Research Project: Raising the motivation and performance levels of low attaining, under-performing KS4 students.

Garaeth Davies and myself, Dave Grimmett, ran a project with a group of staff over the course of the year with no small objective! We were determined to address the students whose attitudes were persistently unsatisfactory, and invariably their performance levels were also under par. We were also aware Heads of House and Heads of Faculty had identified significant concerns with ‘tone-setting’ demotivated students and the major impact not only on individual outcomes, but the outcomes of classes affected by these students.

Our end of 2017-18 Year 11 P8 performance showed a clear correlation between demotivation in our ATL (Attitudes to Learning reports) and final GCSE results, whilst the whole School Improvement Plan identified Student Voice as being an under-represented area. Therefore we thought why not combine these two things as the foundation for our project?

The project sought therefore to improve outcomes for students in Year 11 who had been identified at the start of the year, as either being ‘passive’ or ‘disengaged’ in their attitude to learning, and/or significantly under-performing in a subject.

A CPD group was set up to deliver the project, and each staff member identified 2 or 3 students within their Year 11 class who fitted the criteria above. Detailed individual surveys were administered to identify specific learning needs. This was a really interesting part of the process as we identified a range of information regarding teaching and learning strategies students found useful in lessons, characteristics of the lessons where they are most successful, and more. Garaeth also compiled a wider sample survey of 40 Year 11 students and identified quality feedback from staff as being one of the most effective factors to improving motivation, attitudes and performance.

This data was then studied carefully in partnership with a series of short summaries of proven strategies for raising attainment from wider educational evidence and research. Whilst students were mostly considered in their survey responses, we were keen to ensure that we didn’t just respond to their whims, but instead sought a way of cross-referencing some students’ reflections with evidence based research. Staff then devised an action plan for each of their nominated students, using two strategies over the project duration to improve outcomes.

The project had a positive impact on student progress  with 67% of students demonstrating an improvement in attitude to learning and/or academic performance.

69% of Staff reported in that the project wasn’t a workload concern and that the strategies they identified were relatively easy to implement.

33% of Staff identified that the trial may be more effective with a younger year group (as Yr 11 is probably too late!) and this was a key reflection point for us.

Feedback also recognised the crucial impact of engaging with evidence based research in implementing policy -69% of staff stated that the evidence booklet was useful in helping them decide on appropriate strategies for helping them intervene with demotivated and under-achieving students, and this was commended by the Headteacher in the drive to make the Academy more evidence driven.

disengaged 2


To conclude, this evidence points to the useful nature of the project for staff, and the project team presented to all staff in a Teach-meet session in June with the aim of promoting the future impact of individual student voice coupled with wider research in finding solutions to under-performance.

disengaged 1




CPD – Being a SLT intern

By Susan Strachan

As you know, I have moved on to become a Head of Department, but I am very grateful for the CPD opportunities that were passed my way while at Churchill, as I believe these opportunities helped me grow as a teacher, leader and ultimately to secure a position in Middle Leadership.

What are they?

Jo Gill produces a booklet with all the CPD offers embedded in their with an explanation of the CPD opportunity. This was sent to everyone, meaning that it is equal. As teachers we may have a tendency to think ‘I’ll look at that later’ and then ‘later’ never comes. However, it is worth doing for both teaching and support staff as there is a huge variety of CPD opportunities that mean you are able to take responsibility for your own development and that give you a different focus from the normal day to day teaching, which helped me to develop both my teaching and as a professional.

SLT Internship

Having sat on SLT from Easter, Sarah Tucker was prior to me, I can honestly say it was incredibly useful and such a valuable learning experience. Also, while I felt like an imposter to begin with, it was very clear that my ideas and opinions and questions were always listened to and I was encouraged to contribute, which was brilliant.

Seeing how decisions are made, how vast and varied the SLT role is and the way that the SLT have to balance massive decisions (such as the budget and safeguarding) with smaller day to day health and safety issues or issues around timetables or teaching staff requests was really eye-opening. What I found particularly interesting was the depth of thought and the consideration of issues from a range of perspectives, as well as the ‘parking’ of issues for further consideration and a return to. I can honestly say that every decision was weighed up, the implications on staff and students considered and the decision made was always with the best of intentions. I think sometimes this gets ‘Lost in Translation’ and the best of intentions are sometimes misinterpreted or communicated in a way that can make it feel like the SLT have a hidden agenda (I think this is unintentional and happens everywhere with communication). They don’t; they want (like all staff) to ensure that the staff and students are happy, able to do their job and students are able to learn safely, while still treating ‘people like people’. I’d highly recommend applying to see the range of issues and daily joys that SLT face, while running the school, managing staff, students and budgets and juggling demands that come in thick and fast. I know that I left Churchill with a greater understanding of what SLT do, what they think and why they think in that way and a vast amount of respect for everyone on the SLT as they work together as a close knit team to ensure that everyone is able to get on with the core purpose of the Academy.

I hope that this has given pause for thought about what CPD opportunities you’d like to try. Being an SLT intern took the fear of what SLT do away for me.

I’d like to leave you with 3 questions:

What CPD would you do if there was no time implication?

What CPD is on offer that you think is interesting and you could apply for?


What are you waiting for?

Dig out Jo’s CPD booklet, have a look and apply.

Hope that you enjoy your CPD as much as I did.

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CPD Project – High Attainers

These sessions provided a good opportunity to reflect on our current practice and to share some ideas. Over the three sessions, we considered:

  • Would a new G&T register useful?
  • Do we do enough to celebrate high attainers?
  • What does good classroom practice look like?
  • What do CATs scores mean?

Our conclusions about good classroom practice were very much in agreement with the following article (initially discovered by Sue Strachan). If you’re interested in improving your approach with high attaining students, I would recommend giving it a read:

As part of our second session I taught a little Maths lesson, introducing the group to one of the “low threshold, high ceiling” tasks that we regularly use in Maths at Churchill. The idea of these tasks is summarised in the article below. The article also contains links to some lovely tasks that you could try yourself!

Inevitably, with the session being led by a Maths teacher, we talked a lot about data. Since CATs data are often used to identify high attaining students, we considered what CATs scores actually mean: is 110 a high score? How about 120? CATs data are an example of “standardised scores”. In our final session we looked at how to use “standardised scores” to track student progress. I would very much recommend the following two videos (because I made them):

Standardised Scores – What do they mean?

Measuring Progress Using Standardised Scores

I think these videos would be especially useful to anybody who needs to measure the progress of students across whole year groups.

Elliot Malkin


CPD Library

A quick reminder that we have a CPD Library in school. It can be found in the Library on the left near the Librarian’s Office.CPD library

There are plenty of books and journals to choose from. Here is just a selection of what you can find.

CPD library 1.jpg

If you do read one then please write a short review for other staff and it can be posted on the Blog. There is already one on ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes’ so if you have read this then add a comment to the Blog.

Happy Reading!

Revision Ideas

Follow the link below to some ideas on revision.–feKG3FaPHVVbwSdEUG1MPpNHnxipBoxsJNkcAcmXH9ZKWuOA5fEEHMtZTGvxdmrHeJPlXToRTEyACChsuCBlTrZYbjw&_hsmi=62505839&utm_content=62505839&utm_source=hs_email&hsCtaTracking=915c5842-077f-4965-9627-975371c5cb50%7Cdfcb230b-5290-4951-8f6c-556a9181a81a

A very simple way to harness and manage spaced testing.  Whilst not every skill can be mastered on a flash card, many can be adapted to work this way.

Something to share with your classes.

Thanks to Chris Cooknell for finding the link.

Reviewing Paul Dix’s book “When the adult changes everything changes”

What is it?

This is a really useful book on behaviour management. It challenged my thinking about how I use behaviour management strategies, in the classroom and wider school environment, and importantly making me question:

  • Why do I do certain things?
  • Do I do certain things through habit?
  • Do I consider whether the strategies I use are actually proven to be effective?
  • Are my strategies effective?
  • Do my strategies escalate or de-escalate situations?
  • Could there be a better way?
  • Are we working effectively and consistently as a whole school team with behaviour management?

Behaviour management can often feel like a neglected area of CPD, with teachers either being considered strong with their behaviour management, or not (as the case may be), however there is not often any clear and coherent strategies for the ‘not’ so good at behaviour management teachers to follow. This book is certainly one positive solution, as it offers up a wide range of helpful ideas and prompts some deep thinking about this subject.

It is a book that explores how our behaviour at teachers, inherent biases and own style of behaviour management can influence the decisions that students make on a daily basis. The book is written in a non-judgemental and informative way and looks at lots of case studies where everyone following the consistent policies implemented and treating students fairly and respectfully has a consistent effect of improved behaviour and happier teaching staff and students. The book doesn’t make excuses for students behaving poorly but instead explores how we can change our own way of managing this as a consistent whole school body (support staff, catering staff, teaching staff, cleaners and site team) to ensure that a consistent message about behaviour is filtered down to the students. The book looks at practices that are established and questions the effectiveness of these, like isolation and detentions and encourages using a different system.

Why is it useful?

One of the messages that is crystal clear in the book is that we should never publicly shame a child, therefore the process of writing a child’s name on the board under an unhappy face is challenged. We have all, at some point, used this behaviour management technique I am sure but Paul Dix questions where this came from and whether it has the opposite effect and becomes a ‘badge of honour’ for that child. Also, he reminds us that this public shaming has the effect of reinforcing the attention received for negative traits. This is just one example where I stopped and thought carefully and couldn’t think of a reason why I do this or why it appears to be a good idea.

It also made me think about the message I am sending to the class. Instead of reinforcing the negative, use reinforcement of the positive and this has a much healthier and positive influence on students. What I also enjoyed was the way the book reflects on adults making mistakes with behaviour management, but that it is important to recognise that we too are human and will make misjudgements, but to remember we can continue to alter our behaviour, and should recognise that we will make these mistakes, but that this is not insurmountable.

Finally, it is useful in making us question what we do and how we do it. It reinforces some of the key behaviour management messages that we know and that often get lost in the wider daily stresses of getting on with the job.

Why should you read it?

The book is very clearly laid out into chapters that cover a plethora of scenarios, situations and ideas that can help us become better at behaviour management, such as deliberate botherdness and some children follow the rules some follow people. The contents encourage the reader to be able to find information quickly again as not only is the book laid out in chapters, but the chapters are subdivided into the key messages within the chapters. This book doesn’t talk down to the reader, but this book does prompt some very careful consideration around whether what we do is because we have always done it or whether what we do is because it really does have an impact. There are many practical suggestions, some of which are context specific, but there are certainly some things that I think we could, should and can change to make behaviour management easier, more consistent and give the feeling that the teacher is not on their own.

Behaviour management is something that we need to be strong on, we need to be consistent on and we need to be clear on and this book certainly offers some excellent ways of ensuring that behaviour is impeccable, which will allow for more learning and increased job satisfaction for everyone.

Negativity breeds negativity. Why not flip this and have positivity breeding positivity?

What are you waiting for? 

If you want to think carefully about the underpinning rules and structures that you use for behaviour management then you won’t go far wrong by reading this book.


Sharing Pedagogy – A window into the classroom

I was privileged to be invited into several English, Maths and a Technology DT Food lesson this term in order to look at what great practice is happening. This post is about sharing what I saw and giving everyone in the Academy a chance to reflect on ‘the window into the classroom’ that I was able to have. When I asked to observe, I made it clear that I would only pop in for around ten minutes, only pop in if the member of staff specifically invited me to and that I would only be looking to share the areas of pedagogy that would be useful across the academy in other subjects. After the observation and as quickly as I could, while everything was fresh in my mind, I e-mailed the notes and reflections that I had made to the class teacher I had observed and unanimously everyone that I saw was happy for everything I said to be shared (which is just brilliant).

SLT have regular learning walks through the Academy and are in a wonderful position in being able to see the excellence that goes on all the time in everyone’s class, so I jumped at the opportunity to see for myself what happens and have the opportunity to work out how that could be transferred across the curriculum. The downside with the SLT walks (in my opinion) is that we don’t get to hear what excellence goes on day in day out. This blog and the subsequent requests for me to observe in other faculties will hopefully redress this and help to show what goes on in the classroom and how we can use these ideas in our own subjects as well.

Here are some of the excellent practice I witnessed in a range of classes:

Elliot Malkin with a Y12 group

• Modelling perfect answers for students to check against their own
• Students check their work carefully and put warning signs for easy to make errors
• Emphasis placed on exam questions layout/style and common misinterpretations made by students
• All students included in the lesson through targeted questioning and responses/questions offered naturally by students throughout the lesson
• Students ask for where to find other example practice questions – independence is clearly being fostered
• Throughout the lesson Elliot Linked back to previous learning & recapped information through Q&A
• Students were encouraged to problem solve and look at the question critically and work out how to approach this
• Students input was offered throughout the lesson and the teacher guides the class through possible misinterpretations clearly modelling how to avoid making mistakes
• When modelling this was clearly consistent guidance given with links to exam criteria and common misconceptions
• At the end of the modelling process students break down the process to internalise what they have to do to approach the question – great use of the meta-cognition process.

Rebecca Saunders with a low prior attainment Year 9 group

• Modelling used via the visualiser to ensure understanding of the work before getting started on the task
• Step by step differentiated guidance on the worksheet, so students could follow a logical process and were able to work independently through the steps – teacher referenced these steps to allow lower prior attainment students to continue working by reminding the students at intervals
• Q & A throughout the lesson from individual students to the teacher – teacher answered these questions when circulating, but when common misconceptions arose she stopped the class to offer whole class guidance
• Teacher used meta cognition questions to explore why the students were learning about prime numbers rather than just assuming the knew the reasoning
• Whole class questioning was bounced around to different students ensuring all were engaged and listening
• Repetition of questioning used to support the lower ability students until all knew the answer automatically
• Students were building on prior knowledge throughout the lesson

Jimi McWilliam Woods Year 9 Higher Prior Attaining Set

• References to resources in room to assist (scaffolding) as a reminder embedded in teacher talk
• Teacher subject knowledge used consistently throughout the lesson with regards to approaches for questions and vocabulary use which showed high expectations
• Vocabulary use relating to maths subject specific knowledge was embedded seamlessly into all discussions
• Building knowledge from prior lessons was evident throughout the task and student work
• Jimi explained the reasoning for doing task not just the task itself
• Modelling on the board systematically completed using a visualiser
• Praise used judiciously for students who had challenged themselves in the starter activity
• Differentiation embedding in the starter activity
• Questioning and answering bounced around the room and using a mixture of hands up and no hands up

Dave Grimmett Year 9 Mixed Ability Class

With this learning walk I was invited in to look at how homework was being set for challenge, memorisation and the way the knowledge organisers were being used by the students in order to think about how this could transfer across the curriculum.

  • Students self quizzing – creating blank fills for homework to self test the knowledge they have and then completing these at a later date – excellent way of embedding knowledge
  • Students use the knowledge organiser as a tool to ensure that they know everything and evidence this in the homework
  • A real sense of pride in the quality and presentation of the work being done for homework was seen – promotion of high expectations clear
  • Students showing that they regularly do this type of homework in order to independently learn the information
  • Teacher questioning and response using elaboration to draw out further responses from students

Kelda Tovey in English with a Mixed Ability Year 9 group

  • Questioning to develop knowledge embedded – not accepting the first answer but digging under the surface and prompting for deeper thoughts
  • Reflecting on current knowledge through introductory question to a new unit
  • Reminders of behaviour expectations are seamlessly embedded in the lesson
  •  Add to in a second – teacher talk explains how the lesson will proceed
  • Bigger picture is made clear through how and why the exercise being completed is relevant now and how it will fit into the whole learning picture
  • Differentiation through challenge and super challenge with the expectation that all students attempt as much as possible
  • Dual coding to make the insults memorable and to start exploring language (creating a pictorial representation of the quote)
  • Language focus challenge in Shakespeare acknowledged but made accessible
  • Teacher gives ‘think about’ prompts as the students are focusing on the task at hand
  • Learning/understanding checks are evident – student reiterates and explains to the others what they are doing
  • Clear focus on building on knowledge
  • Calm classroom environment with silent work, discussion used effectively and prompts for students to continue working as teacher circulated the room


Sarah Tucker in Food and Nutrition with a Y11 class completing examination preparation 

  • Organisation of resources is excellent and imperative for the lesson to work effectively – this seemed particularly relevant due to the practical nature of the work
  • Teaching Assistant is used effectively – both teacher and TA work effectively together to support the students (very clear team work)
  • Health and Safety considerations constantly monitored and considered – verbal reminders consistently given to students
  • Student independence is really clear in the lessons and students use opportunities to develop their skills on their own and through supporting each other
  • All students are really focused and ask questions about their learning
  • Teacher guides and answers questions as students prepare their food
  • Seamless circulation to check areas of concerns with students
  • Clear focus on developing students focus on exam criteria
  • Teacher modelling how to do some of the practical elements embedded in the lesson
  • Students articulate what they are doing and why they are doing it really well

There are so many great pedagogical ideas here that cross over the curriculum.

What we’d like is for you to share some of the ideas that you have used and how these have worked. Have a think and comment below.

The Benefits of Reading from Year 7

Instead of being in the library for the normal scheduled lesson, we were in the classroom so I took the opportunity to make a record of what Year 7 think the benefits of reading are. The Year 7 group were able to offer excellent insights into the benefits of reading. Now, as teachers, we are well aware of the plethora of advantages that a student with a high reading age has, however the insights that Year 7 shared are also really revealing and interesting (I think). They can also serve as a reminder of the importance of sharing our own love of reading and modelling excellent reading skills in the classroom.

Year 7 said Reading helps with:

  • Imagination
  • Vocabulary in general, to widen your vocabulary, to give you access to a range of word  that you haven’t experienced before and to help you learn more advanced vocabulary
  • To help you understand what words mean as they are placed in context when you read
  • Spelling
  • Increase your intelligence
  • Allows you to understand different perspectives
  • Access different settings, therefore broadening your experience outside what you have seen or done
  • Pronouncing words
  • With Writing
  • Tap into emotions and understand other peoples feelings in a range of ways and situations
  • For pleasure
  • Relax before going to sleep
  • Calms you
  • Relax in general
  • Takes you away from how you feel at that particular time (especially if you are stressed)
  • Gives you time to yourself
  • Can help with getting a job and being successful in that job
  • Helps with your articulacy
  • It is a brain workout
  • It helps you access the curriculum across all subjects and understand what you need to do

How can we promote reading without doing anything different? 

  • Talk about what we are reading
  • Update our e-mail signature with our current read regularly
  • Resurrect our door signs and update them with what we are reading
  • Model reading well when we read in class
  • Unpick exam questions and ‘read these for meaning’ with the class (can use the visualisers for this process)
  • Foreground the importance of comprehension in all subjects as without comprehending something the students can’t do the work
  • Use techniques like skimming and scanning for information in lessons
  • Offer opportunities to discuss vocabulary when reading
  • Give opportunities for students to read in our lessons (independently without the teacher or as a class selecting students to share the reading)
  • In tutor time with silent reading or communal reading
  • By using news stories flashed up on the board in tutor time to promote discussion

There will be many other ways that we can promote reading, but hopefully these ideas and points from Year 7 are interesting for everyone to think about.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with this question:

Would you describe yourself as a reading teacher? 

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The power of expectations

Pygmalion priant Vénus d'animer sa statue, Jean-Baptiste Regnault

Pygmalion Praying Venus to Animate His Statue by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786

The Pygmalion Effect is an interesting piece of research which explores the influence of teacher expectations on student achievement. In the original study, all students in a single California elementary school were given a disguised IQ test, but the scores were not disclosed to teachers. Teachers were told that some of their students (about 20% of the school chosen at random) were expected to be successful academically based on their test scores. The students themselves were not told their scores.

At the end of the study, all students were given the same IQ test. All students had made progress (phew!) but, amongst the younger students in particular, those randomly selected students that teachers had been told were “smart” had made significantly more progress than their peers – even though they weren’t actually any smarter.  This led to the conclusion that teacher expectations, particularly for the youngest children, can influence student achievement.

Rosenthal and Jacobson’s 1968 study has come in for much criticism. Their hypothesis was that the teachers somehow – perhaps unconsciously – treated the “smart” kids differently and had higher expectations of them, which led to their academic progress. This has been hard to replicate or demonstrate. However, a more recent 2014 study by David Yeager, Geoffrey Cohen and colleagues showed the impact that an emphasis on the expectations that we have of all our students could have, when linked to the unconditional positive regard and support that we provide.


In their study, teachers provided written feedback on student essays in the margins and at the end, with suggestions for improvement. The researchers intercepted the essays and added a post-it note to each one. Half of the essays had a post-it note which read: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” The other half had identical post-it notes with the message: “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” Neither the students nor their teachers knew that there were different messages on the post-it notes, as the essays were handed back in opaque folders.

The first post-it contains an important message about high expectations, positive regard, and the belief in incremental development that underpins a growth mindset ethos. The second is a carefully-worded neutral message designed to act as a “placebo” in the experiment.

All students were given the opportunity to revise their essays and hand in an improved version the following week. About 40% of students who had received the “placebo” feedback did so, but double that numbers – 80% – of the students who had received the positive regard feedback chose to revise their work.

As with Carol Dweck’s experiments with process praise, thoughtfully adjusting the message teachers communicate has a demonstrable impact on student behaviours and outcomes. This wasn’t about the teachers treating the students differently – the feedback was the same. It was about communicating belief – “I believe in you, I care about you, I know you can do it.”

Walking the talk, practising what we preach, actions speaking louder than words – whatever we call it, if we say we believe in students’ capacity to learn and grow, we have to show that we believe it too. Our every communication needs to be laced with the expectation that students will try, because we care about them and their future.

cover from site

This blog is based on an extract from Becoming a growth mindset school, published by Routledge and available here.