Archive for May, 2013

Okay, I know that scientifically this is utterly meaningless and a very limited snapshot of students’ lives on a certain day with an infinitesimally small sample. However, in supporting the Mass Observation Project on 13th May, I did ask my classes to record a diary of what they did on that day.

The results – presented as a word cloud – look like this:

Mass Observation

Not a terribly surprising set of words: the lexical field of education was predictably prominent with words like school, lesson, bell and subjects specific words such as Science and Maths. Time is an interestingly prominent word here as is talking and the prominence of mum over dad. On a small point, the prevalence of sat is also telling: students’ sedentary experience of education…



I wonder whether the fact that GCSE Prose From Other Cultures exam is on tomorrow accounts for the following spike in views of the blog in which I present my thoughts on Tsotsi…


Looking at the search terms linking the Internet to my blog, I think quite possibly that is the case!


Bless them!

And if anyone else wants to view it, the blog is here and the Tsotsi posts are here.

I wonder if any of those were my own students….

Good luck to you all tomorrow morning, but for now, for the sake of all that is sacred, get some sleep!

This is it.

By now some of my Year 11s will have secured their first English GCSE grade.

It really is all out of my hands now.

And rarely if ever have I seen so many happy faces leave the exam room. Now I wonder whether “happy” is quite the right word. Content? Satisfied? Some were downright smug! The phrase

“I enjoyed that one!”

was heard. So yes, maybe, “happyis the right word.

We’re talking of the iGCSE First Language English course, of course. Half our cohort were taking it alongside OCR GCSE. Our entry into the iGCSE route – or our leap for the iGCSE bandwagon, depending on how healthily high your cynicism levels are – has had a troubled gestation. Senior Leadership were looking to use it to maximise C grades; I was perhaps more interested in maximising A-A* grades and moving progress on from three to four levels; we have a high English to Language and Literature ratio which further complicates matters; our Speaking and Listening needed “juggling” to ensure compatibility with both OCR and CIE.

But we did it.

And I prepared them for it as best I could.

In fact the most gratifying response I heard from several students was that the revision classes I ran were really helpful and they knew exactly how to approach every question. I also took the opportunity of the captive audience to soliloquise about my approach to exams in general: they’re an opportunity to have fun, show off, and enjoy yourselves with language. And as they are dual entered, they could take the risks on the iGCSE that they may not want to take on the OCR course.

One student may have taken my advice at that point to heart. He sought me out yesterday to tell me how he had answered the question asking him to describe a place that was both old and powerful.

Which he took as an invitation to describe his own imagination.


The right examiner in the right mood on the right day could really enjoy reading that!

Of course, Paper 3 on Friday did have two potentially problematic circumstances:

• one, we had our Leavers’ Service on that morning which reduced half the cohort to blubbing emotional wrecks, consuming tissues and snivelling onto their ties. And the girls cried a bit too!

• two, it clashed with Spanish so as the end-of-school bell went for everyone else, about 35 of our lovelies faced a second two-hour exam!

We did what we could to make it as little irksome as possible: I and our exams officer – who has my huge thanks – spent Thursday night baking lemon cupcakes, chocolate butterfly cakes and fairy cakes to keep their energy levels up in the break between exams and to make them feel cared for. Considering the circumstances the following phrase may be the most memorable:

Best exam ever!


Just a thought, but if anyone was looking for a socially aware, cross curricular, literacy focused lesson, 12th May is Mass Observation Day, repeating the Mass Observation Day on 12th May 1937, the day of George VI’s coronation.

A nice lesson may start with an explanation of Mass Observation, an opportunity to write diaries for the day and perhaps an imaginative piece of writing exploring how life may have changed between 1937 and 2013?

To formally submit them to the project is possible – the link is here which also gives more explanation of the project – but if you were to collate any diaries and / or stories written, you could do a nice colourful word cloud to display….

As the year looms or lumbers towards its end, our thoughts turn to next year.

Who will teach which set?

Who has the C/D borderline Intervention students?

Who has that one Year Group who never seem to have settled down?

Who will be looked at to obtain our A and A* grades?

I like this time of year. As a Head of Department, I have the power to allocate class to teacher!

Whilst I am a lovely and kind person and I have asked whether anyone has any preferences, I am also aware of the following:

  • As a manager, I want to allocate staff in a way which utilises and exploits their skills and strengths, whether that be in classroom management, inspiring the least able, challenging the most able, teaching boys, teaching AEN, teaching lower school or upper school;
  • As a manager, I personally like the idea of giving everyone one year group with whom they have no contact: a parents’ evening off, one cycle of reports that you don’t have to do, a fresh start with that year group if you pick them up in the following year;
  • As a leader, I want to place staff with sets that will complement their responsibilities:
  • there seems little point giving a teacher with responsibility for Key Stage 3 no Key Stage 3 teaching; it seems absurd not to put a teacher with responsibility for transition into Year 7; it would be perverse to not put a Head of Year teaching her year group;
  • And as a leader, I feel a responsibility to support the development of my staff.
  • Shall I put this teacher who has joined us from a middle school in Key Stage 4 so that her CV can reflect success at that level? Should I put that teacher who has never taught Literature under the new specifications into a Literature class? Have the classes given provided enough range to allow that NQT to develop his skills?

It is a little bit like playing a game of tetris: certain staff have large amounts of time allocated elsewhere for SLT, Year Head, other curriculum areas; some of the concerns and focuses I have are conflicting; and sometimes the numbers simply don’t fit!

The tool I use to perform this task is this:



There is a list of classes on the left with various boxes to reflect the restrictions of banding, populations etc within the school; and beside each class are spaces to fill in the initials of the teacher. The number of spaces reflects the number of lessons available per fortnight or per week. There is a list of teachers and their available lessons on the right.

As you fill teachers’ initials into the classes on the right, it automatically starts to count down the remaining available lessons; and simultaneously adds up the number of classes for which each teacher has responsibility.

I find it useful here hereby put it out into the aether to see if anyone else could use or adapt or improve it to the requirements of their own school!

The document itself (with the relevant formulae) is here:

(Anonymised) Proposed Setting Arrangements


We have less than a week with Year 11 left in our school!

For some, that is a cause for celebration; others of emotional goodbyes; for yet others, it is a moment of terror asking themselves “Have we completed the course yet?!”

And with the OCR deadline for CAT marks looming on Wednesday, this is the weekend when finally and completely it is possible to say to all our students:

This is where you stand. These marks are safe and banked (subject to external moderation).

And it is – broadly – possible to take the next step and say (with all the caveats and warnings about Ofqual, Michael Gove and grade boundaries after the GCSE fiasco last year)

These are the marks you need to get this grade overall.

marks left to grade boundaries

I am basing the maths here on the June 2012 OCR Grade Boundaries for raw scores which can be found here. I ummed and ahhed about perhaps adding a couple of marks to the boundaries to insulate us against the vagaries of Ofqual… but I decided that there was little to be gained from trying to second guess what appears to be a particularly volatile set of politics so left it as it was.

With the additional tweak (a particularly geeky and SLT-friendly tweak!) of colour coding on a scale of 0-80 in English and Language and 0-40 in Literature, we have a nice visual record of who is more and less likely to obtain the A and C grades. Thanks to Excel, the deeper the shade of green, the closer the student is to the boundary; the deeper the shade of red, the further away they are.

We also put our students doing Literature in to take the Prose from Other Cultures examination in January. so the final two columns simply compare the scores required to get a C or an A with what they obtained in January. Again, it is colour coded: green shows that they need less than they obtained in January; red shows that they need to raise their game. The deeper the shades of colour reflect how far from their January achievement they are: a nice deep green suggests that they need actually far less than they obtained in January to reach that threshold; a deep red suggests they need to up-their-game a lot!

If this would be useful to anyone out there, the (appropriately anonymised) document is linked here with the OCR grade boundaries.

(Anonymised) Marks required in exams to obtain a C

Students at this point respond very well to conversations that go along the lines of:

“Look, you only need 38 marks for a C”

“You need less to get C than you got in your last exam”

“You only need 27 for a C. But you could get higher!”

Those conversations seem more positive than “Well, I suppose it is mathematically possible”!

KS4 template

It’s that time of the year again… when I revisit the Departmental Database and wonder how it could be developed and improved.

And this year, in addition, how to include the iGCSE into the growing range of qualification that we are offering.

So, last year, I was using a fairly basic =IF formula to compare the scores given by teachers into indicative grades. It was a little clunky and a little ‘Heath Robinson’ but it did the job.

This year, I am intending to use =VLOOKUP formulae to look the score given up in the table of grade boundaries on a separate sheet. It has taken a bit of time just inputting the grade boundaries (each possible score in each element of each qualification needs a grade allocated to it.



Once done, however, the hope is that it will be straightforward enough to simply fiddle with and amend the grades accordingly. Obviously, the =VLOOKUP will amend itself according to the data entered on the lookup sheet. And alterations in grade boundaries can be applied and grades amended according to the changes in data that we have.

In terms of staff inputting, all I need will be the score for each Controlled Assessment or mock exam. With judicious use of protected cells and suspicious passwords, that should in fact be all that the staff can do.

Their “dashboard”, if you like, will look like this:

database template


Obviously there will be a range of data to be inputted for each child to track vulnerable groups, pupil premiums, intervention groups, withdrawal groups and accelerated groups – we have a tendency to generate five or six overlapping lists of students which no-one has any real overview of! – which can be done in anticipation of the start of term.

The database should also add up and / or average out scores for individual tasks to create the final figure to be entered into the OMR at the end of Year 11.

It should also be able to identify students whose Controlled Assessments pull down their raw ability; students who underperform in exams; students who might benefit most from specific forms of intervention.

One other item from the PiXL Club main conference that I liked was what I have dubbed micro-tracking.

This database is a broad-brush, specification wide tracking system. I intend to supplement it with a range of micro-tracking databases that track students’ success in individual exam questions to track their ability to perform certain skills rather than overall. A revision session on summarising skills for a select group of individuals persistently falling down on that skill will be more effective than a revision session on the OCR Information and Ideas Examination or the iGCSE Paper 1 or 2 which only touches on summarising. The same goes for directed writing skill, analysis skills, language skills, presentational devices responses or imaginative writing.

Additional sheets can be added at any time which could record mock exams on a question-by-question basis and a formula can easily add those up and record them in the main database.

Obviously, getting antiquated and somewhat Luddite staff to actually complete the database is another matter!