Researching the effects of SAM learning on class work and exam preparation in English at Key Stage 4

An Action Research project by Katie Sutherland (English)


To research the effects of SAM learning to monitor whether setting these tasks for homework can have a positive effect on class work and exam preparation at KS4.

From their promotional information comes the following statement:

“With more activities across more subjects and a wider range of exam boards than any other online service, SAM Learning is the most effective online homework and exam-preparation service for secondary schools in the UK today.”

This action research project was used to challenge prior assumptions with a specific focus on Year 10 pupils.

The prior assumptions based upon 16 years in secondary education were:

  • Year 10 pupils would engage more with e-learning homework tasks than generic reading and writing tasks
  • Boys completion of e-learning homework would be at least equivalent to girls, if not greater
  • There would be clear evidence in mock exam results that pupils had benefitted from e-learning homework

In order to broaden the breadth of study, reading was undertaken of previous research on the effectiveness of using online learning resources to improve progress. A convincing statistic was found and supported the objective of this action research project: ‘The impact of on-line revision on GCSE results’ by Karen Osborne, SAM Learning blog, 2005. The reference to boosting a ‘school’s GCSE results by over 30 per cent’ was an incentive to trial and monitor this method of setting homework and specifically the statement that, ‘improvements were more significant for boys’ as this remains a keen area of interest within my own practice as an English teacher.

online learning boosts school’s GCSE results by over 30 per cent. Improvements were more significant for boys, suggesting that online learning is an effective tool to help engage adolescent boys with their learning.’ (; 2005)


The process for this action research project included:

  1. Set specific exam related tasks from Sam Learning for Year 10 pupils
  2. Monitor and analyse the data provided in response to these tasks
  3. Evaluate any impact on class work and mock exam results
  4. Pupil voice survey on the use of Sam Learning as a homework tool
  5. Conclusions
  6. Next steps

1.  Set specific exam related tasks from Sam Learning for Year 10 pupils.

28 Year 10 pupils of mixed ability were set 48 tasks over a 6 week period all related to English Paper 1.

35% of tasks were cloze activities therefore allowing the least able pupils to achieve success by placing the correct words/ phrases into responses

35% of tasks required a more developed response and would challenge all pupils to type a response of between 30 and 50 words

30% of tasks required a developed response were pupils would have to write in more depth and write about 100-150 words

2. Monitor and analyse the data provided in response to the homework tasks set.

% of tasks completed by pupils 0-14% 15-29% 30-49% 50-69% 70-89% 90-100%
Number of pupils 5 6 6 4 0 3

Figure 1. Completion rate of all homework tasks set on SAM learning

The rationale of this division of tasks was to encourage pupils of all ability to complete the maximum amount of homework tasks to consolidate learning. Sam Learning offers tasks that are multiple choice, clozed activities that can help with progress of less able pupils. However, it also has tasks that require a more developed response and then the more challenging tasks that require a detailed response that demonstrate a breadth of understanding by pupils and would consolidate learning in preparation for exam responses.

K Sutherland - fig 2

Figure 2. Breakdown of the relative completion rate of tasks by gender in relation to the overall completion rate of tasks set (see figure 1)

Evidence suggests:

  • Girls have completed significantly more homework than boys
  • A proportion of girls were willing to complete all tasks set
  • The maximum that a boy completed was 45% of tasks set

This evidence contradicted initial pre-conceptions that boys would complete more homework using technology and online learning tasks than girls. However, disappointingly, the maximum amount of homework tasks that a boy completed was 45% even though boys had equivalent target grades to their female peers. This did not fit with the expected results and made me reflect on whether or not the claims that completing online learning tasks ‘boosted grades by up to 30 percent’ were either gender specific or possibly even subject specific and perhaps English was not a subject that had benefitted from these results.

3. Evaluate any impact on class work and mock exam results

All of the learning tasks set were focused on AQA English Paper 1 and it was hoped that the completion of online learning tasks would support progress and be evidenced in mock examination results.

Pupil Time spent


Position in class mock exam Base level
Pupil 1 43.5 1 5a
Pupil 2 19.5 2 5c
Pupil 3 30.52 3 5b
Pupil 4 (EAL) 43.35 4 4c
Pupil 5 11.05 5 5c
Pupil 6 7.00 6 5a
Pupil 7 8.35 7 5b
Pupil 8 4.3 8 4a
Pupil 9 (EAL) 10.35 9 4c
Pupil 10 23.33 10 4a
Pupil 11 5.55 11 5b
Pupil 12 1.10 12 5c
Pupil 13 16.3 13 4c
Pupil 14 8.00 14 4b
Pupil 15 35.2 15 4b
Pupil 16 14.3 16 4b
Pupil 17 3.25 17 3a
Pupil 18 (SEND) 3.5 18 3b
Pupil 19 (EAL) 35.2 19 3a
Pupil 20 (EAL) 17.45 20 4c
Pupil 21 2.45 21 4a
Pupil 22 .25 22 4a
Pupil 23 (SEND) .2 23 4c
Pupil 24 (SEND) 17.5 24 2c

Figure 3. A comparison of time spent on SAM learning task in relation to ranked position in a mock exam and student base level data.

Notable observations:

Pupil 4 has spent a significant amount of time completing homework and achieved 4th position in class.

Yet, pupil 19 has also completed a significant amount of homework and achieved 19th place.

Their base level was just one sub-level difference.

Pupil 10 has spent a significant amount of time completing homework and achieved 10th position in class.

Whereas Pupil 11 has a higher base level but has not completed nearly as much homework and is in 11th position.

4. Pupil Voice Survey

Pupil voice Survey        
Questions Girls Yes Boys Yes Girls No Boys No
Do you prefer homework tasks set on the computer? 10 11 3 0
Do you complete more homework if you can use the computer? 8 9 5 2
Are you satisfied with the amount of homework tasks that you have completed? 6 5 5 7
Would it help you to complete more tasks if you had a set amount to complete per week? 7 7 4 5
Do you think that SAM Learning has had a positive impact on your class work or mock? 8 5 3 7
Would you have completed more tasks if you could do this in an after school revision session? 4 10 7 3
Were your parents/ carers aware of your e-learning tasks? 5 2 6 9

5. Conclusions

  • Few pupils completed all e-learning homework tasks
  • The majority of girls completed more homework tasks than boys
  • One of the most able pupils from baseline data completed the most homework and achieved first position in the mock exam
  • Some of the least able pupils completed the least e-learning homework tasks
  • Boys were not as engaged when completing the extended responses
  • Most boys were honest in their response that they would probably complete more e-learning tasks if given time in school to revise.

Surprisingly, the data collected thus far has not supported the claims that ‘improvements were more significant for boys’. I can understand that if you are starting at a point of 0% completion of homework then there may be more significant improvements but my experience had been that it was difficult to gender stereotype as it really depended on the pupils who completed the work, rather than their gender. I was disappointed with the lack of extended responses from all pupils and with the boys in particular but I will consider their responses from the pupil voice survey when setting future homework.

6. Next steps

  • Set short manageable tasks on a fortnightly basis for pupils
  • Differentiate tasks for learners
  • Monitor pupils completion of tasks every fortnight
  • Offer lunch time / after school revision sessions (particularly for boys)
  • Group call parents with homework information
  • Reward all pupils who complete 75% or more of tasks

Further research would be beneficial whilst adapting my practice to include the ‘next steps’. I would hope that more manageable tasks, rewards and opportunities during the school day to complete learning will boost the quality and quantity of homework completed. Also, parental support via group call will be effective in ensuring completion of homework.

Featured image: ‘boy computer’ by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay. Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

The effective deployment of Teaching Assistants in the classroom to maximise the progress of pupils with identified SEND

An Action Research Project by Aleisha Woodley

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers.

As line manager of the SEND team and in conjunction with the SENCO the need to research this topic was two-fold. After teaching staff Teaching Assistants (TAs) are the second biggest staffing cost in most schools, so deploying them in line with the latest research to maximise their impact on and in supporting pupil progress is vital in gaining value for money.  Secondly, after establishing how they should be deployed the best practice from teachers in engaging, supporting and directing this valuable resource is essential. The research phase was undertaken as a combination of a literature review of current research on models of deployment and impact studies on pupil progress as a result.  This led to a clear model in the context of St Bernadette’s for deployment of our TAs after observation of the current model and impact.  With the following aims:

  1. Teachers should be more aware of their responsibilities towards low attaining and SEND pupils
  2. Increase quality of TA interactions with pupils
  3. Create quality teacher and TA liaison time
  4. TAs have a clearer understanding of lesson plans, objectives and how to support pupils in meeting them
  5. Increase TAs self-esteem, value and confidence with a more clearly defined role.

This work was written up in full by the SENCO and implemented at the beginning of 2016-17 academic year. The quality of dialogue and parallel research meant that on-going discussions in learning focus time (CPD time allocated to staff across the school year) and line management time was clearly understood and developed a joint understanding of what was needed to improve deployment of TAs in class and for interventions.  The SENCOs project then focussed on developing the understanding for teachers and how they can best direct, support and deploy the TAs with the most advantage in their classroom to improve the progress of pupils.

My consideration for my own classroom practice then focussed on the targets in green (see exemplars below) and on classroom implications for those pupils that work well below the levels/grades of the rest of the class. In the academic year 2015-16 I taught a number of pupils operating well below the rest of the class academically who had a variety of learning difficulties preventing them from fully accessing and operating at the expected level of their peers. I interviewed pupils about their difficulties and how best to assess their understanding rather than their ability to record their understanding.  This produced key questions that would assess pupils’ learning and bridging the gap between their understanding and that of their peers as a key assessment tool in class.   The pupils’ preferences and recommendations were taken into consideration when developing and implementing these ideas.

Background & Literature Review of TA deployment

The school context:

The school is an 11-16 mainstream Catholic Comprehensive that has 750 pupils on roll with a wide ability range from pupils on P levels to working beyond A* at GCSE. 84 pupils were on the SEND register in the academic year 2015-16. This is 10.76% of the school population which is slightly below the national average. 8 pupils were covered by a statement of Special Educational Needs or an Educational Health Care Plan.

The primary need of each pupil is stated and shared with all teaching staff along with suggested strategies for meeting these needs in class. Specific strategies and external agency advice is sought and shared for those with complex needs or those pupils whose progress is very slow.  These external agencies range from ASDOT who are the Autistic Spectrum Disorder Outreach Team; BIS Behaviour Improvement Service: Speech and Language Team; Hearing Impairment Service etc.  The use of these additional agencies is identified according to the need of the pupil and their barriers to learning.

The SEN D code of practice states “Special educational provision is underpinned by high quality teaching and is compromised by anything less.” The school has for a number of years required teachers to publish ‘pen portraits’ for each class that highlights the needs of pupils in the class it highlights pupils on the SEND register; Pupil Premium or Disadvantaged; high ability; English as an additional language EAL. Teachers’ highlight the needs of pupils in each category as well as strategies they will employ in meeting those needs in the classroom.  This has sharpened the focus on meeting the needs of different groups of pupils and has proven successful in helping to reduce gaps.

Teaching Assistant deployment in class

The 1981 Education Act was the first legislation that outlined the responsibilities of Local Authorities (LAs) and schools in meeting the needs of pupils with Special Educational Needs. (SEN) The right of parents to request a mainstream primary or secondary school educate their child rather than a special school with a population of all SEN children was enshrined in law. Hence the birth of inclusion of pupils with significant additional needs in mainstream schools often referred to as inclusion. Statutory statements were also introduced that set out for pupils with significant or complex needs what help and support should be provided for them. Other SEN pupils without statements were also recognised and the need for teachers to ensure that they make adequate progress made clear. This inclusion of SEN pupils into mainstream schools led to an increased workload for teachers and for former volunteers or helpers to be paid to support SEN pupils in the classroom.  These early TAs were often unqualified and many of them were mothers, as school hours fitted around child care.  Although the first survey of the impact of TAs was not undertaken until 2009 with the DISS project. (Deployment and Impact of Support Staff) It demonstrated that TAs often worked with the lowest attaining pupils to support and help them access their work.  This conversely also meant that teachers spent the smallest amount of time with these pupils.  TAs with the least specialist training were working closely with those that arguably, needed the most help.  DISS also found that TA interaction with the teacher relieved the teacher’s stress, as they were able to complete administrative tasks and support but did not aid the progress of the pupils in their care as their training was not sufficient to develop their interaction with these pupils adequately.  The (MAST) Making a Statement Project found that TAs often had “more responsibility for planning and teaching statemented pupils that teachers.” Pg2.  TAs were expected to plan and differentiate on the spot once a lesson had started with little or no guidance from the teacher, (Webster and Blatchford 2013) concluded that one of the reasons was that teachers had/ have limited knowledge on how to meet the growing needs of the pupils in their classrooms, claiming that little or no additional training in their initial teacher training (ITT) courses (EEF 2015)

EEF 2015 showed that the more support an SEN pupil had from a TA the more likely that they would not make as much progress as someone similar with little or no support (Webster and Blatchford 2012) This was not the fault of the TA but how they were deployed and what additional training they had (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016). The DISS project had highlighted the lack of TA preparedness, they turned up to a lesson with no idea of what was being taught and how. The TA often had to respond as quickly as the pupils and support the SEN pupil to complete and record tasks often having to modify content as they worked. Using TAs in this way has been highlighted as poor Quality First Teaching in the Code of Practice 2014, which highlighted that the skills of the teacher are needed to focus on the SEN pupil. Blatchford 2012 highlighted the TAs lack of training hindering open questioning and not promoting higher order thinking skills. He went as far as to say that if this was not addressed then it would continue to hold back the progress of learning for those with SEN. Other studies have found that where TAs are trained and do know the content required then they can have a positive impact on progress and confidence of pupils with SEN.  Education for Everybody 2015 found that TAs inspire confidence in children, encouraging them to take part and helping them feel safe to participate.  Having an additional adult in the classroom also allows teachers to be risk takers, improvising creative ways and practical tasks rather than traditional seated work. (Alborz et al 2009)

Webster 2013 stated “TAs can only be as effective as teachers enable them to be. TAs need to ask what skills or knowledge the pupil they support should be developing and what learning teachers want them to achieve by the end of the lesson.”

The COP 2014 goes further by stating that “teachers are to be wholly responsible and accountable for SEN students in their classroom. Providing high quality teaching and differentiation for those requiring additional support in class; even with support staff in the classroom, and understanding the needs they have.”  It is from this point that I considered how best to meet the needs of pupils in my classes and their individual preferences in types and timing of support in lessons.

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers:

After completing the literature review and analysis of effective deployment of TAs, as well as the role of the teacher in Quality First Teaching I began to consider the effectiveness of my own practice in differentiating for and effectively assessing those pupils at Key Stage 3 and 4 that were operating at levels 1 to 3 in Key stage 3 and pre GCSE grades equivalent to levels 2 or 3 at Key stage 3 or grades G and F at GCSE. The Code of Practice for SEN states:

A pupil has a learning difficulty if:

  • They have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of other pupils of the same age or;
  • Have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010. Schools must not discriminate and they must make reasonable adjustments for disabled young persons.
  • The definition of disability in the Equality Act includes children with long term health conditions such as; asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and cancer. These children may not have Special Educational Needs, but there is a significant overlap between disabled children and young people with SEN.

It also states the school must:

  • Be able to identify the young persons with Special Education Needs and assess their needs
  • Adapt the curriculum, teaching and learning environment and access to ancillary aids and assistive technology
  • Assess and review the young person’s progress towards outcomes
  • Support the young person in moving towards phases of educations
  • Enable the young person to prepare for adulthood.
  • Secure expertise among teachers to support the young person with Special Educational Needs – This should include expertise at three levels; awareness, enhanced and specialist
  • Assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the provision for the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Enable the young person with Special Educational Needs to access extra-curricular activities
  • Supporting emotional and social development of the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Ensure the young person with Special Educational Needs takes part in actives with children who do not have Special Educational Needs as far as possible

Obviously some of these criteria have direct application in the classroom and must inform planning, teacher development and training to instil these skills and attributes in every classroom and teachers’ day to day practice.

The COP also spells out the direct responsibilities of the teacher in relation to pupils with SEN.

  • Teachers are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class, even if they have support staff or a Teaching Assistant present.
  • Where a pupil is not making adequate progress teachers, SENCO and parents should collaborate.
  • High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils with Special Educational Needs must be provided.
  • Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for lack of good quality teaching.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review the quality of teaching for teaching for pupils at risk of under-achievement.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review teachers’ understanding of strategies to support vulnerable pupils and their knowledge of Special Educational Needs most frequently encountered.
  • The quality of teaching for pupils with Special Educational Needs and the progress made by pupils should be a core part of Performance Management / Appraisal. Special Educational Needs should not be regarded as sufficient explanation for low achievement.

The COP goes on to spell out what adequate progress is for pupils on the SEN register especially if they have low starting points:

  • Similar to that of peers with similar starting points or baselines
  • Matches or betters the child’s previous rate of progress
  • Closes the attainment gap between the child and their peers
  • Prevents the attainment gap growing wider

The school system at St Bernadette’s for setting target levels or grades ensures that each pupil is intended or targeted to make at least expected progress even those with low starting points. The challenge for me in my teaching in a mixed ability class is accurately assessing and developing their progress to the next level or grade when the majority of peers are working at a higher level.  Targeted oral questioning is one way it has been addressed as well as assessing written tasks of all pupils against success criteria.  The use of TAs in some cases to support pupils has also traditionally been used to gauge pupil progress.  TA support is not always possible and is often targeted at those pupils with a statement or EHCP as their support is statutory.  Concerns in many of the studies have also been raised including this one.  “The most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils receive less educational input from teachers than other pupils” (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016 P18). To maximise the time spent and the impact with these pupils and to accurately assess their lesson by lesson progress was a real priority.  In order to establish current practice and the actions to be undertaken I interviewed the pupils I taught in 2015-16 who were operating below the average range of their peers.  All of the pupils I taught were also on the SEN register that were in this category.  All of them were receiving additional literacy support outside of the classroom.


To focus on the pupil perceptions of their progress and strategies that supported them to do well. I have summarised the most useful comments below each question.

“What do you like that teachers’ do in class to help you?”

  • Come and check if I have understood the instructions
  • Always have the same routine in class at the beginning and end of lessons
  • Come and sit with me
  • Give me time to think of an answer
  • Read through worksheets or information together
  • Point to where you are on the screen
  • Make reading simple.
  • Help me with presentation

“What don’t you like that teachers’ do to try and help you?”

  • Give me different work
  • Ask me a question I cannot answer
  • Tell me off if I’m asking someone for help because I’m stuck
  • Tell me in front of everyone just do this bit
  • Give me different worksheets
  • Never ask me questions in class on my opinion
  • Move on too quickly if I don’t know

“What do you find the most difficult in class to do or try?”

  • Lots of writing
  • Answer questions in front of everyone I am not prepared for
  • Read out loud without help
  • Read on my own
  • Write simplified information without help
  • Complete lots of written questions.
  • Answer yellow stickers
  • Read teacher’s handwriting on the board or in our book

“What makes you feel successful or happy in your work?”

  • Teacher praise
  • If I’m asked for my opinion
  • Leading something I’m good at
  • Completing a task well
  • The teacher checking on me and saying good stuff

As a result of the unscientific but helpful discussion with 6 of my pupils I decided to focus on the beginning and end of my lessons. All 6 pupils were working below the average range of the their peers for age related expectations, were all on the SEN register for mild learning difficulties and had received or were in receipt of literacy intervention outside of the classroom.  Pupils were all really clear they never wanted to be given a different worksheet or work to do.  They were quite happy to start on easy questions that got harder and try to do the more difficult ones if they could.  They also did not want to do lots and lots of writing every lesson.  Three boys in Year 8 all stated that thinking about writing as well as the question slowed them down.  The school expectation is that a lesson objective is shared with pupils for every lesson as well as success criteria and these are used a benchmarks of success at the end of the lesson.


Figure 1. This is the type of slide used at the start of every lesson that highlights the objective as well as the success criteria. These are referenced to new GCSE measures.


Figure 2.  These pre-planned or targeted questions have become part of my routine planning to assess the pupils in my class that would normally be operating below the age related expectations. Although I now have a TA for this class I sit with the pupils and assess their knowledge and am able to push their understanding further if they have grasped the basic concepts.  I then note progress towards the success criteria.  Pupils said they found writing plenaries quite difficult.


Figure 3.  This is in addition to above in the application of the required knowledge. Again, verbal questioning and recording by me as the teacher ensures an accurate picture of the pupil’s assessment level in that lesson.  It is described and written in this manner so a TA would be familiar with it and could use it if necessary.  This planning takes little time, max 10 minutes per lesson and when it has been done it can be used again for different classes.  This has become their routine and allows me time to correct really fundamental flaws but also to celebrate their successes.


Figure 4. Success criteria used with the whole class. This is still used with SEN pupils and they can tick where they have succeeded i.e. identifying bulbs or battery in a circuit is possible for them.


Figure 5.  These key questions and exemplars break down for the TA or remind the teacher what can the pupil do and what does this mean in relation to the success criteria. It also helps the TA during the lesson to ask relevant questions to help the pupil access the learning.


Figure 6. These three plenary slides have also been used for summative capture at the end of the module etc. The pupils reported fatigue by the end of a lesson so they want to use simple but effective strategies to summarise their learning.


Impact & conclusion

The strategies for questioning at the correct level, developing TAs expertise in questioning and the plenary approaches are all simple tools that have been effective. Some of the pupils I am teaching for the second year will select their own plenary tool or ask for more direct help than they used to if it is not public.  A barrier to recording their understanding does not mean they do not understand and their verbal responses can demonstrate their higher understanding.  Spending more time with these pupils during the lesson means they become less frustrated and will engage more as evidenced with one pupil that I have taught for two years.  He has not received any negative referrals as his level of engagement have risen using these techniques.  I have a full record for all of these pupils of how they have performed in each lesson via verbal questioning as well as written assessments produced independently which measure their ability to capture this information.

I routinely use this planning and plenary tasks and this certainty helps the pupils to demonstrate their learning more effectively. Previously, I would have relied on the few verbal questions they do answer in class and their written work.

Sources/ References

Alborz, A, Farrell. P, Howes, A., Pearson. D, (2009) The impact of adult support staff on pupils and mainstream schools. London HMSO

Black. P and Williams. D (1998) Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. London GL Assessment Ltd

Bland. K and Sleightholme. S (2012) Researching the pupil voice: what makes a good teaching assistant? British Journal of Learning Support Nasen

Blatchford P., Russell A., Webster R.(2012) Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants. How research challenges practice and policy. Routeledge

DFE: (January 2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years – Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities

(Featured image: GotCredit, Education key keyboard, CC BY 2.0)

Establishing a Framework to Support Independent Revision

An Action Research Project by Darragh McMullan (Humanities)


The focus for this will be year 10 students going into year 11. From previous experience and with the increasing demands on students to undertake exam revision, I feel students need to be clear what areas of a course they are weaker in and what areas they need to focus on more specifically for revision. This is not taking away from the fact that students still need to revisit the whole course but it can enable them to attend specific revision sessions and target certain areas in the run up to exams.


I set out to use PIXL to track students’ knowledge of topics in year 10. This was achieved by creating simple 10 question knowledge tests on the key points for that unit. Based on what students achieved they would receive a Green, Amber, Red rating. This was recorded in their books for their reference and also on an Excel spread sheet. This would enable targeting of students at revision time.


Students can then prioritise attendance at revision sessions for areas of weakness. In these sessions I do not want them to be a similar lesson to the one taught the previous year. I feel the best way for students to revise independently is using learning mats (see below). This includes all the key questions students need to know for particular units. Students can find and discuss these questions in revision sessions with the teacher becoming a facilitator, helping students, answering questions and stretching students.


Next Steps

Taking this further I have begun to look at exam questions and how this can be tracked to enable students to see what questions they need to concentrate on. I have also started to develop revision packs that include these questions as HW.


This will enable HW to be set as a revision task with students looking at the different types of exam questions to enable them to practise these throughout the year. These questions will include mark schemes and suggested sentence starters so students are clearer about what is required for that particular question. This can again be recorded and students can be guided to practise certain questions that they are weaker on.


The aim will be to ensure that at the end of the course students are clear what knowledge they need to revise, what questions they need to practice and will have the revision materials (learning mat, revision guides) to complete independent revision.


Featured image:   Adams Monumental Illustrated Panorama of History (1878) By Creator:Sebastian C. Adams [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nurturing and Developing Artistic Creativity at KS3

An Action Research project by Matt Hodge (Art & Design)

Aim of the project:

The aim of this project is to develop strategies for developing individual creativity on male pupils at KS3.


  1. Examine where the differences lie between the theoretical art education and actual art education in England.
  2. Investigate the nature of good practice from the perspective of creativity and compare to good practice under the current framework for high schools.
  3. Develop a strategy for increasing creativity in schools within the current framework.


In 1999 John Swift and John Steers wrote A Manifesto for Art In Schools. The paper called for a new form of Art education in our schools that promoted difference, plurality and independence of mind. These desires and thoughts have been echoed by others interested in the study of Art education and justification for the inclusion of Art education in National Curriculum, for example Burgess and Addison (2000) and Siegusmund (1998). Many issues raised in the manifesto have already been addressed, specialist teachers appear at primary level and the previous National Curriculum for Art primarily addressed creativity, confidence and cultural awareness (The National Curriculum, 2007). Whilst Art education may have appeared to move towards a freer model, the reality painted by teaching colleagues is different.  The limiting assessment criteria, that pupils and teachers have to abide by prevents true creativity and relies upon formulaic progression of activities (Hardy, 2002) and evidenced by the current GCSE assessment criteria. In order to achieve good grades, teachers put pupils through a tried and tested formula with minimal room for individuality.


Initially the project was to focus on boys’ progression but engagement in the project through the originally planned extracurricular clubs after school was minimal. The club was attended by a handful of pupils but they soon dropped off. Opening the club to male and female pupils saw numbers briefly increase however these numbers soon tailed off. The open nature of pupils finding things they were interested in may have been too challenging. Pupils would easily find an image they wanted to turn into a piece of Art but struggled to consider technique and methods. This is where pupils needed much tighter instruction.

To adapt the project to produce viable outcomes I adapted my teaching strategies to focus on assessment rather than instruction at KS3, taking the role of ‘facilitator’ rather than front and centre teacher. Initial direction and themes for projects were given to pupils of both sexes but from this point the majority of instruction came through assessment rather than teacher led direction. This allowed pupils to complete work at a pace they were comfortable with, which in some cases, particularly among female pupils, has driven up quality. They still seek guidance and help but this has become much more of a two way conversation about ways progression is possible rather than what do I do now.

Photographs and commentary

Pictures 1,2,3

Outcomes from a project based on Harry Potter Death Eaters. Pupils developed individual ideas in response to a field trip, using generic instructions for what is expected to be seen in a design task. Pupils were required to gather their own resources and develop their own ideas drawing on a number of sources. Pupils were given basic instruction in how to construct the mask but once completed had to develop their own methods for adding details.


Picture 4

Pupils independently chose and studied a variety of Artists before being tasked to appropriate techniques to a portrait of a member of staff.


Pictures 5,6,7

The same generic task assessment sheet was used multiple times to familiarise pupils with the expectations of the assignment. This allowed pupils to best explore their techniques and methods as they knew the framework they would be assessed against in detail. The process allowed pupils to manage their own time and expectations of progress between tasks.



Picture 8, 9, 10

Resources and initial design ideas produced by pupils to inspire their Harry Potter Death Eater masks.


Picture 11

Clear and explicit outcomes requirements allowed the pupil to find a personal hook to maintain their interest. The pupil was able to succeed as they could pick their own topic / theme within the intended outcome.

Next steps

  1. Develop a foundation based curriculum to build initial directed skills in early KS3 covering basic needed skills and techniques.
  2. Develop further independence, confidence and resilience in self-directed study.
  3. Offer pupils a range of starting points for projects (artist or subject based) to allow them to develop their own course of study, fitting assessment criteria into the tasks, not the task into the assessment criteria.


Burgess, L. and Addison, N. (2004, 2nd ed.) Contemporary Art in Schools: Why Bother? in R. Hickman, (Ed.) Art Education 11-18 – Meaning, Purpose and Direction. London: Continuum.

Hardy, T. (2002) AS Level Art: Farewell to the ‘Wow’ Factor? Journal of Art and Design Education. Vol.21 No.2

QCA (2007) The National Curriculum. London: QCA

Siegesmund, R. (1998) Why Do We Teach Art Today? Conceptions of Art Education and Their Justification. Studies in Art Education. Vol.39 No.3.

Swift, J and Steers, J (1999) A Manifesto for Art in Schools. Journal of Art and Design Education. Vol.18 No.1


Approaches to Teaching in a Knowledge Based Curriculum

An Action Research Project by Daniel James (Computing)

Focus of Project

In deciding on a focus for my Action Research (AR) Project I had to consider what were the biggest influence and challenges that I would face as a teaching professional over the next 12 months or more. It was with this hat on that I decided the biggest challenge would be the move from a skill-based ICT KS4 curriculum to a knowledge based Computing curriculum.

It is worth noting that as teachers I believe we would say we have always been teaching in a knowledge based curriculum, with our main goal being to provide students with the information (and skills) that will assist them in the future. However in 2013 Michael Gove brought this area of education centre stage. As a result, what we once considered to be a knowledge based curriculum did not contain enough knowledge. The new knowledge based curriculum was born.

At first the approach I took to my action research project was to look through some well known teaching pedagogies, including; de Bono’s Hats[1], Solo Taxonomy[2] and The Flipped Classroom[3]. Although these provided ideas for specific teaching approaches; such as providing students with different perspectives within which to approach tasks or different levels by which to structure understanding. I believed they muddied the water of how to approach teaching in an increasingly knowledge based curriculum because they focused on other aspects of learning and in particular would have needed embedding with students before they impacted upon learning.

It was with this research in hand that I decided that my focus would be on two generic approaches to teaching, that of the independent student-led approach and the teacher-led approach. The outcome of which would be the answer to the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum?


The objective of this Action Research is to investigate approaches to teaching within the new knowledge based curriculum. I will be investigating the learning differences between a teacher-led approach and a student-led approach. The end objective is to determine which approach facilitates more effective learning from the students.

The Knowledge Based Curriculum

In March 2011 Alison Wolf produced The Wolf Report[4] reviewing the state of vocational education. This report led the way to the GCSE and vocational reforms seen over recent years. The Wolf Report concluded that “Good vocational programmes are, therefore, respected, valued and an important part of our, and any other country’s educational provision. But many vocational students are not following courses of this type”[5].

This then paved the way for the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to announce changes to the curriculum across all stages of education. He detailed that students needed to have a “stock of knowledge”[6] and that “unless you have knowledge … all you will find on Google is babble”.

The impact of this was the slimming down of the number of accredited GCSE and vocational subjects, increasing the knowledge needed for the courses that remained to be accredited and the introduction of a new attainment and progress standard for schools (Attainment and Progress 8[7]).

In September 2015 the first of these new GCSE’s was being taught in Maths and English, with the rest of the curriculum to follow in 2016. The subsequent Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, outlined the importance of this new knowledge curriculum in a speech delivered in January 2015. “At the heart of our reforms has been the determination to place knowledge back at the core of what pupils learn in school”[8]. From this point onwards it was clear that knowledge over skills was going to be the academic currency on offer.

This educational change seemed to be at odds with the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), where they were insisting that there was a skills shortage from young people leaving education. In 2015 the CBI published a report into the educational climate; this report was titled “Inspiring Growth”[9].

The report suggested that the government reforms should provide young adults with the correct attitudes for work. Findings included that employers looked for attitudes and aptitudes before formal qualifications and that employers look for a combination of academic and vocational studies. You can draw your own conclusions from the study but I see it as a counter argument for the wholly knowledge based curriculum that all students must complete; it seems to be at odds with such a curriculum.

Educational Pedagogies

Joe Kirby, in Pragmatic Education December 2013[10], suggests that there is a distinct difference in the approaches to skills and knowledge and that “These are contrasting mind-sets; they result in different pedagogies”.

He argues that knowledge based learning “prioritises memory, instruction and practice”, with the aim for pupils being to “know, understand, remember recall…connect their knowledge”.

Kirby suggests that skill-led learning facilitated by constructivism provides variety at the expense of clarity; he says “Cognitivism and knowledge-led instruction prioritise clarity and memory to avoid confusion and forgetting”. He advocates the knowledge approach: “In a nutshell, variety [constructivism] is a distraction”. Knowledge-led learning is best because of its scientific approach in which there is a formulaic approach to learning with a tried and tested method of delivery (e.g. the three part lesson). This approach is also backed up by Scott[11] on his blog, where he discusses skill based versus knowledge based learning.

Headguruteacher[12], in 12 principles of effective teaching January 2016, highlights, in his blog, that one of the 12 principles of effective teaching as being “Tool them up”, which commented on providing the students with the resources to enable them to learn with or without a specialist teacher in the room, however he noted “not all students can use these materials readily and need to be shown how.”

Headguruteacher also commented that teaching for memory was an important principle, “They [students] need strategies to do this; primarily lots of practice”. Interestingly the 12th and final principle of effective teaching centred on the two approaches I investigated during this Action Research project. He titled it as “Get some balance”, in which he recommended that teaching should be 80% “Mode A” teacher which is straight, rigorous cycles of explanation, model content, practice and feedback. The further 20% was “Mode B” teacher which uses awe and wonder and open-ended exploration to achieve deeper learning.

These studies stood out among the reading completed for this research as they had direct relevance for my classroom focused project. I used a combination of these in my own approach. This is detailed in the next section.

My Approaches and Actions

Having chosen to look at both student-led and teacher-led approaches I decided to split my two approaches over two periods of time so as to get direct comparisons. The first approach was a student-led approach. The idea behind this was to provide students with a guide as to what information they needed to know and what knowledge they needed to acquire (success criteria).

The emphasis in this approach was on the students being independent in finding out the knowledge, researching and clarifying ideas and theories in their own way.


figure 1

An example of this approach is the Frog VLE page (figure 1) in which success criteria are provided and the task set was for students to develop their own understanding in the three main areas as outlined in the blue file link boxes.

This approach was continued over a number of lessons until an end of topic test was complete. This provided evidence about the students learning under this method.

The next approach was to use a teacher led approach in which the students made notes from the teacher presentations while verbal explanation was also provided. This was then cemented by questions about the content they have just heard.

This approach negated the need for independent work and concentrated on the students’ ability to process the information they have just received.

An example of this approach is the series of slides taken from the KS4 computing module on data representation (figure 2 and 3). In this topic the knowledge element was very high and beyond what students had done before in computing. The combination of teacher led knowledge and questions to cement knowledge were used over a number of lessons.

figure 2                                                        figure 3

At the end of the trial of both approaches undertaken, the students were, as a class, interviewed and their results used alongside work scrutiny and classroom observation to formulate the findings which are detailed below.


The student-led approach had a variety of impacts on student learning. The first being that those students who had been resilient when finding this approach challenging found that they were better able to understand a topic. They believed that “they were better able to put it into their own thinking”. Some of the students who struggled with this method said that they liked the openness of tasks but that they needed more boundaries as it was “easy to go off task”. They felt that if a worksheet had been provided to place the information in they may have had more chance of progressing well.

The work scrutiny backed this up but I found that even when a worksheet was given, some did not complete it due to the openness of the task and the challenging nature of having to find the knowledge for themselves. (See image evidence below).

A student’s work without worksheet guidance: success criteria and then independent research and production of evidence of completing task. It is worth noting this is a B grade target student who at this point was working around the C grade (figure 4).


figure 4

A student’s work with worksheet guidance: This allowed students to concentrate on their own knowledge acquisition. As you can see there are gaps which had to be filled with teacher explanation as the student lacked the resilience to continue with their own research (figure 5).


figure 5

The second notable impact of the student-led approach was the effect on students extended knowledge. Students were able to explain in detail the areas they had successfully investigated but this was usually at the expense of other areas of the topic. Students felt that there was too much information available and that they often got caught in learning about an area in too great a depth. This depth was not needed for the current course; which itself creates another dilemma. How do you stop students going into too much depth? Or even, should we stop them in their pursuit of knowledge?

Evidence of the issue of depth versus breadth of knowledge was shown through their end of module tests where the results were below that of their target and showed a greater depth of knowledge in some areas which was lacking in others (figure 5 and 6).

figure 5                                                    figure 6

Both of these tests were examples of core knowledge gained in one particular area but not in others. The student on the left scored well in input, output and storage devices whereas the one of the right scored well in The CPU element.

In researching the teacher led approach I decided that I would provide the information, meaning students having to make notes and then answer questions around it. This was also supplemented with structured note sheets (figure 7 and 8).

                                        figure 7                                                     figure 8

The findings from this were very interesting. From a pupil voice perspective they found the teacher led lessons “a bit boring” but they said they understood more of the topic and in greater detail because they had been explained by an expert first. The students liked the note sheets; in particular the boys as this circumnavigated the need to be tidy in the books as it was already done for them.

For my view point I had the ‘safety blanket’ of knowing that the course content had been provided for the students but also the knowledge that the explanation was directly relevant for the content of the GCSE. However the preparation that went into these lessons was much greater in thinking about how best to explain the content, design the lesson materials and the subsequent assessment tasks.

The end of module assessments with the teacher-led approach had shown a marked improvement from the first approach taken. There was greater knowledge across the class with the answers in the assessments being of a consistently higher quality (figure 9).


figure 9

Executive Summary and Next Steps

As a result of the action research there are a number of things I will focus on doing differently. Firstly, lessons will primarily be planned around the teacher-led approach in which content is delivered by me and then further questioning and tasks are designed to aid memory recall. In the creation of the teacher-led lesson the resources will be differentiated and allow for progression of knowledge at a pace that will be appropriate for the class.

Where possible I will also use the student-led approach but limit the resources that the students have to find the answers. This would then avoid the issues around the depth of knowledge at the expense of breadth whilst still encouraging student-led learning.

One of the key areas from this research that I will be taking forward is not being afraid to ‘teacher talk’ as this has been shown to be the most efficient way of students gaining knowledge in certain circumstances. This does need to be punctuated with questioning and mini-tasks so as to avoid student disengagement.

In the future I will avoid doing student-led lessons where the knowledge content is too specific. The reasoning for this is because a student-led lesson may result in students researching areas that are not specifically associated with the qualification, therefore not gaining the necessary knowledge for the exams.

In the planning and delivery of lessons my thinking has changed from primarily providing an engaging lesson to a lesson that provides the students with the academic opportunities to shine. This shift in thinking has meant I have concentrated more on the content of the teacher presentation than on the tasks that the students would do. The reason for this is because without the correct knowledge shared by me the students will not be able to complete any task fully, irrespective of delivery.

Finally, to answer the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum? There is no ‘right’ way to teach a knowledge based lesson and a variety is needed to get the most out of all students. However this research has found that a teacher-led approach produces better student results.

It is worth noting that in the initial research Headguruteacher commented that 20% of teaching should be ‘mode B’ teacher, this is what I am aiming for in the future.

In summary:

  • Teacher-led and student-led teaching approaches were used across a number of modules. Students interviewed and assessed at the end of modules.
  • Student-led lessons had increased pupil engagement and interest however it was found that acquisition of knowledge was incomplete and as a result module test scores were lower.
  • Teacher-led lessons had increased pupil results and understanding of the topic but led to a decrease in pupil engagement (more compliance than engagement).

Next Steps

  • Continue action research model on a bigger class with different ability levels.
  • Investigate the impact and work on resilience to challenge learners as a tool for improving student knowledge acquisition.

Sources and references

[1] De Bono’s Hats (

[2] SOLO Taxonomy (

[3] Flipped Classroom. (

[4] Wolf Report (

[5] Wolf Report- Executing Summary. Paragraph 2/3.

[6] Gove Sets out ‘Core Knowledge’ curriculum plans (

[7] Progress 8 Measures (

[8] Nicky Morgan: why knowledge matters (

[9] Inspiring Growth (

[10] Pragmatic Education: How best to teach: Knowledge-led or skills-led lessons? (

[11] Sscott (

[12] Headguruteacher: Principles of Effective Teaching (

Featured image: ‘Study time concept’ courtesy of


Building Resilience in Students

An Action Research project by Ursilla Brown (Science)

[Featured image: ‘Resilience by Ron Mader’- ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) ]


This action research focused on the concept of resilience and how it impacts on learning among our students.


Throughout my teaching career, the link between work ethic and success in students has been obvious. What is less transparent are the factors that lead some students to relish diving into a problem and being prepared to take the risk of charting unknown territory while others desperately cling to the edge, afraid to take the plunge. This fear can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. While some students are absorbed in the challenge of cracking a code or finding connections, reasons for or ‘what if’s’, those on the periphery of learning can be sitting passively, getting distressed, engaging in off task behaviour or defiantly declaring that the content is boring or pointless. With a critical mass of students in the latter category the teacher invariably works much harder than these students as she guides, cajoles, pleads and, yes, even sometimes threatens detentions for lack of effort. So, while the issue has been of long term interest to me, the catalyst to embark on a journey of discovery was the coincidence of the launch of this Learning Focus cycle of research in school with my first experiences of my Year 10 GCSE Chemistry class. Since the beginning I feel I have had a good relationship with the students. They are a friendly bunch and came to me as a class seemingly happy to be in the room but mainly passive and pretty hard to strike up a dialogue with about anything to do with Chemistry. My lesson starters engaged around half the class while the others sat in a frozen position, not doing anything wrong, but not learning or seeming to engage with the activity. My mission was to shake them out of their lethargy and take charge of themselves as learners.


My aim was to cultivate resilience amongst the students. The success criteria for this were to get the students:

  • To be able to concentrate for long/longer periods of time. (not give up)
  • To be able to control their thoughts and emotions
  • To enjoy challenge and problem solving
  • To see failures/mistakes as part of the learning process and be prepared to have a go
  • To show initiative when ‘stuck’
  • To recognise that learning is a process and takes time


The class was a middle mixed ability class. I teach them the Chemistry component of the Science GCSE.

These were my thoughts about the class at the beginning of the year:

  • Lovely class – friendly, polite but quite passive
  • Majority of ‘resilient’ students quiet and self-contained so maybe not obviously modelling to others
  • Happy to listen to instructions but want to be ‘spoon fed’
  • Not really making the connection between effort and achievement
  • I was working harder than them – re-directing, re-assuring, checking, cajoling in some cases
  • Many students would give up if they did not already know the answer


  • De-mistifying ‘being clever’. At every opportunity reinforcing to the students how the brain works and how we learn. I have explained to them and continuously remind the students how we commit information to long term memory and used two examples to unpick ‘being clever’ :
  1. How amazing we all are at speaking our own language compared to how
  2. challenging we find it to learn a new language in school. The students can see the clear link between mastery and frequent repetition, often getting things wrong initially.
  3. Me as a teacher – I reminded them why I appear to be so effortlessly good at what I teach and discuss the fact that I am immersed in it, teaching it many, many times. The reason I am an ‘expert’ is that I teach the subject matter often so my neural networks are well developed FOR MY SUBJECT MATTER
  • Resilience poster – This has become a whole school tool and it reflects the effort that is put into becoming an effective learner. I continue to refer to the iceberg at every opportunity.
  • During Directed Improvement and Response Time (DIRT – time dedicated to allowing pupils to respond to teacher feedback/making to correct, develop or improve their work) taking the opportunity to Facilitate reflection on progress and relating it to effort
  • Linking to Science of the brain – unpicking the reasons for repetition and consolidation for mastery with reference to my above examples or other skills and aptitudes. I have a visual representation of the neurone connections in the brain that I refer to when reminding the students of why practice is important and why things seem hard at first.
  • ALWAYS praising effort not achievement and linking this to life skills
  • Seating resilient students with less resilient ones and encouraging a climate of mutual support where students can move around when appropriate and support one another in their learning.
  • Liberating students from the fear of committing mistakes to paper by allowing them to write on the desks. This seems to be very effective at getting some students to take the plunge and ‘have a go’.
  • Avoid re-assuring answers to questions – reflecting back to students.
  • Scaffolding resilience training by having selected differentiated resources available to enable students to help themselves to become unstuck (Links well with SOLO)


The last column shows the actual results achieved in the GCSE. Bearing in mind the target grades are actually for Year 11, the majority of students made expected progress. It is hard to say how much is attributable to the emphasis on resilience but, anecdotally, the vast majority of the students are focused and open to giving the challenging Additional Chemistry content their best shot and, importantly, bouncing back and returning to the drawing board when they get things wrong. The pupils highlighted in red were ones I was still concerned about the level of commitment from at the time of preparing to share my findings with colleagues in our learning focus group meetings but subsequently the majority of these have sought out advice from their peers or myself to help them progress.



To summarise the findings of the ’Developing resilience’ Learning Focus group of which my research was a part:

  • We believe our strategies have made a difference but……it would be more powerful if the language of resilience was consistent across the school
  • This approach supports stretch and challenge you have higher expectations and avoid ‘helicopter’ teaching
  • This work supports pupil independence and less teacher dependence
  • Rewarding attitude and effort is crucial – sending the right messages about what we value

Next steps

I will continue to employ these strategies with the students I teach. I will continue to focus on resilience development in the next round of Action research and explore ways of embedding the language of resilience across the school.


‘Mindset’ by Dr Carol S Dweck

Lesson Plans for teaching resilience to Children by Lynne Namka

Promoting resilience in the classroom by Carmel Cefai

The Iceberg Illusion poster by Sylvia Duckworth

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (4 )

(Feature image: ‘You can and will be successful here’ by Enokson.  Attribution: licensed by CC BY 2.0)

An Action Research Project by Richard Noibi


‘Mastery is the process by which Maths is taught incisively depicting route(s) to finding solution(s) to a problem. This process is complete when the pupil(s) discovers other routes leading to the Solution’, Richard Noibi, September 2016.

Mastery is also the ability to apply knowledge gained from various areas of Mathematics, i.e. Algebra, Geometry, Probability and other topics in solving Mathematical problems.

With the new mastery curriculum in Mathematics and its demands on application rather than  teaching a systematic approach to solving problems, it is imperative that teachers like me adopt new strategies and approaches to teaching Mathematics to students.  

Gone are the days when teachers can predict exam questions.   Now, we have to teach ‘the why’ more than just ‘how’ to solve questions. Our students must now be able to think outside the box rather than just follow a systematic route to answers.

Aims of the Project

This project seeks to answer the following questions:

  • How can I incorporate Mastery into my teaching to facilitate the development of my students to meet the demands of the new curriculum?
  • What can I learn from other Schools and colleagues to facilitate Mastery in my lessons?
  • What method(s) can I adopt so that my students can remember formulas they need for answering new GCSE questions?
  • How can I encourage Innovation in lessons?

Focus Group

My focus group was a Year 9 class, which had 31 students with various abilities ranging from level 5a to 7b. I chose this class because:

It has students who usually struggle with resilience – a quality needed for mastering Mathematics.

Some of the high achievers were still working below their challenge grades.

Most of the students also found applying Mathematical know-how to real life situations a struggle. This skill is needed to excel with the new strategy.

The Route to Mastery

 Good foundations

For my students to have Mastery skills in Mathematics up to the level required, they must have the solid background knowledge of the Subject. This is the foundation of the plan and the stage at which misconceptions are corrected.

Thinking outside the box

Students can no longer be one way learners but need to be dynamic in their approach to solving Mathematical challenges.

Creating a Culture of Mathematics

‘Consistency and Practice makes perfect’. This was developed through thorough Maths ‘skills drills’.

Mastery in other Schools

As a tutor to students from another school (School ‘A’), I noticed that the teaching styles have changed recently. The past focused on 3 part teaching (Starter, main, plenary) is now divided four parts (revision activity based on quick recap of the most challenging part of the last lesson; then a starter activity, which is usually a modelled question targeted as yardstick for success criteria; main teaching and class work; a plenary based on checking how many of the model questions could be answered at the end of lesson).

In another school I am familiar with (School ‘B’) they use 3 part teaching but there is a modelled test at the start of a new topic. Then after three lessons the students are given a test with the same questions but by this time they have had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the test. The outcome of the test is used to gauge the understanding of the students. This method embraces consistent practice and developing a culture of Mathematics amongst their students.

Both schools use homework to consolidate learning. Sometimes homework is used for correcting errors students make in the lessons not undertaking new work.

Both strategies endorse the above listed route to Mastery. Thus I adopted aspects of both in my lessons with my Year 9 focus group.

Adopting the strategies

To create a culture of Mathematics with Year 9, I combined the method of teaching in School ‘A’ with the assessment programme of School ‘B’.   I made sure I informed parents of the outcome of the end of Topic tests I give pupils once a fortnight. This improved enthusiasm and effort from my students.

Also, I adopted a method I learned from my country (Nigeria) which helps promote independent thinking and application of Maths to real world situation. I started giving the class a Mastery question as a starter once a week.  I say to the class I am not interested in the final answer but how to start solving the question. What is the first step to take before solving this question? What if the question is changed to ………? How would you start? This helps many who struggle to know where to start a question during exams or tests. As we all know, marks are not only awarded for the final answer but the steps taken to reach it.

The results

Seventy per-cent of my Year 9 class achieved a grade higher than their challenge grades, with three making exceptional progress.

Key word or fact jigsaws

(featured image courtesy of

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Victoria Ryan (MFL)

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest.  A simple activity to help pupils learn or revise key words, facts or information in any subject is the ‘Key word jigsaw’.

Easily prepared with paper, pen and scissors, just divide a sheet of paper into sections and in adjacent areas write a definition/piece of information and the key word/associated fact.

e.g. merci/thank you, Capital of Peru/Lima, Battle of Hastings/1066, process for producing petroleum from crude oil/refining

Write a key message/question/quotation in the centre of the sheet which will become fragmented when the sheet is cut up.  Place the pieces in an envelope and give to your pupils to solve.


The task is simple – reassemble the sheet, pairing up the key word with its definition, to reveal the message/question/quotation in the middle.


The activity requires little or no explanation and proves very engaging with pupils (and staff!).

A great little way to create a low stress method of testing/reinforcing learning.

Why not develop this further…

  • get pupils involved in devising their own jigsaws
  • build up a class set of different jigsaws to use as a revision tool
  • experiment with different shapes
  • use images as well as words
  • or if you want to go for an online version, why not try Tarsia puzzles (take a look at  for a quick introduction)

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (3)

Featured picture:

Maths mastery – exploration and implementation

An Action Research project by Julie Silk

Aims of the project

The aim of the investigation was to explore the changes to approaches in the teaching of Mathematics to incorporate the new style of questioning and understanding known as Mastery.

The Key Stage 3 and 4 curriculum has drastically changed, particularly with regard to the style of questioning in assessment.

Our aims

  • To clarify what “mastery” means
  • To identify changes needed to teaching styles and learning outcomes
  • To implement changes
  • To observe one another to assist with team planning and sharing good practice
  • Embed mastery in our Schemes of Work


In 2015 the new Mathematics curriculum was launched. Numbers replaced grades and a new style of examination was introduced by the examination boards. Our current Year 11 will be the first to face the challenge of the new curriculum. It was, therefore, essential that as a department we gained full understanding of what the changes were and how this would impact on our teaching. There were two main changes: curriculum content and mastery. Exam boards, education experts and teachers across the country were all offering a variety of opinions as to how this would look. It was for this reason that the faculty as a whole decided to carry out action research that would assist with this process.


Our initial discussions began with us selecting a couple of classes to work with in order to build resilience and mastery skills using plenaries that based on mastery style questions.   At the same time we set out to research more fully the definition of mastery.  It quickly became apparent that we would need to use our plenaries with all classes or some of our pupils would be disadvantaged.  In consequence we extended this practice to all classes in years 7-10.

The emphasis on moving from predictable questions where you can teach a few “tricks” to get enough marks to get a C, to a real understanding of how to problem solve with Maths is , I believe, an excellent step forward. I have always considered teaching maths to be like coaching a football team. You show them lots of skills which they can practice and master but it isn’t until they are put together in a match that the full beauty of the game can be appreciated; in our case the “match” is problem solving.


  • Research mastery
  • Change plenaries
  • Change assessments
  • Observe each other teach in peer observations
  • Share good practice within the department
  • Share good practice outside the department

Research was shared and stored in a central folder in the Maths faculty for the benefit of all.

The new style of questioning needs quite a lot of encouragement for pupils to get started and we have to build resilience as up until this year, pupils were reluctant to get things wrong in Maths.

With the new style of questions we felt that it was important for the pupils to get a realistic idea of their understanding of the work. Our new tests provided by the exam board are very challenging and pupils need much encouragement to correct their mistakes. I felt it was vital for them to persist and so for every end of unit test we do, one week later they have a retest, same style of questions but different numbers. Pupils are adapting much better to the tests as confidence grows. The younger the pupil the better they are dealing with the changes. In year 10 the tests and end of year exams have certainly spread the level of attainment, many who would normally be 4/5 borderline are struggling to achieve anywhere near their target grade while the top-end are almost on par with their counterparts from last year. We can now see that our next step is to get pupils to write down the steps taken in each question and to at least start a 6-8 mark question that they feel is at the limit of their ability.

Peer observation

At the start peer observations were used to have a look at what we were each trying out with our classes. We have a full programme of paired observation for the next academic year to further develop our skills and share best practice.


The full impact of our findings will be more evident as time goes on.

  • Test results for my year 10 groups have shown that the more able the pupil the better they have adapted to the new style questions.
  • Resilience is key to gaining marks.
  • Showing working out is now more important than ever.
  • Adoption of the Shanghai style of teaching (learning key facts, peer support, moving forward together) is important as pupils need all the mathematical skills taught readily available.


  • In the long term, changes to the curriculum will increase understanding of Mathematics by pupils
  • Resilience needs to be encouraged and perfected
  • We’ve been fortunate that Nrich has been good preparation for some of the skills needed
  • Results will rise as we develop mastery further
  • The skills we have gained can be shared with others in other departments, other schools and Primary colleagues

Next steps

  • Continue to adapt lessons to incorporate mastery plenaries
  • Increase pupil response to tests and exams
  • Use peer support to raise understanding in lessons
  • Contact Primary partners to set up a support hub
  • Focus mind set changes on the middle ability pupils who seem to have been the most affected by exam changes

Sources and references

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2015]

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. October 2014. Williams, H. (2014) Approach, Research. Mathematics Mastery Acting Director of Primary

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (2)

(Featured image: “Image Provided by Classroom Clipart“)

An Action Research project by Jodie Johnson

The aim of this project was to explore different ways in which we could embed the new ‘mastery in maths’ curriculum into our day to day teaching. The curriculum has changed dramatically for Key Stage 3 and 4 in terms of the way students will be assessed; while the content is largely the same the way in which we teach the new curriculum has to be adapted to this new style if our students are to be successful .

Our aims were:

  • To clarify exactly what ‘mastery’ means for our subject
  • What this means for us as a faculty as a whole and our teaching styles; we then wanted to work on how this should directly impact on our individual lessons and assessments
  • To begin to think about how we could allow our students the opportunity to be more resilient in our subject and therefore more ready to face the new style of questioning that they will be challenged with
  • Finally, we worked on how the mastery curriculum could be embedded more formally into our schemes of work.


Looking formally at ‘Mastery in Mathematics’ is vital for our department at this time as our current year 10 are the first to face the new mastery curriculum at GCSE level. It was essential that we took the time as a department to focus on the shifting focuses of the new curriculum; it was important that we did this together and that we did it now. In our initial meeting we wanted to address the differing opinions we had in terms of what we thought mastery was and then whether this mirrored what the new curriculum required. Once we had clarified this for ourselves it was important to us that the students could articulate what we meant by mastery.  Finally and most importantly we needed to work on how this would impact on our day to day teaching methods so that our teaching style was adapted and in turn we were preparing our students as best we possibly could for the challenges they would be facing.


We began our discussions at the beginning of the year by each focusing on a couple of specific classes that we would ensure had a ‘mastery plenary’ as often as possible and that we would use as a group to compare to the rest of our students. However we quickly realised that this would leave those that were not picked at a huge disadvantage in terms of preparing them for their assessments so we decided it was important that all of our students (in years 7-10) were experiencing ‘mastery’ style lessons.

While we felt as a department it was vital that we started to look at Mastery this year for our students, I have also been interested in this style of teaching for a while. I have become more and more conscious since I began teaching that the mathematics we were delivering to our students wasn’t necessarily preparing them for the real world but for an exam that we could pretty much second guess in terms of what it would look like. Like most other mathematics teachers I have worked with, I felt the problem solving skills and fluency that we should be teaching our students was being lost and replaced with teaching students how to answer a seemingly random set of questions in order to pass exams and this meant that they did not have a deep understanding of the concepts they were being taught. In my opinion, Mathematics should be an exercise in problem solving, it should stretch a person’s mind to work in a way that no other subject does and this was being lost as result of the pressure which falls heavily upon teachers shoulders to hit target grades. The new mastery curriculum while daunting for maths teachers in the short term, I saw and still see, as an exciting and hugely beneficial thing in the long term for our future generation of Mathematicians. How exactly this would look in my classroom, how I could ensure I was preparing them to problem solve and enjoy mathematics, while at the same time preparing them to pass their exams in maths is something I was grateful to have the time to do while preparing this Action Research Project.


As a department there are several ways in which we have modified our teaching since working together as a learning focus group1.

Research into Mastery and how this affected our work

All member of the department undertook their own individual research into what mastery was and we the brought it together in our learning focus meetings. We found that the most important factor when teaching the mastery curriculum was that of fluency between topics. We decided after our reading that for our students, especially those that would be facing the foundation curriculum this was something that we were not currently doing successfully, building their resilience in mathematics was paramount.   If they were to be successful mathematicians we needed to instil some confidence in them that it is completely fine to get things wrong in mathematics.

We also discovered various ways in which other countries have approached the teaching of Mathematics. We looked at the potential impact adopting Eastern Asian styles of teaching would have on our students and decided that some time would need to be dedicated to our students ‘learning’ facts and methods in maths so they had access to them at all times when completing more open ended tasks. Things like learning times tables for our younger students is something we often presume the students know from primary school but this is often not the case and we spent some time with our weaker students actually learning things like this as home works or in class.

We discovered after conversations between the team that articulating mathematics is something that is important for our students in order to ‘master’ a topic and that again our current methods weren’t necessarily allowing enough opportunity for this skill to be developed. We have therefore spent much more time on questions where students have to prove answers and in my lessons I questions students in a slightly different way, emphasising the importance of clarity in their working, asking questions like “Are you sure about that? Prove it to me as your current working doesn’t convince me”. This form of questioning also forces my students to think more precisely about what they are writing and the way in which they are presenting their work.

We researched different methods that we could use every lesson that wouldn’t necessarily link directly to individual topics. For example, asking questions like:

“Where does this fit into what we did last week?”

“Can you show me another way to do that?”

“Is that the only way to do that question?”

Adapting Assessments

At the beginning of the year we were working from a scheme of work called ‘Kangaroo’. We have worked on this for the least 4 years as a faculty but with the new curriculum changes Kangaroo have also updated their aims and lesson objectives. We continued to follow this scheme of work but adapted our assessments to include mastery style questions that we found on the Kangaroo website as well as the AQA website (which is the GCSE board we will be following) at the end of each unit of work. This meant that our students now needed much more fluency between subject areas and we were working at dispelling the myth that ‘a Pythagoras question looks like this’, ‘an expanding brackets question looks like this’ etc. We were starting to force our students to think of Mathematics as a puzzle and that each individual topic was just one piece and that they would need all the pieces to answer these new style questions.

Over the last 3 years we have been developing our schemes of work to incorporate more and more ‘Nrich’ challenges (Nrich is a website created by Cambridge University which has open ended questions and what we now recognise as ‘Mastery challenges’). While we have informally taught Nrich lessons once a fortnight for the last few years, one member of the department has now formally added appropriate Nrich lessons to our schemes of work where they naturally fit into the subject areas we are teaching. The rationale behind this is that the students will get used to being ‘stuck’ (no Nrich challenge is a 5 minute problem with a yes or no answer – each one takes at least an hour and the students will become more and more familiar with getting themselves unstuck as part of the experience). One adaptation I made during these lessons during the year was to only allow students to ask 3 questions of me the teacher per Nrich lesson. This forced them to have to really think about whether they needed to ask the questions or whether they were actually being too teacher reliant.

While this year was very much an experimental year in terms of the best way to adopt ‘mastery’ in the classroom, one thing that we were keen to get right was our assessments. We felt it was essential that the assessments the students were doing to inform our data on their learning resembled closely what their final assessments would look like in order to make our data as accurate as possible. In some cases (especially in year 10) this has meant students’ progress data has taken a hit, however we felt preparation for the new mastery curriculum was paramount. This also meant that we could build resilience, not just in the classroom when we are teaching and when they have the luxury of checking their answers and ideas with their peers and teacher but when the students needed to transfer this to the exam hall and feel as though they needed to at least attempt questions (especially the larger 6-8 mark questions which we have not seen before) without fear of getting them wrong.

Changing plenaries

In order to prepare our students for the new style curriculum we started to use plenary questions that paired more than one topic with that which was taught during the lesson. In the Appendix you will find two plenaries which show how mastery could be demonstrated once a topic has been covered.  There is also a full lesson which shows Levelled learning objectives and how we now must link subject content to other areas to secure ‘mastery’. Hopefully these will show how fluency between topics is now essential to completing most of my planned plenaries this year. While there was some resistance from students initially, the students do recognise the importance of doing this and have adapted accordingly.

Peer Observations

In order to help each other and compare our work, myself and another member of the faculty paired up to complete some peer observations. We used the time to discuss ideas and how the topics taught could be connected to other areas of maths.  This helped both of us to plan appropriate mastery style questions for the main bulk of the lessons and the plenaries. The joint planning that went into these lessons allowed us to think about the fluency between other areas and topics, as well as standardising the way we delivered our plenaries and most importantly, the different ways in which we were trying to build resilience in the subject.  As a faculty we plan to complete at least one peer observation per term to see how mastery is developing.

Impact and Conclusion

The impact our actions have had on the faculty will be felt in time. While there is no concrete evidence that can be shared in this document, I think that from my perspective, it has forced me to think about my practice and the fluency and links I make when teaching. My mathematics has certainly improved as a result of teaching the new curriculum, especially since I have a very able top set in year 10, who need to be challenged to reach their potential – the new assessments that we have even challenged me, which has been great!

While many students are still not comfortable with the new curriculum and style in which we now have to teach mathematics it is definitely improving, my students, especially the most able, are always very excited when they realise we are having an ‘Nrich lesson’ and now ask me at the start of lessons whether that is what we are doing today. This is an improvement on where we were at the start of the year since they didn’t tend to enjoy and therefore excel in these lessons because they were being pushed out of their comfort zone.

My key stage three classes have improved greatly in terms of their resilience and are now much more able to access mastery plenary questions that I give them to practice. At the beginning of the year many, especially my least able in year 7 and 8 would simply freeze when they were confronted with a questions that didn’t directly relate to the subject we had been focused on during the lesson. It is a gradual process but it is certainly a picture that is improving.

As I have mentioned above, the first mock our year 10 students took in June did not necessarily show strong progress, however in terms of my class, their reaction certainly showed maturity and resilience which is what this new curriculum requires our students to show. They worked solidly on their mock papers once they had been marked to understand as many questions as possible. Since they now understand the importance of keeping going – they are keen to do so.

Next Steps

Continuing our work on mastery is essential if we are to mould students to being successful not just in maths but in terms of their resilience to tackle problems and overcome their fear of getting things wrong. It is important that our work continues over the next few years and that any new team member understands why this is so important. Next year we will continue developing our lesson plans and assessments.  We will continue to work on Nrich challenges with our students and the peer observations that myself and another colleague completed will be rolled out to all members of the faculty. The standardisation of our lessons is important so that our students recognise that when they come to the maths corridor they will be challenged and need to have access to all areas of maths, not just those that they have been taught in the last 45 minutes.

This project is certainly an ongoing piece of work that we need to build on over the next few years. Our students will certainly become more comfortable with the mastery curriculum as we move forward, especially as this year Key Stage 1 & 2 have also been introduced to the new ‘mastery curriculum’ at their level, which should mean students are being moulded to move more freely between topics and solve problems independently. I look forward to seeing how our students develop as our teaching styles become more accustomed to the new curriculum.


  1. Learning Focus Groups – For professional development purposes staff work in small groups who share a common interest in developing an aspect of their teaching practice. These groups provide a forum for discussion, support, sharing and joint activities to help each teacher develop their own individual Action Research project.


Plenary 1



Plenary 2



Full lesson














Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk.