoker seemed if not modern, then tangible – being written within the previous 100 years.  Alongside these writers (and Dickens and Austen and Eliot..) we read authors from the 20th century -authors who seem to have been removed from the awareness of today’s students:  DH Lawrence, Osborne, Stoppard, O’Casey, Waterhouse, Orwell (other than 1984 and Animal Farm, Rattigan…

The current student seems to be working in a world where the 20th century simply does not really exist:  Modern Literature increasingly means “post 2000” – and so it should.  The insistence on 19th Century classics in the current curriculum is prohibitive.  What has happened is that boards have stayed as close as practical to their previous teaching lists and the chance to bring on a generation of students with an awareness of writing from the Edwardian era or of the 60s – that decade of repressed conservatism and an explosion of psychedelic freedom has been lost.

I would love to teach all literature of all periods – it is not practical, bu ta list of writers denied to the current crop of 15/16 year olds is so saddening:  to the list above we might add: Forster, Isherwood, Murdoch, Woolf, Powell, Banks, McInnes, Braine and so on and so on.

We can’t have everything, but i would be fascinated to hear whether anyone has managed to shoehorn modules from the 60s or the 30s into their teaching.  It saddens me that so much recent work has been sidelined as we focus back on writing (much of it wonderful) from almost two centuries before the current students were born, yet ignore the literary landscape of their parents and grandparents.

My chosen text list:

Post war/Cold War:

Le Carre: A Small town in Germany or Tinker Tailor

Braine: Room at the Top

Waterhouse: Billy Liar

Powell: Books do furnish a room

McInnes: Absolute beginners

Murdoch: The Sea, The Sea

Edwardian/Inter War:

Orwell: The Road to Wigan Pier

Ishewrwood: Berlin Novels

Forster: Howard’s End

Lawrence: The Rainbow or the short story collection

Woolf: To the lighthouse

Not enough women here, and not enough diversity either – the new OCR course: “The immigrant experience” could easily by brought down into this year group.  This is what i had time for before Period 1… please join in.




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