Tag Archives: paedagogy

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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On working abroad:

This link is to a short article on Staffroom (staffrm.io), a brilliant platform to share ideas.


A 500 word limit means it is short, but if anyone is looking at this blog and contemplating the jump to overseas teaching, you might enjoy it.

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Year 10 Table essay plan

Year 10 were planning a response to the statement “In terms of character development is one of the most important scenes in MAAN.”

This is the result, for them to download.

new doc 2 (2)

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Teacher Experts and Cynics, my response.

My thoughts on my role as a middle leader can be found here. This is a response to Alex Quigley’s posthttp://www.huntingenglish.com/2013/09/21/teacher-expert-cynic/


Here are some pictures to whet your appetite:

leader pics

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